It can be argued that the reason for the triumph of the Haitian Revolution, the only successful rebellion of enslaved Africans in the New World, was because of the adherence to traditional African religious systems. That is to say, when African people function from their cultural foundation, their ethics, morals, languages, et cetera, dynamic things have and can take place. Though the Haitian Revolution was clearly centered on the Haitian people delivering themselves from the cruelty of their French enslavers, there are legends and myths which push the belief that the only reason for the achievements of the enslaved of the island and the overall success of the Revolution was due to the loyalty of the people to their original African customs, mores, and Gods. And, if one took this perspective at face value, it can be stated that the Gods of Ifá did well by their worshippers, because despite all of the country’s issues (both current and historical), the Republic of Haiti is a free nation, and is the only free African nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Religion for the nation of Haiti is quite thick and complex. It is true that Haiti is nation where Voodoo (or Ifá) is one of the major religions. However, Catholicism is also very prevalent. Academically, this screams syncretism: the combining of religious traditions in order to form a complete religious/spiritual tradition, especially for those who are displaced and/or oppressed. Further, the syncretism of the Haitian Revolution is quite complex, adding elements of Islam, Ifá and Christianity to a spiritual gumbo that helped to shape the whole of the Western world. With that in mind, the following essays will work to dissect the complex religion of the Haitian Revolution. In an effort to focus this discussion, I will survey the belief systems of the major leaders of the Haitian Revolution: Toussaint ĽOverture, Dutty Boukman, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and their closet constituents. What will become clear is that enslaved African people of Haiti used every spiritual tool at their disposal to secure their independence.
As early 1789 rebels of the island of Saint-Domingue, inspired in part by the French revolution and emboldened by their lot, began turning the wheels of upheaval. Many free and enslaved people of color began pushing for more rights as humans and laborers under the yoke of the French Empire. However, while 1789 may have been the beginning of the push towards freedom for the African inhabitants of Haiti, the winds of war fully matured in the summer of 1791. To elaborate, sometime in August a Voodoo ceremony was held at Bois Caïman. At this gathering a number of enslaved Africans from various plantations were represented. According to record and legend, this is the (in)famous meeting where the people of Haiti allegedly made a pact with the “Devil” in order to win their freedom from “les blancs”.
The meeting was lead by Dutty Boukman, a well-known Voodoo priest who served on plantations both in Haiti and Jamaica. Boukman, originally from Jamaica, was a self-educated man who was renown for teaching his enslaved compatriots how to read and write. It is said that Dutty’s name – Boukman – is a variation of “Book man”, a nick-name given to him by the English of Jamaica. However, other sources argue that “Boukman” is a nod to his Islamic heritage, the name actually meaning: Man of the Book. Regardless of his name origin, his reputation earned him the disdain of the enslavers of Jamaica, but more importantly, because of his repute, he was sold to an enslaver in Haiti, where he would help to define the history of the Western Hemisphere.
At Bois Caïman, Dutty Boukman was accompanied by Cécile Fatiman, a Voodoo priestess of both African and European ancestry. Her mother was brought from the African continent, though from which region or from what nation it is not clear; and her father was Corsican. She was a necessary element of the meeting at Bois Caïman because she was a Mambo - female High Priest - and because the masculine and feminine energies of Ifá needed to be balanced before the rebels took to their cause. At the ceremony it is said that Fatiman was possessed by the Goddess Erzulie Freda a polyandrous (having multiple husbands) deity of love and beauty. As well, to bless the ceremony and their future efforts in the rebellion, a wild boar was sacrificed to seal the bond between themselves and the Loa they beckoned to for freedom.
This ceremony, for Haitians, is the official start of the revolution. Within a week of the meeting at Bois Caïman, hundreds of slaveholders were killed and over a thousand plantations had been burned to the ground. In an effort to quell the melee, the French arrested Dutty Boukman and executed him, putting his body on display as an example. This effort did not work, as the fighting continued unabated for over a decade. To this day the events of Bois Caïman are commemorated by Haitian citizens and lamented by evangelicals who confuse the appeasement of their God’s nemesis Satan with the ujima of the Haitian people and the Loa.
Since this rebellion there have been many calamities that have befallen the Republic of Haiti: hurricanes, poverty, disease. According to Pat Robertson these disasters, both nature and man-made, have struck Haiti because of divine punishment for the events at Bois Caïman. That is to say, for some the Christian God is mad at Haiti for entrusting their freedom to the Gods of Ifá. There are many problems with this perspective, but for argument’s sake, let’s examine the most obvious contradiction of this mindset. For one, if Haiti’s poverty and tumultuous history is evidence of God punishing Haiti for appealing to the Loa to intercede on their behalf, as it has been suggested, then God wanted Haiti’s Black population to remain oppressed under the heel of the French. Otherwise, since God had the power to inflict divine justice on the French for their deeds, but chose not to, and has been punishing the Haitians for two centuries instead, then it is clear that God wanted to keep Haitians enslaved. This line of logic begs the question posed years ago by William Jones: “Is God a White Racist?”.
The text, Is God a White Racist? puts to task the notion of a benevolent God in light of the very malevolent history experienced by African people. He argues that either we deal with the notion that there is no benevolent God figure therefore humanity must be responsible for its own victories and horrors, or we concede that God has it out for Black and other oppressed people, evidenced the overall success of white supremacy. The reaction by evangelicals to Haiti, over 200 years after the Island won its independence, forces reconsideration of James’ thesis. Do White Christians knowingly and willingly serve a deity that takes pleasure in the torturous oppression of African people, or are they just culturally tone-deaf and oblivious to their own theological contradictions? Though the question is rhetorical, it does reveal a fundamental departure of basic notions of what the value of human life means for White evangelicals. The convergence of human and spiritual power at Bois Caïman was a cry for help under the cruelty of the French. If the Christian God did not have the divine fortitude or desire to answer the prayers of those downtrodden and oppressed people, then it made sense that Haitians put their fate in the hands of their own Gods.
 “Success” in this context is measured by the fact that Haiti is the only independent African nation in the Western Hemisphere and that distinction has been carried by the inhabitants of Haiti since 1803.
 Ryan Smith. "Pat Robertson: Haiti ‘Cursed’After ‘Pact to the Devil.’." CBS News 13 (2010). Pat Robertson, an American Christian evangelical, claimed that the success of the Haitian Revolution was because the people of the island swore allegiance to the “Devil”.
 There is, of course, no way to know which God(s) served which side in the Haitian Revolution. Not to mention the fundamental implausibility of divine beings involving themselves in the squabbles of human beings.
 David Geggus. "The Bois Caïman Ceremony." The Journal of Caribbean History 25, no. 1 (1991): 41.
 David Patrick Greggus and Norman Fiering, eds. The World of the Haitian Revolution. Indiana University Press, 2009. Lowell Ponte. Haiti: Victim of Clinton’s Old Black Magic. (FrontPage Magazine, February 20, 2004).
 Sylviane Anna Diouf. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 153.
 Joan Dayan. Haiti, History and the Gods. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
 Richard M. Juang. Africa and the Americaa: Culture, Politics and History. (ABC-CLIO, 2008.
 Ujima is a Swahili term meaning collective work and responsibility.
 Ryan Smith. "Pat Robertson: Haiti ‘Cursed’ After ‘Pact to the Devil.’." CBS News 13 (2010).
 William Ronald Jones. Is God a white racist?: A preamble to black theology. Beacon Press, 1973.