Wade Davis on voodoo, the Haiti quake, and Pat Robertson

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Anthropologist Wade Davis is an incredibly engaging and eloquent explorer of the world's cultural diversity, what he calls the Ethnosphere. He has written a slew of amazing books about the dangers faced by disappearing cultures, both to the people whose vibrant cultures are getting wiped out, and to us. His latest book is The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, based on his CBC Massey Lectures last year, but he is perhaps best known for The Serpent and the Rainbow (1985), an illuminating study of Haitian voodoo and zombis. National Geographic interviewed Davis about the earthquake in Haiti, voodoo, and Pat Robertson's idiocy. From National Geographic:

What do you think of Pat Robertson's recent remarks that this month's earthquake in Haiti was God's revenge for a pact Haitian slaves made with the devil to overthrow French colonists in the late 1700s?

Cruel, ignorant, unforgivable, the ravings of a lunatic. He doesn't even know what he's talking about.

What happened–according to both historical record and the founding history for the Haitian state–was that there was a voodoo ceremony where the symbol of freedom sang out, which was the sound of the conch trumpet [spurring African slaves to rebel against French coffee and sugar plantation owners in 1791].

In the same way that we speak so reverentially of Washington crossing the Delaware, that was the catalyst of the slave revolt. It was the only successful slave revolt in history [to have won control of a country], and it's said to have begun with a voodoo ceremony.

So Pat Robertson is saying by that comment that voodoo itself is the devil. Voodoo is not a black magic cult, nor does it have anything to do with a Christian notion of the devil.

All he's saying by that comment is that all African religion is devil worship, and he's revealing not only his ignorance about what voodoo really is, but also his bias that any religion not his own is devil worship.

For a man who aspired to the presidency he revealed himself to be remarkably unschooled in American history.

Had it not been for the revolutionary slaves of Haiti, we might well be speaking French in much of what is today the U.S.A.

Napoleon at the height of his power dispatched the greatest military force ever to sail from France. Its mission was twofold: Crush the slave revolt in Haiti, and then proceed up the Mississippi, hem in the expanding 13 Colonies, and reestablish French dominance in a continent that only 30 years before at the Treaty of Paris had become British North America.

Thanks to the Haitian patriots, the French armada never reached New Orleans [and Napoleon decided to sell much of what is now the western U.S. via the Louisiana Purchase.]

"Haiti Earthquake & Voodoo: Myths, Ritual, and Robertson"