Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Haitian Vodou: A Community

What is Haitian Vodou? I never knew what Haitian Vodou was all about until I listened to a talk by Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, PhD Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. Dr. Bellegarde-Smith is a renowned authority on African religions.

Haitian Vodou is an African religion that is quite different from other mainstream religions that people practice in the United States. Vodou is a connection between the mind and body—together they are one. Sin is not a tenet of this religion, nor is heaven or hell. Real Haitian Vodou does not involve dolls. Instead, this is something that has been portrayed by today’s society. He blamed the disconnection on Hollywood. He claims that Hollywood movies have portray, and tarnish, the religion by showing it as a religion that deals with dolls; making the religion seem outlandish. People are not allowed to convert to Vodou. You are either in or you are out. It is something that is inside of you and you cannot simply decide to join. Many people, hundreds of thousands, practice Vodou in some form. Haitian Vodou is a community of people with the same beliefs that all of them hold dear.

This talk made me think about the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year and it’s impact on our county. Many organizations around the world, especially here in the United States, rushed to aid in the relief work that needed to be undertaken in Haiti. I have a few colleagues and friends that went to Haiti to provide medical services to those that needed it. Some were surgeons and critical care physicians that went to operate and take care of the sickest and most badly injured people. Some were nurses who provided care for many hours during the day for a course of many weeks. They stayed in sub-par conditions, such as school cafeterias and run-down homes. The conditions in which they lived were not important though. It was the work that they did, and the lives they touched, which meant the most.

Reflecting of Haiti made me think of several things. First of all, it made me think of what it means to be a part of a community—the worldly community, citizenship of the U.S., a part of Baltimore, and a member of the Loyola community. In the example of the Haitian earthquake, it seems that the people in this county didn’t just think they were from the United States; they were from the World. It is central to ask how we fit into a community and how we would react if members of our community needed our help. Time and time again, we have seen the Loyola community come together during tough times—such as deaths and other unfortunate events.

This talk by Dr. Bellegarde-Smith also reminded me of Shane. When Shane arrives onto the frontier, he immediately becomes part of the home community. Although not much is known about Shane, the family welcomes him into their home and welcomes them as a member of their own community.

Maybe we should all act more like this—welcoming people into our own communities and providing assistance when we can. That’s what makes for a great community—a sense of togetherness and being one.

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