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People who migrate often entrust their child to the care of a family member or a friend. It is also common practice for poor rural families to agree, mostly for economic reasons, to “give” their children to foster families in the hope that they may have better access to food, housing, and education. These youths called “restavèk” (stay with) often become unpaid domestic helpers and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and high levels of physical violence and sexual abuse (Jaimes, Lecomte & Raphaël, 2008).


Religion plays a crucial role in all spheres of Haitian life, including politics, morals and health (Corten, 2000; Hurbon, 2004). Haiti is characterised by religious diversity, including: Roman Catholicism, Vodou (which combines West African traditions and Catholicism), and various Protestant traditions. Catholicism, Vodou and Protestant faiths have evolved in Haiti in interaction with each other and share key symbolic elements (Brodwin, 1992; 1996). Each religion cannot be understood without taking the others into account (Hurbon, 2001a). Since Catholic and Protestant traditions may be better known to non-Haitian readers, this section will focus on Vodou.

Vodou is widespread in Haiti and is practiced by the majority, including Haitians who identify as Catholics and, to a lesser extent, Protestants (Métraux, 1958). The name “Vodou” stems from the Fon word meaning spirit. The Code Noir of 1685 by Louis XIV made mandatory the conversion of slaves to Roman Catholicism. In an effort to hide forbidden African religious practices, the slaves identified their African deities with the saints of the Roman Catholic Church. The slaves could then give the appearance of strict adherence to Roman Catholicism, but were able to retain aspects of their West African religion, which manifested itself in Vodou (Hurbon, 2008).

In 1860, partially in response to the arrival of Protestantism and Freemasonry in Haiti, Rome approved a concordant and a bishop was consecrated in Port-au-Prince. Roman Catholicism became the official religion of the state. Although the actual distribution of religious affiliation and practice is unclear, common estimates are that about 80% of the population self-define as Roman Catholics and 20% self-define as Protestants (Gopaul- McNicol, Benjamin-Dartigue, & Francois, 1998). Protestant denominations are growing throughout Haiti. Both Protestants and orthodox Roman Catholics are less likely to practice Vodou. People from the lower class are more likely to adhere to beliefs and practices associated with Vodou. However, in times of great personal or collective crisis, members of the upper and middle classes may also turn to Vodou for help, particularly when the causes of misfortune are unclear. Many people also may dance or sing vodou songs at times simply to draw strength from the music.

Vodou is not a homogenous religious system; there is great diversity in regional belief and practice (Najman, 2008). Most people who practice Vodou or “serve spirits” do not

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