Content provided by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The raids often came in the middle of the night. Entire villages in Africa were instantly destroyed, and their residents were herded off in shackles.
Once aboard overcrowded ships headed for parts unknown to them, newly enslaved African peoples had little to hold on to, except their traditions, their customs and their religion. For many, that religion was based on a belief in something called Voudon, meaning “Creator” or “Great Spirit.” The practice associated with Voudon came to be known as Voodoo.
Mention the word Voodoo to many people today, and you’re likely to draw apprehensive stares and cautious curiosity. The many popular misconceptions about Voodoo have caused the very word to bring dread and horror to masses of people who mistakenly believe Voodoo is an inherently evil concept, involving pins stuck into dolls and curses.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Voodoo is really a system of religion and spiritualism that finds its roots in ancient Africa. In many ways it differs little from modern organized religion. Its followers believe in one God and the search for a better understanding of the spiritual aspects of life – a far cry from the many who associate Voodoo with devil worship or human sacrifices.
Voodoo existed for many years in Africa as a rich part of the cultural fabric. The hierarchy of Voodoo includes God first, followed by Loa (spirits) that oversee all that happens on earth. Each of the Loa has its own preferred fruit, vegetable, color, day of the week, number and other life elements. The reason the spirits are so well known is that Voodoo is a religious practice passed from generation to generation by Griots, or story tellers.
African slaves in the Caribbean islands during the 19th century were banned from practicing Voodoo, but it didn’t take them long to realize the parallels between Voodoo and Catholicism. Soon, the names of Catholic saints and many Catholic rituals, including ceremonies and costuming, were mirrored by Voodoo practitioners.
In many ways it was Voodoo that sustained African slaves through the tribulations of being plucked from their homeland, forced into servitude and scattered across the globe against their will. Voodoo, in its own way, was the common thread of survival among slaves.
As a major slave trading post, it’s no wonder that Voodoo made its way to New Orleans from Martinique, Haiti and the French West Indies. Established cultural blends of French, Spanish and Indian traditions made the city an ideal setting for the practice.
By the time Voodoo wove its way into New Orleans culture, the French Quarter was a thriving riverside city, believed by some to be mystical. In the streets of New Orleans, it was most common to hear people speaking Spanish or French.
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