Pat Robertson has caused anger and bafflement (as ever) with the claim that the devastating earthquake in Haiti is just the latest disaster to hit the country as the result of a “pact with the devil” supposedly made by Haitians to rid themselves of French rule.
This supposed pact has been obsessed over before by neo-Pentecostal Christians who regard spiritual causality as the directing force behind world events. In 2004, The Revealer noted the views of Terry W. Snow, country director of Youth with a Mission, who described the pact but also announced that it was at an end:
2004 will be the official ending of the 200 year pact known as the Boukman Contract. (See below for more details.) Made by a slave named Boukman, who was considered to be a great witchdoctor, the contract surrendered the Haitian people to spiritual slavery through a voodoo ceremony, in exchange for their physical freedom. On the night of August 14, 1791 the sacrifice was made and the contract agreed to. However, it wouldn’t be until January 1, 1804 that Haiti was recognized as the first independent black nation in the world.
…On the night of August 14, 1791, the slaves sealed that unity in a ceremony held in the woods at Bois Caiman, not too far from Cap-Haitien. A pig was slaughtered, and all of those present drank of the blood of that pig and together pledged 200 years of service to the spirits of the island in exchange for victory over the French. An iron statue of a pig sits in Port-au-Prince to commemorate that event.
On the night of Aug. 22, they began a war by setting the entire Northern Plain on fire, and hunting down and taking vengeance on the plantation owners. Years of battles followed—against France, Spain, and even England—but in the end they got their victory, proclaiming independence on Jan. 1, 1804. As a nation, they have been mostly faithful to their deal with the devil. And in exchange, the spirits have given them nearly 200 years of turbulent and often miserable history.
“…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
In fact, the details of the ceremony at Bois Caiman are difficult to establish and interpret, as the nineteenth-century sources added a romantic anti-Christian slant and elements from Classical paganism. David Patrick Geggus’ book Haitian Revolutionary Studies has a chapter-length discussion, which can be accessed on Google Books [UPDATE: There’s also this essay, by Markel Thylefors (noted by Mark Joseph)]. It may perhaps have been a Dahomean blood pact; of course, neo-Pentecostal Christians regard all non-Christian religions negatively (with some exceptions made for Judaism), but the idea of a “pact with the devil”, suggestive of Satanism and of identification with evil, is an ignorant, lurid, and polemical interpretation of the event. And as an explanation for Haiti’s various problems – let alone the latest tragedy – it is both risible and in bad taste.
Snow is still in Haiti, and looking on the bright side post-earthquake:
…During our time of prayer this morning we felt God saying that this is the start of new beginnings in Haiti. That in this time of need when most people hit rock bottom, that they will look and see that their voodoo god is not real and cry out to God.
President Aristide’s state recognition of voodoo was decried by American missionaries as an attempt “to rededicate Haiti to Satan”, and, as I blogged in 2004, there was rejoicing when he was forced to flee the country.
UPDATE: A Haitian pastor named Jean Gelin considered the story in 2005:
I was born and raised in Haiti, and I am a graduate of the State University in Port-au-Prince. I am also a believer in the Lord Jesus-Christ in accordance with the Bible. In all of my studies of Haitian history, however, I have yet to find a good evidence of even the idea of Satan’s assistance in the Independence War, let alone a satanic pact.
For quite some time now, several articles on the Internet have mentioned the existence of an iron pig statue in Port-au-Prince as a monument to commemorate Haiti’s so-called pact with the devil through Vodou. The statue would be in remembrance of a pig that was killed during the gathering by the African slaves. In an effort to know more about that rumor, I contacted several authors about the exact location of the pig statue that’s incidentally nowhere to be found in the country. Their answer was complete silence, a simple apology, or just the removal of the reference from their texts.
…I would not be surprised if the satanic pact idea (followed by the divine curse message) was put together first by foreign missionaries and later on picked up by local leaders. On the other hand, it is equally possible that some Haitian church leaders developed the idea on their own using a theological framework borrowed from those same missionaries who subsequently propagated the message around the world. Either way, because of this message, Haiti has been portrayed as the country born out of Satan’s benevolence and goodwill toward mankind. Shouldn’t such a fantastic idea be tested for its historic validity and theological soundness?
UPDATE 2: It should be recalled that the “Boukman Contract” is far from being the only instance of neo-Pentecostals taking an aspect of a national culture and using it to construct a narrative of demonic activity. In June, I blogged on C. Peter Wagner’s view that Japan had “invited national demonization” due to a special Shinto ceremony that occurs when a new Emperor comes to the throne.
UPDATE 3: Rachel Tabachnick has more on the neo-Pentecostal background to the Haiti “devil pact” story at Talk to Action.
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