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New Orleans is one of the cities in the United States, named after Philippe d'Orleans, Duke of Orleans. Its connection to the French is therefore undisputable as they were its founders. Its culture consists of African Americans, American Indians, French, Spaniards, etc. It is located in the south eastern Louisiana, on the banks of Mississippi river. New Orleans is estimated to have a population of 1,235,650 as at 2009.
New Orleans is rated the 46th largest state in the United States, and attracts tourist all over because of its multicultural and multilingual heritage, together with its abundance of unique architectures, hence one of the most visited states in the United States. One of its major attractions is the "French Quarters".
Due to its location being surrounded by waters from the east, south and north, and its low elevation, new Orleans is very vulnerable to catastrophic waves inform of hurricanes. These hurricanes bring floods that cause not only physical and cultural risk, but also a major loss of lives. This also gives it the subtropical climate with mild winters and hot summers.
Since 1559 when the first hurricane was reported, there have been many other hurricanes in new Orleans, striking via Lake Pontchartrain, the major ones being hurricane Betsy In 1965 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.Because of the beautiful architectural buildings of new Orleans that bring tourists to this city, Tourism as a major revenue earner is greatly affected by these hurricanes leading to devastating effects on the economy as a whole. However, most of these buildings like the French Quarters have managed to withstand these floods and remain put (Ottt 54).
The economy is also affected by the frequent migration of people, usually at warnings of a flood or later after a flood. Despite all these, New Orleans maintains its unique culture and lifestyle. The historic heritage of New Orleans is found in the Multicultural Museums and traditions still held by the locals. The traditions are seen in the ethnic restaurants and hotels, multicultural tours and festivals and in the museums as well.
Having that understanding of the New Orleans, one captivating aspect of it is its multicultural combinations and the effect this brought to New Orleans. As a port, it received slaves from Africa and India, and people from other countries like Spain and France, bringing together people with different cultural background to form one unique culture, and language. The major outcomes of multiculturalism are the voodoo culture. As part of this paper, I attempt to understand the origin of voodoo in New Orleans, its impact, practice and its state as at today.
Voodoo comes from the word "vodou" which means spirit or mystery. It is a religion, culture, heritage, magic that instils fear and discipline amongst people. Human beings naturally fear the unknown and what is not easy to understand and therefore it is not strange that people believed and feared voodoo practitioners in New Orleans.
The origin of voodoo
New Orleans received slaves from West Africa and the Native American slaves. It is from these slaves that voodoo originated. Because they were slaves, they were mistreated and continuously separated from their families. This hard ways of life forced them to seek solace and comfort from spiritual powers. African slaves came to New Orleans with their African practises of believing in ancestors and fear of the dead. Consequently, they had ways of waning off bad spirits that were believed to carry bad luck and misfortunes, meanwhile entice good spirits to bring love, money and posterity. With the spread of these slaves, so was the spread of voodoo.
African slaves came with their herbs, roots, candles, bones, and other elements that they used in this practise. Soon, the influence of voodoo was common place and even the white population started giving it a thought. Because of its similarity to the practises of Roman Catholicism, voodoo soon incorporated catholic practise in its ritual, making it even more acceptable. Another reason why voodoo became so related to Catholicism was because slaves were not given as much freedom of worship. They were forced to worship as Catholics and avoid their native ways of worship. This forced them to perform rituals similar to catholic ways in order to remain safe and continue worshiping.
Africanism involved witches, respect for the elders and the strong belief in extended family. Witches were believed to possess supernatural powers that they used to cast spells on people as well as heal the sick. The practise of voodoo in African included a hierarchy of deities with priests at the top, priestesses, novices, helpers, etc, going down. The novices underwent rigorous training in convents that saw them go through spiritual rituals and conventions before they were allowed to practice voodoo. These training lasted nine months or "moons" as they were referred to. Rituals include dancing with snakes, blood rituals, fasting, animal offerings, etc. these were done in order to receive powers from the higher being, "God".
Slave trade was therefore the main vehicle for voodoo in New Orleans. The voodoo in New Orleans is always confused with the Haiti voodoo. The difference between the two is that Haitian voodoo does not depend on calling of spirits interventions, however, they use the voodoo symbols like dolls only to invoke power. The religious symbols, locally referred to as "veve" represented each "loa" in a voodoo ritual. These symbols were used instead of names of the "gods" or "loas".
Voodoo and hoodoo are commonly confused in their terms as some people interchange them, one to mean the other. They are very different in the sense that hoodoo does not emphasise on religion but refers to the knowledge and practice of voodoo spirits and their works (Tallant 87).
Cultural influences that promote voodoo in New Orleans
The above five factors explain why voodoo became so popular in new Orleans that it came to be part of their daily lives, controlling each and every part of it.
The voodoo culture can not go without the mention of Marie Laveau., who was dubbed the "queen of voodoo." Marie, was born in 1783 in Santo Domingo. Marie, was a hairdresser before being interested in voodoo practices. Her history reports that she was a staunch Catholic believer and attended mass every day of her life. She was first married to Jacques Paris who passed away before she remarried Christophe Glapion, with whom she gave birth to fifteen children, amongst them her daughter Marie who continued with her work after her death. Laveau was believed to have Psychic powers and that she could tell what was going on without being present at a scene. She used ghostly tales and strangeness that captured her listeners and instilled fear of the unknown in them. She attended catholic masses and consequently advised her followers to do so. She performed her rituals near st. Peters hence her operations were not suspicious. She was believed to have supernatural powers and that she could entice someone to act in a particular way, and performed exorcism to remove bad spirits (Louise 89).
Besides all these, she was also known for her philanthropy and good heartedness. She took care of the sick, and administered to convicts on death row. She encouraged people and took part in humanitarian activities improving the lives of others, hence gaining many followers and increasing popularity.
At her death in 1881, she had many followers who loved and believed in her. Though feared in life, in death, many considered her a saint and visit her tomb to ask for favours, divine intervention, protection, money, etc. she was buried in S.t. Louis cemetery #1. Her daughter Marie immediately took over and continued with her voodoo practice, also gaining followers. Up till now, there are reports of Laveau's ghost being present in several parts of New Orleans. Her grave is reported to be haunted by ghosts, her apartment and several streets.
One could easily conclude that this voodoo belief was a matter of fear and superstitions as most locals feared the voodoo curse more than anything, but among the New Orleans, voodoo was real and part of their lives. With several documentation, witnesses and occurrences related to voodoo, it is not a questionable factor that voodoo had supernatural powers on the lives of New Orleans. Voodoo is given attention and the practitioners given respect up to date. A visit to the French Quarters enables one to see voodoo shops selling dolls, herbs and books (Holloway 102).
Its practise does not bring a negative influence on the economy as tourists flock New Orleans to visit voodoo practitioners who are believed to be able to tell the future and bring good luck, love, money, revenge, and happiness. Questions can therefore be raised, if voodoo practice is a form of devil worship. Followers of voodoo do not see it as devil worship because they follow religious dogmas just like all other religions like catholic. They also claim that it does not involve black magic or bad omens; rather they use it for the good. They foretell the future, heal the sick and satisfy the spiritual needs of their followers.
Today, certain life aspects of new Orleans are affected and controlled by the voodoo practices. There are music experiences dedicated to voodoo and those in attendance include modern day contemporary musicians like Wycliffe Jean. It also controls games and social functions like weddings. Football in new Orleans is also greatly impacted by voodoo as it is believed there are voodoo practises within football players and managers. With no doubt, politics is not left un mentioned. The need for power and affluence is connected to voodoo magic. We can therefore conclude that voodoo practice in new Orleans is not something that is going away any time soon as the locals still strongly believe in it. It is called the Haunted city of voodoo.