Haiti’s rich history of natural and traditional medicine, otherwise known as green medicine, has deep ties to spirituality. The religion of Haitian Vodou first started to develop in the 17th century. Haitian Vodou is a complex, diverse religion. One common theme is healing rituals through singing, dancing, and drumming. Haitian Vodou has a strong connection with herbal remedies, which continue to be widely used by Haitians today in treating a variety of illnesses. Vodou priests and priestesses are professional healers that incorporate herbs and rituals into the medicinal process. Depending on the condition being treated, herbal remedies are prepared and applied in specific ways. For example, princess vine (scientifically known as Cissus verticillata) is combined with other plants and sugar to create a syrup that treats fever. Ingestion is not the only way herbs are used. People, especially children, often take herbal baths to treat skin rashes or to rid them of evil eye. Herbs and oils are also applied topically to treat wounds or arthritis.
Haitian natural and traditional medicine tend to be more accessible than conventional western medicine. For Haitians who live in rural areas, access to western medicine is more limited. Western medicine is also more expensive. The wide availability of herbs for these practices is especially useful in times of need. After the devastating 2010 earthquake, it was reported that Vodou practitioners aided the sick and wounded. Herb concoctions were boiled and used to prevent infection. Conventional medical assistance and medical supplies were slower to reach all of the wounded, so natural and traditional medicine readily available were what they could depend on.
Haitian Vodou is still widely misunderstood, largely in part due to misrepresentation in western films and television shows. One popular delusion is that Haitian Vodou is an evil, sinister practice. Many people have a false belief that Haitian Vodou is used to curse people and bring misfortune. However, that cannot be further from the truth. Haitian Vodou is a rich cultural practice. To fully understand the cultural implications of Haitian Vodou, it is important to acknowledge the role this practice had in the Haitian revolution. Haitian Vodou was forbidden by the French colonists, but despite that, it continued to prevail and be practiced in secret. According to Brown University’s Department of Africana Studies, Vodou united rebel factions to fight and successfully overthrow the French colonial government. The Haitian Revolution began with the Bois Caïman ceremony in which various rebel groups strategized and solidified their pact in a Vodou ritual. While IAFL highly recommends that the students’ parents utilize medical doctors at clinics and hospitals for treatment, Vodou demonstrates the resilience of the Haitian people, and its place in Haiti’s history must be properly recognized.
Haitian Vodou. Moving Fictions. (2020, May 18). https://sites.udel.edu/movingfictions/the-books/american-street/vodou-2/#:~:text=Vodou%20is%20a%20creolized%20religion,spirit%27%2C%20%27god
Mader, L. S. (2010). Herbal and Traditional Medicine in Post-Earthquake Haiti. American Botanical Council. https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/86/table-of-contents/article3518/
Shen, K. (2015). Haitian Revolution Begins August–September 1791. Brown University. https://library.brown.edu/haitihistory/5.html
Volpato, G., Godínez, D., Beyra, A., & Barreto, A. (2009). Uses of medicinal plants by Haitian immigrants and their descendants in the Province of Camagüey, Cuba. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine, 5, 16. https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-4269-5-16
Written by Serina Bernardo