Monday, November 15, 2010

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

This evening I attended a lecture on Vodou in Haitian Life and Culture by Dr. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith. He discussed the false views on the religion of Vodou in the American culture. Vodou is a syncretic religion deriving from the nation of Haiti. This lecture informed me of a culture and religion that I had a complete misconception about.

The lecture brought up the issues of national identity and representation. Dr. Bellegarde-Smith blamed the skewed vision Americans have on Vodou (not Voodoo!) on the Hollywood propaganda. They have made several movies defaming African religions and depicting Vodou as all about “dolls and pins.” Although he unfairly depicted the U.S. as ignorant and conceited, he was right about the mistaken beliefs about Vodou. While Haiti is the same size as other nations, such as Denmark and Switzerland, it is viewed as small and worthless to many. African religions do not separate the body and the soul. Their religion is a way of life and involves everything about them. Americans have a black and white image of the world, or a distinct set of opposites ingrained in our minds. Vodou, on the other hand, sees how everything is connected. They do not believe in a heaven or hell, good or evil, or sin. In Vodou, God is absolutely good and absolutely evil. There is life before life and life after death.

This misconception of Vodou reminded me of the first impressions Shane left in the novel Shane by Jack Schaeffer. Shane came into the lives of the Starrett family and left them with an lasting impact. When he rode onto their farm, Bob noticed his dark clothing as strange and foreign. His father, Joe, however, saw something genuine in the depths of Shane’s eyes. Marian, Joe’s wife, was unsure of Shane at first saying he was, “Mysterious. But more than that. Dangerous.” (page 10) Shane was in fact very dangerous, but never to the Starrett family. They formed with him a deep, unbreakable bond that he fought for with every fiber of his being. The neighboring farmers also were reluctant to trust Shane. His past remained a mystery but it seemed to allude to something dark and troubling. They only saw that he was noble and just when he fought whole-heartedly for Joe.

Many people have conceive things in the wrong way because of predispositions or what they have heard. We form unfair judgements on things we usually have no knowledge of. Many people view Vodou as a type of witchcraft. Shane had to gain the trust of people who judged him at first glance.

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