Vodou, Illness and Models in Haiti

From Local Meanings to Broader Relations of Domination

in Anthropology in Action
Author:
Nicolas Vonarx Laval University nicolas.vonarx@fsi.ulaval.ca

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Anthropological research concerning the relationship between Haitian vodou and illness shows that vodou practitioners' explanatory models of illness contain two levels of causality. One presents the sick as victims of magical-religious procedures and illness as being the result of agents directed at the victims. The meanings for the origins of such illnesses are rooted in Haitian social reality, which Haitians perceive as dangerous and threatening. A certain representation of self and social reality underlies these illness models in vodou and in vodou-inspired Haitian folk knowledge. An anthropological analysis of illness must identify local meanings that may shed light on certain cultural constructions of illness, as can be achieved by examining explanatory models structured around origins, causes, disease agents and other sources of illness found in Haiti. But the analysis must go beyond local meanings and question the representation of self and of social reality that goes along with these models and makes them intelligible for Haitians. In doing so, we note that this representation is the result of a process of subjectivation that is bound up in power relations between Haiti and the West. A cultural approach to explanatory models of illness in vodou is incomplete without a critical anthropological approach that addresses the relations of domination to which Haiti has been subjected. This article draws on these two anthropological perspectives in analysing illness in Haiti. It demonstrates how a meaning-oriented micro-social analysis of illness can be combined with a critical, macro-social approach in medical anthropology.

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Anthropology in Action

Journal for Applied Anthropology in Policy and Practice

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