Louisiana Voodoo - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, originated from the traditions of the African diaspora. It is a cultural form of the Voodoo religions which historically developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African-American population of the U.S. state of Louisiana. It is one of many incarnations of African-based religions rooted in the West African Dahomean Vodou tradition and the Central African traditions.
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They became syncretized with the Catholic religion and Francaphone culture of South Louisiana as a result of the slave trade. Louisiana Voodoo is often confused with – but is not completely separable from – Haitian Vodou and southeastern U.S. hoodoo. It differs from Haitian Vodou in its emphasis upon Gris-gris, voodoo queens, and Li Grand Zombi.
This emphasis has marked the culture of Afro Diaspora, francophone Louisiana within the Western media. It was through Louisiana Voodoo that such terms as gris-gris (a Wolof term) and voodoo dolls were introduced into the American lexicon.
Gris-grisVoodoo was brought to the French colony Louisiana through the slave trade. From 1719 and 1731, the majority of African slaves came directly from what is now Benin, West Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices, language, and religious beliefs rooted in spirit and ancestor worship. Their knowledge of herbs, poisons, and the ritual creation of charms and amulets, intended to protect ones self or harm others, became key elements of Louisiana Voodoo.
The slave community quickly acquired a strong presence in Louisiana. The colony was not a stable society when slaves arrived, which allowed African culture to maintain a prominent position in the slave community. (160) According to a census of 1731-1732, the ratio of African slaves to whites was over two to one. The ownership of slaves was concentrated into the hands of few whites, facilitating the preservation of African culture. Unlike other areas of active slave trade, there was little separation in Louisiana between families, culture, and languages.
The Embargo Act of 1808 ended all slave imports to Louisiana. Authorities promoted the growth of the slave population by prohibiting by law the separation of families. Parents were sold together with their children under fourteen years of age. The high mortality of the slave trade brought its survivors together with a sense of solidarity.
(160) The absence of fragmentation in the slave community along with the kinship system produced by the bond created by the difficulties of slavery resulted in a “coherent, functional, well integrated, autonomous, and self confident slave community.” ) As a result African culture and spirituality did not die out, but rather thrived in French Creole culture.
The practice of making and wearing charms and amulets for protection, healing, or the harm of others was a key aspect to early Louisiana Voodoo. The ouanga, a charm used to poison an enemy, contained the poisonous roots of the figure maudit tree, brought from Africa and preserved in the West Indies.
The ground up root was combined with other elements such as bones, nails, roots, holy water, holy candles, holy incense, holy bread, or crucifixes. The administrator of the ritual frequently evoked protection from the Muslim God Allah, the Christian God, and Jesus Christ. This openness of African belief allowed for the adoption of Catholic practices into Louisiana Voodoo.
Another component of Louisiana Voodoo brought from Africa was the worship of ancestors and the subsequent emphasis on respect for elders. For this reason, the rate of survival among elderly slaves was high, further “Africanizing Louisiana Creole culture.”
The slave trade also brought the belief in spirits which is central to Louisiana Voodoo. The spirits presided over every day matters of life, such as family, love, and justice. Originally, these spirits were called by their African names, but once French Creole replaced native African languages, their original names were no longer used.
The spirits then adopted the names of Catholic Saints. Each spirit was paired with a Saint in charge of similar spheres of life. The adoption of Catholic practices to the voodoo faith soon became an integral part of what is known today as New Orleans voodoo. Catholic traditions, such as prayers including the Hail Mary and the Lord’s Prayer, baptism, and the sign of the cross were incorporated into voodoo practices.
During the nineteenth century, Voodoo queens became central figures to Voodoo in the United States. Voodoo queens presided over ceremonial meetings and ritual dances. They also earned an income by administrating charms, amulets, and magical powders guaranteed to cure ailments, grant desires, and confound or destroy one’s enemies.
Most noted for her achievements as voodoo Queen of New Orleans in the 1830’s was Marie Laveau. Once the news of her powers spread, she successfully overthrew the other voodoo queens of New Orleans. She acted as an oracle, conducted private rituals behind her cottage on St. Ann Street of the New Orleans French Quarter, performed exorcisms, and offered sacrifices to spirits.
Also a devout Catholic, Marie encouraged her followers to attend mass. The influence of her Catholic beliefs further facilitated the adoption of Catholic practices into the Voodoo belief system. Today, she is remembered for her skill and compassion for the less fortunate, and her spirit is considered one of the central figures of Louisiana Voodoo.
Today, thousands visit the tomb of Marie Laveau to ask favors. Across the street from the cemetery, offerings of pound cake are left to the statue of Saint Expedite; these offerings are believed to expedite the favors asked of Marie Laveau. Saint Expedite represents the spirit standing between life and death. The chapel where the statue stands was once used only for holding funerals.
Marie Laveau continues to be a central figure of Louisiana Voodoo and of New Orleans culture. Gamblers shout her name when throwing dice, and multiple tales of sightings of the Voodoo queen have been told. Her grave has more visitors than the grave of Elvis Presley and George Washington. Although she is not yet officially considered a saint, there is a strong movement to have her canonized.