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Haitian Cholera Epidemic Sparks Murderous Witch Hunt

Posted Dec 10 2010 10:16am

Fear over the mounting casualties stemming from the fast-moving cholera episemic in Haiti has led to the deaths of at least twelve Haitians accused of using "black magic" to spread the epidemic.  Since the first case in October, the epidemic has spread to an estimated 91,000 Haitians and killed more that 2,000 to date.  Given that no cholera epidemic has occurred in Haiti in more than fifty years, natural resistance remains low and local fears concerning the unfamiliar disease has fanned tremendous anger directed against international relief efforts, the Haitian government, and local magic practices. 

In more isolated parts of Haiti, including the Grand Anse region, rumours surrounding local Vodoun practitioners and their link to the epidemic have sparked riots.  Haitian vodoun (also called voodoo) is a widely practiced religion combining elements of African and Arawakian rituals and Roman Catholicism.  As many as half of Haiti's population practice some form of Vodoun (often alongside other religions as well).  Vodoun priests (male priests are known as houngans and female priests as mambos) have plied their trade for centuries and are traditionally believed to be able to cure disease and lay curses.   Following rumours that Vodoun priests were spreading the disease using a "magic powder",  machete-wielding villagers lynched perceived offenders and burned their bodies afterward.

To combat the killings, the government in Port-au-Prince has isssued a statement stressing that "Cholera is a microbe.. The only way to protect one's self against cholera is to practice the principles of hygiene.  There is no cholera powder, nor cholera zombie,  nor cholera spirit".  The government also emphasized that Vodoun priests had no power over the disease, either in causing it or curing it.    Riots have also broken out against UN peacekeepers, who have been blamed for bringing the disease into Haiti.   While international relief organizations are on the scene, nationwide unrest stemming from the massive earthquake earlier this year which killed 230,000 people is impeding rescue efforts.

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