Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Problem and Impossibility of Vodou Religion in the Writings of Dantes Bellegarde

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Problem and Impossibility of Vodou Religion in the Writings of Dantes Bellegarde

Article excerpt

Dantes Bellegarde: A General Overview

Louis Dantes Bellegarde is regarded by many as one of Haiti's most brilliant thinkers and leading cultural critics and public intellectuals in the twentieth-century. He is also known as a passionate promoter of French-Western culture and values in Haiti. In 1931, the French newspaper Le Monde nouveau charmed Bellegarde with this title: "The most eloquent French orator after Briand." (1) Among African American intellectuals in the United States, he was known as the champion of Black freedom and rights in the world. In the world of the Diplomats, Bellegarde was admired for his cosmopolitan vision and idea of international cooperation among the nations and peoples of the world.

Born in Port-au-Prince in May 18, 1877 to a middle class and petit bourgeois mulatto Haitian family, Bellegarde studied law in Haiti and was well versed in the disciplines of literature, philosophy, world history, and international politics. As a cross-disciplinary thinker, Bellegarde had contributed vastly to the advancement of Haitian life and thought in various domains and meaningful ways. He was a man of many careers and functions: a diplomat, writer, historian, scholar, educator, social philosopher, public intellectual, and statesman. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, his biographer, dubs Dantes Bellegarde "Haiti's outstanding ideologue at the beginning of this century and the country's ablest synthesizer of Nineteenth Century social thought." (2) The celebrated Haitian writer and poet Leon Laleau wrote these memorable words at the death of Bellegarde in 1966: "The first amongst us, he placed audaciously at international gatherings, Race before Nationality, Man before Citizen." (3)

In 1944, Bellegarde collaborated with Mercer Cook to produce the first Haitian-American Anthology, in which the writings of prominent writers and thinkers such as W.E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, etc., are registered. (4) Bellegarde served as a Visiting Professor at Howard University and Atlanta University, where Du Bois taught for many years. He acquainted Black Students in these HBCU institutions with Haitian literature and history, and more importantly how African slaves at Saint-Domingue broke down the shackles of slavery to acquire their freedom and independence from France in 1804. Du Bois, who also wrote about the Haitian freedom narrative in his 1895 Harvard doctoral dissertation, (5) in an article in The Crisis (1926), felicitously named Bellegarde "The international spokesman of the Negroes of the World." (6)

Bellegarde's pan-Africanist sensibility and black solidarity is notably noticed in his speeches, diplomatic activities i international public sphere, and his cooperative works with Black leaders and activists to build a just and democratic America for all. He upheld that "the destiny of the twelve million Negroes in the U.S.A. was part and parcel of that of all peoples in their fight for freedom and justice." (7) As a proponent of anti-Black racism, Bellegarde condemned Western racism and colonial rule in Africa, and defended the rights of African nations to be independent from Western powers and hegemony.

Yet, what is troubling about Bellegarde is his ambivalent attitude toward African cultural traditions and religious practices in his own country of Haiti. He could not conceive the value in preserving Black Diasporic Africanisms or in maintaining African-derived diasporic cultural traditions and customs, and religious practices in the Black Diaspora, particularly in his native country. For him, the Afro-Haitian Vodou religion and spirituality was a hindrance to Haiti's development and its place among the nations of the modern world. Vodou was also problematic because it considerably delays Haiti's appropriation of Western lifestyle and worldview. Bellegarde's anti-African-Haitianism and Vodouphobic discourse can be traced to postcolonial Haiti's first generation of mulatto intellectuals and writers and the country's minority elite, subsequently. …

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