Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Alfred Métraux - Voodoo In Haiti (pt. 4)

Given the content of this blog, it won't come as a surprise that the chapter on malefic sorcerers in Alfred Métraux' book 'Voodoo In Haiti' is my favorite:

"Only with the greatest reluctance will the peasants of Haiti go out alone at night. What they fear is not so much an encounter with ghosts or evil spirits but to fall in unexpectedly with a 'column' of criminals of a special kind, called, according to region, zobop, bizango, galipotes, 'hairless pigs' or 'hairless ones', vlabindingues, bossu, macandal or finally voltigeurs.

The people designated by these names who are sorcerers who (...) have joined secret societies whose members, united by the crimes they have committed together, give each other help. The
zobop (...) derive material benefits from membership - wealth and all its trappings - a fine house, luxurious cars and a trip to France - though these considerations are secondary to the satisfaction of returning evil for evil, and of 'eating people' during nocturnal expeditions. (...)

Countless stories can be heard about
zobop really belong to the province of the fairy tale, but it seems likely that certain people sometimes do band together, in secret, to practice sorcery or to use the popular belief in sorcerer societies to sow terror around them. Proof that the matter is not wholly a question of superstition is to be found in the passports of the zobop, confiscated in humfo [voodoo temples] or handed over to curés by repentant voodooists.

The most sinister fantasies of a kind sure to capture popular imagination have been centered on the 'red sects'. Hideous or grotesque aspect, weird dress, obscene and bloody ceremonies, gratuitous cruelty, weird dress, obscene and bloody ceremonies, gratuitous cruelty - there is no conceivable trait that is not attributed to them provided it is sufficiently repulsive and odious.
(...)

According to popular belief
zobop do their nocturnal raids in motor-cars. A few years ago there was much talk in Port-au-Prince of a 'tiger car' (auto-tigre) which took people away at night to 'eat' them. This was no innocent folk tale, as a friend of mine was able to witness. He - Monsieur M.B. - was being the driver of the phantom car and was almost lynched by a crowd which surged round him, accusing him of having killed a child."

Reproduced at the top of this post is a photograph from Métraux' book of a zobop passport - a document which juxtaposes signs of officialdom, evil scribblings and a Cobra-like picture of a human-like monster. This malefic, perverse and deeply ambiguous caricature of officialdom makes me shiver.

I find the folk tales of the zobop's murderous phantom car highly intriguing. These folk tales show that the spirits of Voodoo are no longer the gods of an African tribe, but spirits which think and act in a modern, industrialized world.

The tales anticipate the emergence of a horror film subgenre in the late 1970s in which malefic, possessed automobiles terrorize American communities. The most prominent examples of the subgenre is John Carpenter’s Christine (1983) – based on a Stephen King novel of the same name, also published in 1983. The Car (1977), The Hearse (1980) and The Wraith (1986) are lesser-known examples of the subgenre. Two episodes of The Twilight Zone (1960 and 1964) are forerunners of the subgenre, and Steven Spielberg's 1971 film Duel, in which a commuter is terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive truck, explores similar themes. Throughout the film, the driver of the truck remains anonymous and unseen, suggesting that the murderous driver is an impersonal force of evil rather than a human of flesh and blood.

Voodoo picked up on the fleeting currents of the collective life of the contemporary world long before Hollywood.




Post scriptum

The trailers to some of the aforementioned horror films will be showcased in upcoming posts.

Here is a link to an article discussing cyberpunk and voodoo.

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