It is true that the story does not favor women - usually told from the point of view of men, it tends to erase these characters. This phenomenon is even more prominent in the case of black and enslaved women. However, reports about Haitian history reveal that women were not supporting actors. In the present discussion I bring to us the article by Kingsbury and Chesnut which tries to demonstrate this by drawing a parallel of black enslaved women and Erzulie Dantor.
The authors cite evidence that black women enslaved in São Domingos were a great source of resistance to the colonial regime. In fact, they go further and understand that the participation of these women in Vodou - which, the authos remember well, was a forbidden cult in the colony - reveals that they were really warriors.
Here it is necessary to consider a recent research that emerged in Brazil that reveals that the contribution to the genetic constitution of the Brazilian people is significantly black and indigenous on the maternal side and European on the paternal side. The interpretation is clear - sexual violence was decisive in the composition of Brazilians. I bring this up because the parallels between the Brazilian and Haitian slave system are clear. In this sense, we can safely assume that the same thing happened there. Therefore, when considering the female contribution to Vodou or to the revolts, we need to consider how the context was more cruel to them than to men. With that in mind, instead of erasing these figures, we will tend to exalt them.
One of the arguments raised by Kingsbury and Chesnut is that spiritual possession by figures like Erzulie Dantor gave these women an authority and also made possible for them to experience a social context that was denied them in everyday life. Now, here we can already assume that when they cultivated such experiences in the spiritual community these women were also encouraged to experience them in profane life - that is, spirits like Erzulie Dantor (strong opponent of oppression), more than allowing mere religious catharsis, effectively transformed the life ot the slaves in the colony of São Domingos.
This may have been one of the reasons why the authors find several records of regular punishments against women slaves for acts of rebellion. Of course, it is not possible to exclude that the meaning is the other way around - that is, that women, rebels, will find in Vodou another way to exercise their justified revolt. Anyway, instead of trying to figure out what came first, it might be better to consider whether the two were not part of a single system, with one thing supporting the other.
One point that is much discussed by Kingsbury and Chesnut is that of pregnancy. Slave women were generally seen as problematic, as pregnancy hindered work. A common practice was to force abortion through physical violence. When the pregnancy was completed and a child was born, it was common for the children to be soon sold or separated from the mother. In other words, motherhood was a right and an experience often stolen from these women. So a spirit like Erzulie Dantor - the archetype of the vengeful and protective mother - must have found enormous appeal among these women.
One thing that the authors highlight and that is very interesting is that women also make Erzulie Dantor. We can interpret this beyond the social or the construction of gods by men. In fact, Erzulie Dantor has been possessing women in Vodou for a long time and these possessions, more than giving body to a spirit, give substance to the idea of the spirit (not that only women are possessed by Dantor). The message is influenced by the medium. It is one thing to read about Erzulie Dantor in a book, it is quite another to see Erzulie Dantor mount a woman at a ceremony. These possessions are, in fact, fundamental in the construction of any Lwa.
The authors, going further, suggest that women will put a good part of their impressions and resistance in Erzulie Dantor. In fact, they even cite the fact that Dantor is silent as a clear symbol of the brutal oppression these women suffered. The loss of voice would then be a clear analogy to the loss of any sense of power and humanity.
Thus, there is much to be explored so that we can better understand the role of women in the formation of Vodou and also of Vodou in the construction of Haitian women. As we quickly look at this parallel with Erzulie Dantor, we can immediately gain new dimensions and better understand the dynamics of Vodou himself .
Kingsbury, K., Chesnut , RA In Her Own Image: Slave Women and the Re-imagining of the Polish Black Madonna as Ezili Dantò , the Fierce Female Lwa of Haitian Vodou . Int J Lat Am Relig 3, 212–232 (2019). https : //doi.org/10.1007/s41603-019-00071-5