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The Serpent and the Rainbow

A Harvard Scientist's astonishing journey into the Secret Societies of Hatian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic. 

A Note On Orthography

The orthography of the name of the Hatian traditional religion has been the source of some academic debate. The word Voodoo comes from the Fon language of Dahomey (now Benin) and Togo. It means simply "god" or "spirit." Unfortunately, as a result of the sensational and inaccurate interpretations in the media, Hollywood in particular, the word voodoo has come to represent a fantasy of black magic and sorcery.

Anthropologists have attempted to both highlight and to avoid this stereotype by using a number of terms including vodu,vodun, voudoun, and vodun. I have followed their lead because I feel, as I hope this book will show, that the rich religion  of the Hatian traditional society deserves to be recognized, and what we have come to know as "voodoo" bears little resemblance to it. I use the term Vodoun because it seems to me to be phonetically the most accurate.

However, it is important to note at the outset that the Hatian peasants themselves do not call their religion "vodoun". Theirs is a closed system of belief,and in a world of few alternatives one either "serves the loa"-the spirits-or one does not. Vodoun, from their point of view refers to a specific event, a dance ritual during which the spirits arrive to mount and possess the believer. For the sake of clarity, I refer throughout these pages to the "vodoun society." This is a concept of convenience, and it also reflects the view of outsiders looking in, not that of a believer surrounded by his /her spirit realm.

Likewise, the spelling of zombi is a matter of some disagreement.Westerner's prefer zombie, the more familiar form, to zombi. My Oxford dictionary  doesn't have the term, which reflects the American fasination  with Haiti since the Occupation. (in 2019 president Donald Trump declares Haiti to be A "Shit Hole", on an official visit via the media, a profound insult to the natives and the art of political diplomacy). A beautiful tale which depicts the confusion of Western philosophy and psychology.

The sources in the literature are mixed. Seabrook (1929) spelled it zombie, as did Deren  (1953). Metraux (1972), Huxley (1966), and Leyburn (1941), on the other hand, use Zombi. Metraux is perhaps the recognized authority on the religion, but to my mind Deren had more intimate contact with the people and is an important source as well- although this has little to do with the spelling of the term.

Of more interest is the derivation. The word probably comes from the Kongo word nzambi, which mor or less means "spirit of a dead person". This is yet another example of the African roots of the vodouin religion and society.

Reference: The Serpent and the Rainbow:Wade Davis


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