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tv   Believer  CNN  March 19, 2017 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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a battle is raging for the souls of the haitian people. one side claims the country is in the grip of satan, that all of its social, political and economic problems are the result of a blood pact made with the devil. the other side sees the faith that hped te tliberair ancestors from the shackles of slavery threatened by outsiders. they are now struggling to simply keep that faith alive. i'm in haiti to explore the conflict that has gripped this nation between evangelical
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christianity and vodou. >> reza aslan is an author and scholar. >> reza aslan is a scholar of religions. >> best-selling author reza aslan. >> as a scholar as a muslim, as american, what is your reaction? >> i've been studying the world's religions for 20 years. now i'm going to live them. there is an old saying. haiti is 70% catholic, 30% protestant, and 100% vodou. chances are when you think about
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voodoo, your mind is filled with images of zombies and voodoo dolls and demon possession, the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. the essence vodou is the melding of the spiritual and material worlds. the are thousands of spirits, or lwa, which act as intermediaries between believers and god. they can be worshipped through gifts and offerings, through altars made in their names. through music and through dance. the goal of a vodou ceremony is to invite a lwa to take possession over the body of a priest or priestess. this is called mounting, and it is the key component to vodou rituals.
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each lwa has a unique personality and a specific function. >> this is erzulie dantor. erzulie is a lwa, a spirit. she represents love, passion, even eroticism. this is her and her mother form with her child gijon. does this look familiar to anyone? vodou traces itself back 6,000 years all the way to the african continent, but it was brought here on slave ships. and in haiti, you had african vodouists from all over the continent coming together in one island, and then having to mix and match each other's version of vodou while also adopting the catholicism of the slave masters. the result is a religion that comes in a thousand different forms and borrows from
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everywhere. when catholics first encountered vodou, they absorbed it into catholicism. they transformed the lwa into catholic saints, which is why the lw erzulie dantor looks like the virgin mary. years later when protestant missionaries arrived in haiti, they simply ignored the lwa. but things changed after the devastating earthquake of 2010, which left much of the country in ruins. a wave of evangelical missionaries arrived to help rebuild the country, and in the process have converted thousands of vodouists to christianity. and far from absorbing or ignoring the lwa, they take them very seriously.
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they believe in them. they believe that they exist, that they're real. they just think that they're demons. they believe that anyone mounted by a lwa is possessed by the devil. indeed, they believe the entire country is possessed by the devil. they base that belief on an event that took place one night more than 200 years ago, a night that launched the only successful slave revolution in history. a night that gave birth to the nation. >> haitian history tells of a famous ceremony called the ceremony. apparently enslaved africans and creoles came from different plantations. they sacrificed a pig.
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they took an oath together that they would fight the french. they get possessed by their spirits who then say to them we're your backup. two weeks later, they start poisoning wells and lighting fires. and the revolution is on. and the white french are freaked because the africans have this multipronged rebellion. by 1804, they liberate the country and declared independence. they abolished slavery, and they make every haitian person a free citizen who is eligible to work the land and be equal. >> so in a sense, vodou becomes this force for liberation. >> it was unthinkable to believe to the west, to france that a non-christian power could overcome a christian power. >> that conflict is still going on. the idea of this conflict between christianity and vodou and what it means for the island. >> so the evangelicals think that vodou is demonic. they looked at the ceremony and
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they said hmm, gathering of people, possession by spirits, ie demons, sacrifice of a pig. they say this is a blood pact with satan. so that's why haiti has been in this downward economic spiral and political spiral. evangelicals surmise that in this founding moment of the nation, the leaders of that ceremony dedicated the nation to satan. >> they succeeded because satan helped them succeed. >> right. it's part of the devil's work. >> many of haiti's evangelical missionaries blame this blood pact with the devil for everything that is wrong with the country. haiti is wracked by poverty. disease is rampant. corruption is endemic. unemployment is through the roof. and infant mortality rates are the highest in the western hemisphere. [ speaking foreign language ]
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>> james glen is an evangelical pastor from illinois who has been coming to haiti to preach the gospel for years. in 2014 he moved his family here permanently. and while he doesn't have his own congregation, he goes from church to church preaching to haiti's rapidly growing community of evangelicals. tell me about that conflict between christianity and vodou. >> the protestant evangelical understanding is that the spirits of vodou are demons. then their authority comes from satan there is good and there is evil. there is right and there is wrong. and they emanate from the
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spiritual entities that are god and satan. satan wants to kill, steal, and destroy humans. >> and you think that vodou has allowed satan in to take hold of this nation? >> haiti is a little unique in that the nation was given to satan. it's kind of the opposite what happened with the american slaves. the american slaves somehow got the religion of the slave masters, but they got it right. so what they were doing, meeting in secret and stuff like that, singing and praying and worshipping the lord and calling upon him when their release came, it was a blessing. >> but that wasn't the case with haiti? >> in haiti, they turned to the lwa and said basically we give our nation to you if you will deliver us from the french.
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[ speaking foreign language ] >> is that what victory in this spiritual battle for the soul of haiti looks like? >> that's how it starts. it can't start any other way. >> how does it end? >> it ends with the economy of the nation going up, with things that people thought could never happen, happening. god's waiting for the unity, repentance, humility, love of the christians in this nation. to invite him to come and take over. [ speaking foreign language ] internet dial up sound hi, i'm the internet.
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in haiti, the evangelical message boils down to this. haitians never liberated themselves from the bonds of slavery, as history teaches us.
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they simply replaced one slave master, the white man, for another, the devil. ♪ this is shalom tabernacle, the largest megachurch in haiti, upwards of 50,000 members. its founder is the charismatic haitian preacher, pastor andre muscadin. what kind of message did you give to your congregation after the earthquake? [ speaking french ]
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>> it sounds as though you're saying there is a real demonic presence in haiti. >> yes. [ speaking foreign language ] >> almost everyone here converted to christianity from vodou. and in doing so, they left the lwa behind. but they d't believe that the lwa have left them. in fact, they're convinced that the lwa are still battling to
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possess their bodies, to mount them. and they look to pastor muscadin to release them. [ speaking foreign language ]
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[ chanting ] [ speaking foreign language ] >> ever since the devastatin earthquake that nearly destroyed haiti, money has been rolling in from evangelical churches abroad, and more and more
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haitians have begun turning their backs on vodou in favor of the gospel. what was it about christianity, particularly the evangelical brand of christianity that drew you in? >> jacques maurice is an assistant pastor at shalom tabernacle. he grew up the son of a vodou priest and priestess, but abandoned vodou and disowned his family when he converted to evangelical christianity at the age of 18. one of the things that vodouists in haiti will often say that almost every one of those schools and almost every one of those hospitals was built by
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foreign christians, by christians outside of the country. there aren't a lot of vodouists outside of the country. [ speaking foreign language ] ♪ oh! the things you say ♪ ♪ oh! ♪ ♪
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vodouists here understand their religion. to get a different perspective on vodou, i'm meeting with jean-daniel lafontant. a voodoo priest, or ougon. he's invited me to tour his temple or lacou. >> a temple doesn't ng to an individual. it's like a church. the church belongs to the catholic church, but it doesn't belong to the priests. >> right. can you explain this pole in the center? >> yes. the center pole is the link between the celestial world and the earth. because we believe that we are connected. >> and this is the center of every vodou temple? >> this is the center of everything. >> and these designs? >> these are called veve. each veve represent a spirit. what it is, it's a canal for the spirit to come in. >> jean daniel's has specific
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jean-daniel's locou has specific rooms, each dedicated to a specific lwa or spirit. each room is decorated to represent the lwa's distinct personality. there is a saying that i've heard before that says something along the lines of you go to a catholic church to talk to god. you go to a vodou temple to become god. >> god is far away out there. but to become a god. >> yeah. >> a god because we believe there is one single god, but to become a lwa. >> there is one god, that's the creator god, but he is distant. >> very distant. >> he is unconcerned with us. and the lwa are how we in a sense communicate with that god. the lwa are almost intermediaries between us and god? >> you're totally right.
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>> the knocking is to let the spirits know that we're coming turkey, t the spiritnow they're coming. >> let the spirit know that you're coming. they may be upset at you, and you don't want that. >> you don't want, that no. >> that's ezuille dantor. easily dantor is a very important spirit in vodou religion. and i think the spirit that most people trust. she is really the image of a mother, of a tough mother. but she is always there. she will never give up on you. this is the ogou. this is really the symbol of war, the symbol of many kingdoms of africa. and the red spirit, the spirit of the nights led the war of
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independence. >> for jean-daniel, the lwa are like friends there is an intimacy that he shares with them. but there is a dark side to vodou, malignant spirits that seek to cause harm to human beings. these spirits even jean-daniel fears. this room is dedicated to simbi. it's a room of dark power, of negative energy. in many way, it contains everything that evangelicals think about and fear when it comes to vodou. before we can enter, jean-daniel must perform an elaborate ceremony to cleanse this energy to prevent an unwanted mounting. >> this room is a reminder of slavery and of the harshness of the life of a slave.
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this is why you find a coffin, elements of our past. a constant reminder of what we as a nation had to go through. there is an african saying that the westerners came with their bible. they taught us how to pray. they told us to close our eyes as we were praying, give us the bible. and we prayed really hard, closing our eyes and speaking to god. and when we got up and we open our eyes, they have stolen all of our lands. we don't believe in heaven and hell. there is no heaven for us. there is no hell. there is only life. ♪ >> as a vodou priest, jean-daniel is a servant of the
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lwa and a summoner of the spirits. he holds regular ceremonies where his congregation comes together to dance and sing and play the drum, all as an invitation for the lwa to come upon them, to take hold of them, to possess their bodies, to mount them. ♪ >> being mounted by a spirit, you're not fully in control of yourself, but it's a great sensation. you're not fully aware, but you have a sensation of freedom. i think it's a privilege. i think it's an honor. and i think it's a gift.
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♪ >> seeing someone mounted by a lwa is strikingly similar to what i saw at the evangelical church. there is one major difference. at the church, they exorcise the spirits out. but here they invite the spirits in. this is one gorgeous truck. special edition. oh, did i say there's only one special edition? because, actually there's five. ooohh!! aaaahh!! uh! hooooly mackerel. wow. nice. strength and style.
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we're on our way to a very sacred spot, a waterfall that has had a holy place in vodou for centuries here in haiti. it's a place which i will begin my initiation into vodou so i may actually immerse myself in this tradition. one that's been i think really misunderstood for many, many years by the western world.
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♪ what draws me to vodou is the belief that there is no division spiritual and the christianity says we are bodies now, but one day we will be spirits. vodou says we are both spirit and body. the dead are as real and as present as the living. there is no boundary between them.
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[ chanting ] >> you have to cleanse yourself from anything negative there is so you can become a newborn man, all positive. ♪ >> water rituals are an essential feature of almost all great religious traditions,
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whether it's the jewish mikvah or kris christian baptism or hindus bathing in the ganges. water has the power to purify believers, to cleanse them of their sins, to prepare their souls for ascension into heaven. in vodou, water is a sacred element. bathing in this waterfall makes one worthy of becoming before the spirit, of being mounted by them. after my initial cleansing, the priest of the falls allowed me an unexpected honor, to immerse myself fully in the sacred waters at saut d'eau. ♪
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>> i don't -- i don't know how else to put it. it was magic. given the weight and the power of that water just pounding on me. i mean, it was -- it was a literal cleansing, a literal cleansing. my body is still vibrating from the concussive force.
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now that i've been cleansed by the sacred waters of saut d'eau, i've been invited to take part in a traditional vodou ritual by a temple family in the town of leogane. >> bonjour. welcome. welcome. >> thank you so much for having me.
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beatrice daleus is a vodou mambo, or priestess. she will act as my guide for the ceremony. >> first we'll call on the spirits and offer them a sacrifice. so the family is waiting for you. ♪ >> the first action in any vodou ceremony is the drawing of the veve. each veve corresponds to a particular lwa. they act as a kind of spiritual beacon, inviting the spirit to enter the lacou. >> this is the case for the spirit, make sure it participates. >> the hope is once the spirit finally descends, it will take hold of one of us, though no one really knows who in the room will be mounted.
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>> now we're charging the veve. >> okay. once the veves are charged with offerings of alcohol, the gate to the spirit world can be unlocked and the call to the spirits can begin. [ chanting ] ♪ >> when we calling the drums, make sure that everybody is connected in vodou to call on the spirits of the ancestors. ♪ >> they're trying to summon the spirit of ogou as a very powerful lwa, lwa of metal and war. then we'll present the sacrifices.
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♪ ♪ dancing, chanting, and pleading, ogou arrives. he mounts one of the priests in the lacou, taking control over his body.
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the possessed priest can only speak in grunts and exhalations. >> he wants to salute you. >> i need beatrice to interpret his commands. >> he walks with you. be strong. we have to go get his offering. watch out. that's it. watch out. you're good? okay. let's walk together. put him down. ♪ this is where you will gather
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your strength, the strength that is with you. you take it. because this life will not be given in vain. you need to thank the energy from it. strength for strength. ♪ let the spirit be with you. >> animal sacrifice is very likely the oldest religious ritual in the world, and an important part of many vodou ceremonies. >> he is very happy at the offering and the feast that is provided for him. >> the offering is given to the spirits with the hopes of obtaining blessings in good health. ♪ >> we don't let the animal suffer, because he is giving you
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his energy. and no life is lost for no reason. it's not senseless, you know. we have to make sure that we honor him. we honor the life that he was. he is going to feed us. spiritually, it's energy feeding us too. he's going to feed us. but spiritually, he's feeding us. his energy is transferred to you. that life is not lost. you know, we are one, in voodoo. we know that we are one with nature. >> and then, just as suddenly as he arrived, ogou is gone.
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that was an intense experience. the energy in that room, the heat and the smell of alcohol and blood. my tongue tastes like blood, and it was like trance-like and hip n nottic. but it was different when ogou was there. it was like lightning, like a thunderstorm. and giving him the sacrifice connected us together. it's definitely win of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. what is the "verizon way"?
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come to haiti in a way that christianity has not. haitians are believing it and adopting that message. >> true, because it's drilled into their skull. they're giving them food for faith, but i do believe that we need to be respected, because i don't go and attack their religion, just respect the fact that i worship my ancestors. they were free people in africa, minding their business. traders came and took everything from them. the only thing they brought with them was voodoo. and i believe that their life, and the sacrifice of their lives was not done in vain. >> there's this very powerful message that is being spread by some of these missionaries, which is, if all of haiti's problems are spiritual and
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satanic, then the answer is easy. jesus, and so that will take care of all of haiti's problems. and i wonder, what's voodoo's answer to haiti's problems? >> when we are in a community, we make sure that we take care of one another. we should put more emphasis on that, in my opinion. having school, we don't have school, as an example. >> yeah, there are no voodoo schools, how come? >> it's not financed by anybody, like in the united states. >> all the christian schools, almost every one of them are financed by outsiders. so i guess it's hard to find outsiders to finance voodoo. >> exactly. the same thing. the voodoo population is the poorest. if you are voodoo, and not catholic, nobody gets in the school, because you have to convert. you have to be christian to be able to register for school. so they pushed ase, you know, a big chunk of the population. what i want, what i expect,
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actually, and what i'm working for is a respect part in that we can sit down together, for the community. no matter the faith. >> mm-hm. >> haiti's got a lot of problems. but i spent a lot of time with voodooists in their homes, in their temples, and i did notten counter satan. what i did find was beauty and compassion, love of nature, and a deep, spiritual connection to the land and to the spirits. to the ancestors who liberated this country interest the true evil of slavery and who have continued to shape its national narrative, even as that narrative is be being twisted by outsiders, no matter how many churches or missions are established here. no matter how many pure-hearted missionaries arrive, voodoo will never be eradicated from haiti. voodoo is haiti, and haiti is
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voodoo. >> i believe, as voodoo is my roots, it's also my wings. >> i believe in the strong, beating heart of my land haiti. [ speaking in foreign language ] >> i believe that jesus is coming back. >> i believe that jesus is our only hope to have a better country and a better world. >> i believe the only hope for haiti is for the church of jesus christ to rise up, to be a blessing to all the people of their nation. >> arelieve in voodoo. i believe in human beings and power of good.
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>> i believe in the religion of love and the religion of the future. ♪ in just hours, this man will take center stage as u.s. lawmakers ask the fbi director about possible ties between russia and the president. what's at stake? we'll have a preview ahead for you. and north korea's showing no sign of being cowed by the u.s. administration. instead, claiming a great leap forward in its weapons program. plus, she lived through the holocaust and is concerned about the world today. what this survivor has to say about the rise of anti-semitism happening now. hello, and welcome to our viewers in the united states and of course all around the world. i'm rosemary church. >> and i'm george


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