Voudou in all forms has historically been considered a form of cultural resistance to colonialism and oppressive governments. It has even been specifically accessed by practitioners as a class of mystical warfare. In colonial times, the successful utilization of specialized esoteric spiritual knowledge by slaves in warfare and insurgencies gave the ruling white minority wherever slavery existed a reason to fear Africans and their descendants. These fears were confirmed with two events that threatened the slave institution: Makandal’s Conspiracy in San Domingo in 1757-1758 and Tacky’s Rebellion in Jamaica in 1860 (Bellegarde-Smith).
François Makandal was an enslaved African runaway and rebel leader in San Domingo from West Africa who claimed to have supernatural abilities. He had extensive knowledge of plants and herbs and the ability to make poisons. His reputation for having advanced skills in botanical medicine coupled with supernatural abilities helped him to successfully organize different Maroon groups and coordinate their resistance activities. He and his followers effectively poisoned plantation owners, other enslaved people and even animals. Authorities feared that Makandal had the initiative, plan, and means to kill all the white people living on the island. Before he officially launched an out and out rebellion, Makandal was apprehended and condemned to death in January 1758 at Cap-Français. The plan was for him to burn at the stake, but when the fire was lit, he broke free and ran off, an event that amplified his legendary status. Makandal was immediately recaptured, however, tied to a new board, and successfully set on fire (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, n.d.).
Tacky’s Rebellion, an uprising of Akan slaves (known at the time as Coromantee), was so impactful it blew people’s minds. Tacky, the leader of this revolt, had been the king of his village in Fante land, West Africa. Tacky had the support and cooperation of local Obeah men who dispensed a powder to combatants that was designed to protect them from injury in battle. The powder, coupled with the belief that Obeah men could not be killed, fueled insurgents’ confidence in the fight. Tacky and his followers cleverly began their uprising on Easter Sunday when they knew no one would be paying attention or suspect anything. They easily took over several plantations and killed the owners. When they stopped for a break to celebrate their success, a slave snuck off and ratted them out. Shortly thereafter, a mounted militia of about 70 to 80 men, along with a group of maroons who were bound by treaty to suppress such rebellions, arrived to put a damper on the party. They captured and subsequently murdered an Obeah man by hanging him “with his mask, ornaments of teeth and bone and feather trimmings at a prominent place visible from the encampment of rebels” (Evans 2004). This caused many of the rebels to lose confidence and return to their plantations.
Tacky and his followers were chased by the Maroons and the legendary Maroon marksman known as Davy shot Tacky, cut off his head, and displayed it on a pole in Spanish Town. The rest of his followers were found in a cave near Tacky Falls, having killed themselves rather than succumb to slavery. While this particular insurgence was stopped, it prompted a series of other rebellions to break out all over Jamaica. Tacky’s Rebellion occurred in Jamaica from May to July of 1760.
Of course, the most frightening instance of warfare won by Voudou was the Haitian Revolution. Louisianans greatly feared the Haitians coming to New Orleans because of this legendary historical event. During and after the war, swaths of refugees made their way to New Orleans, bringing their ancestral traditions with them. This is when Haitian Vodou met the Voudou-rich milieu thriving in underground New Orleans.
The growing instances of slave revolts in the Caribbean made authorities in Louisiana paranoid, for lack of a better word. A prime example of this can be seen in the famous Gris Gris Case, which occurred under Spanish rule in 1773. Authorities caught wind of slaves attempting to murder their master using a type of poisonous gris gris. The fear was that they would succeed in murdering the plantation owner and instigate an uprising and rebellion against the slave institution, so the men were taken to court and tried for conspiracy to commit murder (Frieberg 1980).
While not gris gris, a more recent example of Voudou being used for protection can be seen in Tijuana, Mexico, where the police there have resorted to various forms of magic, including Haitian Vodou, to deal with the high incidence of drug-related violent crime. “Despite being poorly paid – around $300 a month - some pay up to $160 for a tattoo of a Voodoo spirit like the three-horned Bosou Koblamin who protects his followers when they travel at night” (Hough). The Voodoo tattoos are believed to shield the person from bullets.
Source: The Magic of Marie Laveau
In the early hours of March 3, 1991, a police chase in Los Angeles ended in an incident that would become synonymous with police brutality: the beating of a young man named Rodney King by members of the Los Angeles Police Department. An amateur video, televised nationwide, showed King lying on the ground while three officers kicked him and struck him repeatedly with their nightsticks. No one who viewed that beating will ever forget its viciousness.
The Rodney King incident projected the brutal reality of police abuse into living rooms across the nation, and for a while, the problem was front page news. Political leaders condemned police use of excessive force and appointed special commissions to investigate incidents of brutality. The media covered the issue extensively, calling particular attention to the fact that police abuse was not evenly distributed throughout American society, but disproportionately victimized people of color.
Even though there has been some progress, police abuse is still very much an American problem today.
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A number of rebellions against European powers were inspired by spirit mediums. This tradition of fighting off bullets with magic potions and spells goes back hundreds of years. In the 19th century these acts of resistance were common throughout Africa.
The hated regime of cotton growing provided the impetus for rebellion against German colonial rule in Tanganika. The leader of the Maji Maji movement was Kinjikitile Ngwale, a medium possessed with a snake spirit called Hongo. He encouraged his supporters to sprinkle their bodies with magic water, known as maji maji, which they believed would protect them from bullets.
His movement spread from his base in Ngarambe, some 200 miles south from Dar Es Salaam. Five missionaries were murdered and German reinforcements were sent in. In the end, the magic water which they thought would protect them from the German guns failed.
Thousands were killed in battle. German revenge was terrible; a scorched earth policy wiped out whole villages and all their crops. It's estimated 250,000 died from famine.
The Chimurenga wars 1896-7 in Matabeleland and Shonaland (in modern Zimbabwe) were inspired by traditional prophets and priests or svikiro. They blamed the Europeans for all hardship: the hut tax, forced labour, drought, rinderpest. The most famous svikiro was Ambuya Nehanda. Some 8,000 Africans died in these wars. Four hundred and fifty Europeans were killed.
John Chilembwe was an American trained missionary who returned to his native Nyasaland (now Malawi). He believed in a new African society based on Christian values but independent of Europeans. He attacked tax and recruitment, and led an armed insurrection against the British. He was executed in 1915.
In Nigeria Garrick Braide called himself Elijah II and claimed the British were about to leave Nigeria because of the war - his prophesies contributed to a revolt in Kwale Ibo.
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