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Mar 29
2009

How did Voodoo come to New Orleans?

Posted by gmg in FAQs

Voodoo comes from an area of West Africa today recognized as the Republic of Benin. During the height of the slave trade, the town of Whydah (in present day Benin) was at the center of what was then called the Slave Coast. Different European colonial powers established factories along the African coast for the purpose of securing and exporting slaves. The French were, for a time, the major slave exports from the Benin region. On the other side of the Atlantic the French only had two major colonies that imported slaves (not counting an assortment of small Caribbean Islands); Saint-Domingue (now called Haiti) and la Louisiane. Therefore, it is not surprising that Voodoo is particularly recognized in these two former French colonies.

Slaves that were brought to New Orleans came directly from Africa. In fact, when the very first captives arrived in Louisiana 1719 they were from the Benin region. When the first slaves arrived in New Orleans they were observed to be unwilling to part with their small fetish, or gris-gris, objects. Even as they were settled into the Negro Camp set up in what is today the Algiers section of New Orleans, many of their physical maladies could only be cured by an African healer.

The subsequent French, then Spanish, colonial regimes neither condoned, nor specifically suppressed Voodoo. The area known today as Congo Square became a Sunday gathering place for African, and later Creole, slaves who sang and danced to pass the day in rest and recreation. Since, Voodoo does not segregate the secular from the sacred; these Sunday gathers maintained many of the old African ways and spirits.

Shortly after the American purchase of Louisiana Voodoo received a major reinforcement from the Catholic Church. During that period, the de facto schismatic priest, Père Antoine, appears to integrated relations and beliefs with Marie Laveau and Voodoo in probably the same way he interacted with the Freemasons.  From that point forward the Voodoo spirits are not only intertwined with the Catholic Saints in New Orleans, Voodoo itself is in some ways masked within the church.

With the increasing Anglo-African American, non-Catholic, population in the Americanized city, Voodoo began to merge with spiritualist beliefs and conjure practices to form separate Voodoo Spiritualist congregations.

Unlike Benin and Haiti where Voodoo has fused with the political structures, in New Orleans Voodoo has fused more distinctly with the music culture.

Today, Voodoo remains active in New Orleans as a spiritual belief, in the music and Mardi Gras and in the interest and curiosities of visitors and scholars.

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