When I first went to Haiti in the early 1970s, American Airlines pilots routinely welcomed visitors to “Haiti, 95% Catholic and 100% Voudou.” In the interim between then and now, I am certain that Catholic percentage has dropped due to Protestant Evangelical work by American and European missionaries. I am just as certain that the Voudou percentage has not changed since even back then, the Protestants I knew feared Voudou and its practitioners. Fear is the surest sign of faith.
In addition, between the time I left and now, some breakthroughs have been made permitting insight into the dark and secret world of zombification – a practice associated with Voudou. A professor of mine, Lamarque Douyon, found and managed to revive a zombie, and just before I left, Wade Davis showed up and began his research into the substances used to zombify people.
All of this is interesting in itself, but I bring it up here for several reasons:
1. Zombification tends to occur in outlying rural areas where there is little governmental representation.
2. It has been found to be used as a social control against those who repeatedly violate social rules (some of them laws).
3. The social rules in rural areas of Haiti can differ broadly from the law as it is written and followed in culturally westernized urban areas.
4. Rural areas of Haiti – even some aspects of urban areas – are recognized to be the closest replication of African culture this side of the Atlantic. (This is due to the early revolution – 1804 – and the closeness of many of the slaves who revolted to their African roots).
For my Master’s thesis, I chose to follow the model provided by Phyllis Chesler in Women and Madness to discover whether in rural culture, which represented at the time 85% of the population, women tended to exhibit a high incidence of the psychopathologies associated with men in the urban culture. (They did not). The reason I was curious was because of the structure of the rural, peasant-class family which is very different from the urban nuclear model.
A rural farmer in Haiti might own several parcels of land that are not necessarily contiguous or even in the same Department (state/province). Since one man cannot occupy all of these parcels at once, it is an accepted practice for the man to have as many wives (and families) as he owns parcels of land and to travel from farm to farm as an itinerant husband/dad. The wives are the ones responsible for raising the families, livestock, and crops, transporting the produce to the market, and selling it – all of this is usually done with the help of the children who might enjoy two or three years of school – if any – tops. In other words, the rural culture in Haiti is essentially matriarchal. When you converse with rural women in Haiti, you are very aware that these women are the ones in charge.
This cultural pattern is likely closely related to rural practices in some parts of Africa, particularly tribal areas closely associated with the origins of the Haitian people. One of these areas would be the Congo. Another, Nigeria. Because of time and distance, the two variables we must take into account when performing research in the human sciences, practices may have evolved differently on both sides of the ocean, but the phenomenon of strong matriarchal tendencies in central west Africa and in Haiti are recognizable.
Matriarchy is not legislated. It is a by-product of the larger culture, but it poses a problem for, and is at odds with the patriarchal tribal structure and with, in Haiti, the authority of the husband in the home. When we see, on the African continent, brutal crimes against women, I believe we are looking at something larger than the damage collateral to wars among men. I believe we are witnessing a larger war against women – against the bossy, creative, enterprising, self-sufficient women who hold the fabric of the family together while men are off fighting their wars. It is a war against women as leaders.
A friend (and Hillary loyalist) sent me this article written by our Homegirl Hillary. I think Hillary knows that these crimes against women will not necessarily abate with a ceasefire among the men. This is a separate war, this war against women. It requires its own separate set of negotiations, and its own separate peace.
Originally posted Friday August 21, 2009 12:30 PM EDT
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be taking some well-earned R&R in Bermuda this week, but last week, the former First Lady and U.S. Senator wrapped up a grueling seven-nation diplomatic mission to Africa.
While much was made back home about her snapping at a Congolese student who asked her about Bill Clinton’s thoughts on a trade issue (“My husband is not the secretary of state, I am,” she retorted), the emotional heart of her tour was also her most dangerous stop – in Goma, inside the war zone in eastern Congo, where she tearfully met rape victims on Aug. 11.
In this exclusive Op-Ed piece for PEOPLE.com, Secretary Clinton shares what she learned on her visit – and what she will do about it.