Vodou is a much maligned and often misunderstood religion. We’ll begin to unpack vodou’s complicated role in Haitian history and learn about loa. I’m joined by Dr. Marcia Chatelain of Georgetown University, who comes to us live from the Chicago airport, complete with boarding announcements.




There’s a couple of books I literally couldn’t have written this episode without. I strongly encourage you to check them out.

There’s also a couple of articles that made this episode possible:

  • Krista White, “Espousing Ezili: Images of a Lwo, Reflections of the Haitian Woman,” Journal for Haitian Studies, Vol. ⅚ (1999-2000), pp. 62-79.

  • Claudine Michel, “Voudou in Haiti: Way of Life and Mode of Survival,” Journal of Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 98-109.

  • Richard Brent Turner, “The Haiti-New Orleans Connection: Zora Neale Hurston as Initiate Observer,” Journal of Haitian Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Spring 2002), pp. 112-133.

I drew this flow chart while I was chatting with the missionaries. It's a little difficult to read, but it helped me organize my thoughts.
The Haitian embassy in Washington, DC has an absolutley beautiful art collection. Many pieces in it draw on traditional motifs of the loa. There are also images of the worship of the loa through traditional rituals like trance possession. 
Different loa like different offerings, so a vodou shrine may be to a single loa, or to many different loa. The one pictured above has offerings to the Rada, the Petwo, and the Gede. For more information about the loa, including who likes what and how those families are different from each other, I encourage you to visit my old friend, Wikipedia. 


If you want to learn more about the symbolism in Lemonade, I strongly encourage you to check out Candice Benbow’s Lemonade Syllabus. It’s downright beautiful, both the collection of books and the actual pamphlet itself. It’s free to download, and there’s space for you to mark off which books you’ve read and make notes on what you thought about them.


If you liked what Professor Chatelain had to say, you should absolutely check out the rest of her work.

    One thing I didn’t get the chance to talk about in this episode is sort of the role academia has played in the misrepresentation of vodou. For all the scholarship that’s wonderful and accurate, it seems like less accurate scholarship more often catches the public’s attention. There was a book on vodou written in the 1980’s called the Serpent and the Rainbow. And, this book has a legacy that is both way bigger than the book ever was, and hella controversial. The book is supposed to be a scientific explanation of zombies. The accuracy of the science is certainly up for debate, but I’m not going to make an argument about science here. The book was written by a Harvard professor, so it hits the market with a sort of ethos it didn’t necessarily deserve. What really cements the Serpent and the Rainbow’s place in our conception of vodou is a horror movie by the same name. It’s loosely based on the book, but it’s also totally and utterly inaccurate and absurd. Problem is, the Serpent and the Rainbow hits the cultural conscious at the same time as the Haitian refugee crisis. So there this horrible kind of confluence between an influx of Haitians, and a pretty twisted representation of this Haitian religion.