Practitioners of Vodou (or voodoo) gathered in Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Prospect Park Saturday evening to celebrate the anniversary of Bwa Kayiman, a ceremony credited with launching Haiti’s 1791 slave revolt.
The devil was not invited.
The history of the Bwa Kayiman (Bois Caïman, in French) ceremony is shrouded in mystery, but it’s generally agreed that on August 14, 1791, slave revolutionaries sacrificed a black pig, swore an oath to overthrow the French and sealed the pact by drinking the pig’s blood. “The god of the white man calls him to commit crimes,” the Vodou priest Dutty Boukman reportedly said. “Our god asks only good works of us. But this god who is so good orders revenge!”
It was quite the call to arms, and it inspired the New World’s only successful slave mutiny, culminating in Haiti’s independence. Or, according to people like preacher Pat Robertson, it inspired more than 200 years of misery. This is the same ceremony that he slandered, nanoseconds after a massive earthquake devastated the country in January, as the swearing of a “pact to the devil.”
“They said, we will serve you if you’ll get us free from the French,” Robertson said. “True story. And so the devil said, okay, it’s a deal. And they kicked the French out … but ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after another.”
Robertson’s alternate history is somewhat akin to asserting that Americans threw babies into the harbor at the Boston Tea Party, or that the French crucified Jesus on Bastille Day. Not only is it horrifically inaccurate, but it also maligns an event that gave birth to both a nation and a national identity.