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Articles Home - Voodoo, Las 21 Divisiones and Los Misterios
"Voodoo" is still a taboo subject in the DR. Most Dominican will identify Hollywood style voodoo as some pagan religion practiced by Haitians where weird animal sacrifices take place under the cover of darkness and dolls are pushed with pins, placing spells on unsuspecting individuals. Though there are a large number of Dominicans who practice some form of a Dominican version of Vudu, Las 21 Divisiones, the "religion" is still highly controversial, misunderstood and feared. The main religion in the DR is Roman Catholicism and the Church still wields an immense amount of power over the Caribbean nation. Many of the ideas held by Dominicans come from the teachings of the Church and throughout history the Catholic Church has identified Vudu as a something to be feared.

Regardless Vudu is an influential Dominican subculture and religion. But due to historical, racial and cultural pressures Vudu morphed into Las 21 Divisiones and became more acceptable to the Dominicans who practice it. Even so, Las 21 Divisiones, is still looked upon with suspicion by some in the Dominican community. There are several factors involved in suspicion. Denying blackness and African identity is still common in the DR, and "voodoo" is identified as something that Haitians do. The Dominican Republic can be considered as an example contradictory ethnic and cultural identity. To one degree there is an internal struggle among Dominicans to counter the European ideals they have been taught, but the fact remains that some think that Vudu is only a Haitian thing, while on the other hand some Catholic Dominicans have altars dedicated to Belié Belcán.

Vodou (variant spellings: Vodun, Vudun, Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, Vudu) is an actual religion and is practiced in Benin, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Haiti, Togo and various cities in the US, particularly where there are large Haitian communities. "Voodoo" is the most common name and spelling of the religion in American and popular culture, but it is viewed as offensive by those who practice the religion. The spelling connotes an image that has been created for Hollywood movies, complete with violence and bizarre rituals. This image has nothing to do with the actual religion. The word "Voodoo" can describe the Creole rituals of New Orleans. For the purpose of this essay the "vudu" spelling will be used as a synonym for Las 21 Divisiones unless otherwise stated.

History of Vodou in the Americas
Vodou was brought to the Americas by African slaves who were imported to the New World during the Atlantic slave trade. The first African slaves touched soil on Hispaniola in the early 16th century with the system in full swing by the early 1550’s. A majority of the slaves brought to the New World originated from the Central and Western Africa tribes of Yoruba, Ewe, Fon, Mina, Kabaye, and Nago. Though sentenced to a life of forced labor in inhumane conditions the slaves brought with them their religion and used it as a way to survive life under colonial rule. By the late 17th century the slave population on Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) numbered into the millions and the visibility of Vodou began to worry the French, who ruled the western side of the island. So in 1685 French King Louis XIV passed Les Code Noir which pushed all Jews out of French colonies and prohibited the exercise of any religion, other than Roman Catholicism, in the French colonies. The Code restricted the activities of freed blacks and defined the conditions of slavery in the French colonial empire. The document also specified that all slaves must be baptized Catholics, slave masters must be Roman Catholic and with it increased the influence of Catholicism in the New World. The Codes was an extensive document on race and slavery, though it would have a deep impact on the development of Haitian Vodou, and in turn Las 21 Divisiones. Now instead of practicing their religion out in the open slaves had to find a way to continue practicing their religion without the suspicion of the slave masters. This is when the evolution of Vudu begins.

Practitioners would begin process of syncretism by where Vodou was masked behind Roman Catholic beliefs all the while Vodou was being practiced in the background. A typical example of Vodou syncretism is by where the religion’s deities, or spirits, were masked behind Catholic saints that possessed similar qualities therefore Belei Belcan became St. Michael, the Archangel, Jan Bakeo became Saint Peter became and Papa Legba became Saint Anthony. Slave owners might have seen a slave praying to the Virgin Mary but he wouldn’t suspect that the slave was in fact praying to Erizulie. By hiding their religion behind the acceptable structure of Catholicism Vodou presence in the Americas stayed strong, especially in Haiti and through time Vodou would become steeped in Catholic dogma.

By the late 1790’s disturbances by slaves became more and more common and the Haitian Revolutionary movement began to take form. In 1791 a Vodou ceremony at Bois Caiman, performed by high priest Duty Boukman, was a catalyst of the 1803 fight for freedom and solidified the influence of the religion on the island. In 1804, after Haiti declared its independence, the Catholic Church left the island and wouldn’t return for 56 years. In the interim Vodou’s influence and visibility became stronger and even when the Church returned in the 1860’s they continued a war against the religion, though this was in vain. Through increased migration and a cultural mélange Vodou spread to the eastern part of Hispaniola.

Dominican Vudu (Las 21 Divisiones)
Las 21 Divisiones, or Dominican Vudu, maintains many of the same characteristics of Haitian Vodou, with only a few slight variations. Contrary to popular belief, like Haitian Vodou, Dominican Vudu practitioners believe in one main God, the Creator, Papa Bon Dyé (the good God). In Haiti "God" goes by Gran Met (the Great Master). There are three important categories of spiritual beings. There are the Lwa or Loas and these are the various spirits of the major forces of the universe. The Lwa interact with the people of earth and during ceremonies they "mount" or "posses" a practitioner’s body. Another part of the religion is the dichotomy of good vs. evil and the recognition of dead family members which must be recognized time and again.

An important part of Vudu is healing people and healers can heal with herbs and faith using the help of the Lwa. Interestingly enough there is a certain equality in Vudu. High Priests can be men (houngan) and women (mambo) and homosexuals are not shunned from the religion as they too can hold the posts of priests. As part of their functions priests heal, perform ceremonies, hold initiations for new priests (tesses) (kanzo service and taking the ason) and in some cases they claim to tell the future, read dreams, can cast spells and create protections.
 
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