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The Cover
June 16, 2010

Choucoune(Yellow Bird)

JAMA. 2010;303(23):2327. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.801

Haiti is a predominantly Christian country, but most Haitians also profess a belief in vodou, a syncretic religion that combines the belief systems of West African slaves and native Arawakian Indians with French Catholicism. Vodou has flourished in Haiti since the first boatloads of slaves arrived from Africa in the late 17th century, despite many attempts to suppress it. Slaves transported from Africa often spoke different languages and had little in common other than forced servitude. Vodou gave them a sense of common identity and common purpose—which the French plantation owners perceived as a threat. They were vastly outnumbered by the slaves, and a slave revolt was their greatest fear, so they banned vodou services, to avoid giving slaves an opportunity to assemble for any purpose other than to work the land for the owners' profit. The owners' worst fears came true in the slave rebellion of 1791, which according to legend was sanctioned in a vodou ceremony. When Haiti achieved its independence from France in 1804, all white persons were killed or driven out of the country, and for a time vodou thrived. Within a few decades, however, opposition to vodou reemerged, this time from middle and upper class Haitians who respected the traditions of France more than those of Africa. Attempts were made by the government of Haiti to suppress vodou throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th.

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