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The Spirits and The Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti

Reviewed by Gina Athena Ulysse

The Spirits and The Law: Vodou and Power in Haiti (UChicago Press) is a brilliant book, a nuanced re-mapping of how Vodoun became “voodoo” and Vodou. In the process of her meticulous delineation, Kate Ramsey offers in the world of geopolitics critical insights into the inevitable plight of the “avant-garde,” to use Haitian anthropologist Antenor Firmin’s casting of the first black republic in relation to Africa and its diaspora (95).

Ramsey charts her course early, stating: “Arguably no religion has been subject to more maligning and misinterpretation from outsiders over the past century.” (1) Indeed, “voodoo,” she writes, especially to foreigners, is synonymous with Haitian “sorcery” and “black magic.” (9) In fact, as she reveals, the etymology of this word denotes not only that the one with the four vowels is a misnomer but also that the more correct term Vodou (spelled vaudoux during colonial times) traditionally refers to a mode of dance.

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