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The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Paperback)
  • The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Paperback)
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The Spirits and the Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (Paperback)

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£22.50
Paperback 448 Pages / Published: 08/01/2016
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Vodou has often served as a scapegoat for Haiti's problems, from political upheavals to natural disasters. This tradition of scapegoating stretches back to the nation's founding and forms part of a contest over the legitimacy of the religion, both beyond and within Haiti's borders. The Spirits and the Law examines that vexed history, asking why, from 1835 to 1987, Haiti banned many popular ritual practices.To find out, Kate Ramsey begins with the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath. Fearful of an independent black nation inspiring similar revolts, the United States, France, and the rest of Europe ostracized Haiti. Successive Haitian governments, seeking to counter the image of Haiti as primitive as well as contain popular organization and leadership, outlawed spells and, later, superstitious practices. While not often strictly enforced, these laws were at times the basis for attacks on Vodou by the Haitian state, the Catholic Church, and occupying U.S. forces. Beyond such offensives, Ramsey argues that in prohibiting practices considered essential for maintaining relations with the spirits, anti-Vodou laws reinforced the political marginalization, social stigmatization, and economic exploitation of the Haitian majority. At the same time, she examines the ways communities across Haiti evaded, subverted, redirected, and shaped enforcement of the laws. Analyzing the long genealogy of anti-Vodou rhetoric, Ramsey thoroughly dissects claims that the religion has impeded Haiti's development.

Publisher: The University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 9780226703800
Number of pages: 448
Weight: 649 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 25 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
"Ramsey's rich and multilayered book tells a new history of Haiti that reorients how we think politically. Both hard-hitting and revelatory, it teaches us how to understand the law writ large, its plural histories, its effects on everyday life, its ability to absorb and transform and be transformed, to command the public sphere. . . . The continued deformation of Haitian culture, the maligning of vodou--born out of the legality that might seem to deny it--is always political. In calling our attention to the relationship between dead bodies, haunting spirits, and legal authority, Ramsey guarantees a political history that is rigorous and visible--a necessary wakeup call, it is to be hoped, to a mythologized Haiti of zombies, sorcery, and witchdoctors that screens the ongoing economic greed, political guile, and sheer weight of military force."

--Colin Dayan "Law, Culture and the Humanities "
"A sophisticated investigation of how Vodou has been treated by the ruling powers of the island since the era of French colonization."
--Matthew J. Smith "Radical History Review "
"The Spirits and the Law is a nuanced and thorough reading of a religious system that has been historically misunderstood, demonized, and criminalized. Ramsey effectively shows how Vodou's treatment both officially and unofficially is part and parcel of a larger battle for power and self-determination from various agents that is waged locally and internationally. In her quest to reveal truths Ramsey leaves no stone unturned. What she cannot include in the main text she includes in the copious notes that could form another text in themselves. Anyone who seeks to truly "build Haiti [back] better" should make this text part of required reading, because no work will succeed in Haiti if those who go in to help refuse to understand that Haiti's fraught and complex political history is inextricably woven with its spiritual history, a spiritual history that is not a "hindrance to progress," as some would have us believe, but one to be respected and honored as a system that has supported and sustained Haiti against impossible odds." --Toni Pressley-Sanon "sx salon "
"Scholarly interest in the history of Haiti has resurged in recent years, largely focused on the Haitian Revolution. There is, of course, also a plethora of scholarship on Vodou in Haiti. Kate Ramsey's The Spirits and the Law should not be overlooked as a run-of-the-mill addition to either body of work. Ramsey's award-winning first book offers a valuable perspective on both the broader history of Haiti and the sociopolitical role of Vodou as she examines the creation and enforcement of laws that restricted ritual practices between the colonial period and the fall of the Duvalier regime."
--Katharine H. Cross "Caribbean Studies "

"Kate Ramsey is a gifted, sophisticated, passionate, and objective student of Haitian life and history. In The Spirits and the Law she has left no stone unturned. She sees Vodou as a modern invention of the Haitian genius, and the book is a platform for analyzing all the big issues--from imperialism, to slavery, neocolonialism, and US exceptionalism expressed as racial paternalism--that have made Haiti what it has become. This is a very big book."

--Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"In The Spirits and the Law Kate Ramsey explores the links between the construction of Vodou as malicious magic or a progress-impeding force and the penalizing of superstitious practices by the Haitian state. This brilliantly argued and exhaustively researched study examines questions of prohibition and denial that are omitted by other works on Haitian popular religion. It is as much a formidable feat of scholarship as a much needed argument against seeing Vodou as responsible for Haiti's underdevelopment."

--J. Michael Dash, New York University

"In this compelling study of anti-superstition legislation in Haiti, Kate Ramsey culls a remarkable set of materials to bring to bear on the topic, ranging from colonial travel accounts, memoirs, State Department records, and U.N. sorcery reports. The richness of her account is a testament to indefatigable research, and she develops fresh insights into the related literature as well. This fascinating book adds much to our knowledge of modern Haiti as well as religion and cultural politics in Latin America and the Caribbean in general."

--Robin Derby, University of California, Los Angeles

"A tour de force of research and interpretation, this book offers a spellbinding history of the relationship between popular spiritual practice and the rule of law in Haiti. With fine-grained detail and theoretical sophistication, Kate Ramsey shows law to be a fickle spirit--a powerful but capricious force, having the capacity to lie dormant for long periods and then form suddenly into a dangerous weapon of church, state, and imperial oppression, while remaining susceptible to popular efforts to harness legal powers for beneficial ends. Can great scholarship work like medicinal magic? If, as Ramsey argues, popular religion is a vital resource sustaining Haiti's people, then perhaps The Spirits and the Law can cure the toxic pathologies afflicting so much of the ill-informed commentary on Vodou's role in Haitian life."

--Vincent Brown, Duke University

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