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Connecting four centuries of political, social, and religious history with fieldwork and language documentation, A Transatlantic History of Haitian Vodou analyzes Haitian Vodou’s African origins, transmission to Saint-Domingue, and promulgation through song in contemporary Haiti.

Split into two sections, the African chapters focus on history, economics, and culture in Dahomey, Allada, and Hueda while scrutinizing the role of Europeans in fomenting tensions. The political, military, and slave trading histories of the kingdoms in the Bight of Benin reveal the circumstances of enslavement, including the geographies, ethnicities, languages, and cultures of enslavers and enslaved. The study of the spirits, rituals, structure, and music of the region’s religions sheds light on important sources for Haitian Vodou. Having royal, public, and private expressions, Vodun spirit-based traditions served as cultural systems that supported or contested power and enslavement. At once suppliers and victims of the European slave trade, the people of Dahomey, Allada, and Hueda deeply shaped the emergence of Haiti’s creolized culture.

The Haitian chapters focus on Vodou’s Rada Rite (from Allada) and Gede Rite (from Abomey) through the songs of Rasin Figuier’s Vodou Lakay and Rasin Bwa Kayiman’s Guede, legendary rasin compact discs released on Jean Altidor’s Miami label, Mass Konpa Records. All the Vodou songs on the discs are analyzed with a method dubbed “Vodou hermeneutics” that harnesses history, religious studies, linguistics, literary criticism, and ethnomusicology in order to advance a scholarly approach to Vodou songs.