A History of Religious Persecution and Suppression

VODOUN

 (“VOODOO”)

 Rainbow Serpent Deity. Oldest manifestation form

 The repository of the great Ancestors.

 Arara/Yeveh Vodoun. Augusta, GA. USA.

    THE RELIGIOUS PRACTICES OF SOUTHERN SLAVES IN AMERICA

                                   by

    Mama Zogbé, Chief Hounon-Amengansie, M.Ed.

                           (formerly: Mamaissii Vivian)

  Mami Wata: Africa’s Ancient God/dess Unveiled

Reclaiming the ancient Vodoun History & Heritage age of the Diaspora.  

         Second Edition

 

"The West African slave trade, depleted some of the best minds taken from
these African soils. Many were priests and priestesses,
who were raided from remote villages, and taken to America."

Paraphrased quote taken from film presented to visitors
to Elmina's Slave Castles in Ghana. 2001

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, the Africans enslaved to build the economic foundation of America were not Christians.1 During slavery, African-Americans were not even allowed to worship as westernized Christians. Later, during Reconstruction, the myth that the majority of "free" Africans were devout Christians, was merely a political ploy deliberately disseminated in popular media by white Abolitionists, and black preachers, as an argument against slavery; in their naive attempt to present the enslaved masses as "civilized," and therefore  “human.”  The latter being embarrassed and ashamed by the African religious practices which were deemed  "evil" and primitive. 2  This myth has remained unchallenged until the present.

In truth, the builders of this great nation were practitioners of the various African Religions popularly known today as "Voodoo", (Vodoun) Akan, Ifa, Orisha, La Reglas de Congo, and Mami Wata. A small percentage were even (African-styled) Muslims3, incorporating the ancient matriarchal practices of pre-Arabic Islam, to include ancestral veneration and honor of the family deities into their ritual practices.Vodoun houses were established in many free Black townships headed by great healers in the African spiritual arts

These spiritual practices of the Africans enslaved in America, have their ancestral origins not from Haiti, Cuba, or the Americas, but directly from West Africa ( Ewe [ev-way]),Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, the Congo, and other West African nations. The African Spirits remained in their blood just as they did wherever the African was taken and enslaved in the New World 4

It is true that African descendants in the New World, owe much to Haiti, an independent, proud republic since 1804. As a result of their victory, Haitian Vodou, having its ancestral roots in many West African indigenous religions, is the most widely known African religion to have survived and flourished in the New World.

However, though always mis-credited by western historians and New Age converts, Haiti is not where the Vodoun religion was born, nor is it where it reached its highest pinnacle of philosophical, ritual and theological development. The Vodoun religion in the U.S. pre-dates Haitian influence. Vodoun is actually estimated to have existed for more than 10,000+ years, having its ancient roots in Egypt, East Africa and in ancient Afro-matrilineal Ionia (later known as "Greece") where the African, Queen mothers established their powerful temples and theocratic empires. These black, African empires reigned for more than 4,000 years before the Dorian (white) Greek invaders, whom western revisionist ("historians") now credit with their ancient history. The Vodoun religion was also one of the major religions practiced all throughout the ancient world.

Additionally, in more recent times, what is not widely known nor extensively researched is Vodoun's history in America, more specifically, among the Ewe and other enslaved Africans who brought the Vodoun religion directly from West Africa. It had been assumed because the Africans enslaved in America were not as numerous as those in Brazil or the Islands, that somehow their family spiritual lineages died out when the religions were demonized and violently suppressed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West Africans arrived in America speaking their native mother tongues, and were forbidden to learn English, or to read, including the Euro-Christian Bible. The Christian missionaries, (of whom the majority supported slavery), were not interested in actually teaching the tenets of western Christianity to the enslaved Africans, but rather their primary focus was on presenting a noble image of civilizing them from their "idolatrous" ways, and making them more compliant with their lamentable fate of generational chattel slavery. 5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On many southern plantations, it was even against the law for any enslaved African to pray to their God. The slave owners greatly feared the spiritual powers that many enslaved African priests possessed. Those who were caught praying to God were often brutally penalized, as the following excerpt taken from Peter Randolph's 1893 narrative "Slave Cabin to the Pulpit" recounts:

 

In some places, if the slaves are caught praying to God, they are whipped more than if they had committed a great crime. The slaveholders will allow the slaves to dance, but do not want them to pray to God. Sometimes, when a slave, on being whipped, calls upon God, he is forbidden to do so, under threat of having his throat cut, or brains blown out. Oh, reader! this seems very hard- - that slaves cannot call on their Maker, when the case most needs it. Sometimes the poor slave takes courage to ask his master to let him pray, and is driven away, with the answer, that if discovered praying, his back will pay the bill.

 

Interestingly enough, many West Africans with an extensive history of pre-Christian Talmudic (biblical) ritual knowledge and practice, even arrived in the Americas highly familiar with their own pre-Christian tales of the legend of "Moses" .6 They were not familiar with him as the Christianized Moses who led the Jews to the promised land, but rather as "the great conjurer," in which he was revered and celebrated for centuries as the "bringer of the law." This lore is merely a remnant of the legends popularized during the reign of the black matriarchal empires whose sacred theology, rule and culture dominated the ancient world (Ionia, [Greece], Egypt, Asia Minor, Mycenae, Crete, Thessalonica, East Africa, and North India), for more than 6,000 years.

 

In some locations, Moses (an Afro-masculine word for "savior"; feminine= "Muse") was even worshiped as a God. As a high priestess or priest who wielded great power with the High God. A great and powerful elder who dwelt among humans. He was directly associated with the symbol of the rainbow, serpent deity Dan (or Damballa) of the Vodou Religion in  West Africa & the Diaspora.

 

Though some forms of westernized Christianity, made its way to many West African nations prior to the trans-Atlantic voyages, it effected little inroads into the lives of the millions of traditionalist Africans captured and enslaved in America. Thousands still continued to praise God, propitiate their ancestors and serve their tutelary and ancestral divinities.

 


"Snake Woman"

There was a woman that died. The night before she died, we was crossing Gilmore, and Moore Street, going to church and her snake got away. . . She kept two snakes in the house.
[She] say she could send them anywhere she wanted to.

"Story told by Conjureman" Wilmington, N.C., Hyatt: Hoodoo, Conjuration, & Witchcraft. pg 66 Vol I.

Denied basic medical care, and distrustful of "modern medicine", millions of enslaved Africans in the South, still depended exclusively on the "root worker," for their medical and spiritual prescriptions to tend to their physical and spiritual needs. In the case of "Voodoo" (Vodoun), thousands more even performed secret rituals to their divinities of War, petitioning their aid in the numerous insurrections towards their liberation.

It was this latter ritual of African Religious practice, that incited the most fear and hatred in the hearts and minds of the slave owners, and American White citizenry. The slave owners learned only too well of the efficacy of its power.

This was so because "Voodoo's" (Vodoun) philosophical structure, and its ritual and cultural manifestation, emphasized the warrior gods who sustained and directly aided the Africans in their long struggle toward freedom. It was in this respect that the priesthood weld considerable power as they did in Africa.

 

 

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"Voudooism" in Alabama

"We have before us something of a curiosity in the shape of a voudoo or conjure bag. Negroes in this section, even in their most enlightened circles, have never gotten rid of that lowest order of superstition common to the race since the birth of their most ancient forefathers, which is a firm belief in and practice of what has been called voudooism." Alabama, May 1884. p. 282

Fewkws, Walter, J. "Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States." Journal of American Folk-lore, XL:282-287,Vol 3. Oct-Dec 1890.



"Voudooism in Charleston, S.C.

" . . . a negro girl of about eighteen or nineteen years . . . became hysterical . . . and seemed to show symptoms of insanity, This occurrence followed close upon [her] refusal of a persistent suitor. The employers of the girl at once called a competent [white] physician who was unable to account for her condition and recommended that she be removed to the city hospital. . . She was pronounced insane, and the physician urged that she be sent to an insane asylum . . . a woman "voudoo doctor," . . .offered to take the spell off of the girl. . . . The vodoudoo doctor treated the patient for about a week, and cured her 1881. (p. 282)

Fewkws, Walter, J. "Concerning Negro Sorcery in the United States." Journal of American Folk-lore, XL:282-287,Vol 3. Oct-Dec 1890.


Slavery in the Light

"There are other elements peculiar to the Nigritian [Negro] on which the disease called negro consumption, or Cachexia Africana, depends. But these belong to that class which subject the negro to the white man's spiritual empire over him. When that spiritual empire is not maintained in all its entirety, . . . he is apt to fall under the spiritual influence of the artful and designing of his own color. . . Better throw medicine to the dogs, than give it to a negro patient impressed with the belief that he has walked over poison specially laid for him, or has been in some other way tricked or conjured.
(p. 723-724)" Elliott, L.L.D. "Pro-Slavery Arguments" (Augusta: Pritchard, Abbot & Loomis, 1860).
Text Box: © 2006 Mama Zogbé

"Voodoo man" "Papa" (great grandfather of Mama Zogbé [author])