In the eastern two thirds of the territory the culture has a predominantly Spanish character, while in the remainder it has undergone French influence. The island’s population, however, cannot be considered as a homogeneous whole, but from both the racial and cultural aspects, it must be divided into two distinct groups. The first includes the urban population, whose individuals, descendants of French-African unions, are almost entirely French in interests and education: the second is formed by the much larger rural population, which retains the almost pure black racial characters and the whose culture is, for the majority, that of West Africa.
Of this African culture, the religious elements, collected under the generic name of vaudou (ingl. Voodoo) have attracted the attention of ethnographers in a particular way. But it is to be considered, although both the internal organization of social life and the economic activities of Haitian peasants have been very little studied, that African influences are also to be recognized in other fields. Thus the “Society of the Congo”, a cooperative of farmers of the Gonave Island, shows evident similarities even in detail, with the cooperative societies of West Africa and especially with the farmers’ organization known in Dahomey with the name of dokpwe.
According to NATUREGNOSIS, the name vaudou finds its counterpart in the voodoo name used in the southern regions of the United States, and in voodoo, the serpent-god of the Negroes of Dutch Guiana. On the island of Haiti, vaudou includes the worship of numerous loi, deities representing the elements that regulate the destiny of man. The ceremonies of the cult feature a mixture of voodoo African and Catholic rite. There are few reliable descriptions of the related rites, since what has been written is largely distorted by a kind of sensationalism, due to a tradition according to which these ceremonies have an orgiastic character and are closely linked to cannibalism. However, some scholars have found that the religion of the vaudou has a high degree of organization and that it presents itself as an essentially disciplined cult of the various deities according to the African rite. Parsons also explains how the belief in the zombie may have given rise, with false interpretations, to the tradition that wants human sacrifice and cannibalism to be practiced. According to this belief, in fact, a person killed by spell sometimes becomes the inanimate slave of the sorcerer, who can transform his zombie into an animal and sell its meat on the public market.
The cult itself is administered by priests vaudou called mamaloi and papaloi according to sex; they must pass through four degrees of initiation: an individual enters the first degree when he is “called” by the god; he then passes to the second when some secrets of the cult are revealed to him; the third is given the power to enter into communication with the souls of deceased priests and is taught the secret language; at the fourth degree the initiation is complete and he learns to prophesy. Each priest has his own temple where he practices the rites of worship. The gods are worshiped with sacrifices, dances to the sound of drums made from hollowed out African-style tree trunks, and feasts. Among the numerous gods of Vaudou the most important are Damballa-Ouédo, the snake, and Ayido – Ouédo, the rainbow, Legba, god of crossroads and Agbéto, god of the sea. The god of thunder is called Piè Jupitè – Tonnè and sometimes, according to Dorsainvil, with the Dahomeian name of Hevioso. Zo is the god of fire, Avlekete goddess of the sea, and Hoho is the god of twins commonly called marassa. Other deities are Loi Ogun, Hogou – Obatala and Hogou – Chango. An extensive list of these shows that much of their hierarchy comes directly from Dahomey, and many of them keep their name and function unchanged. In fact, PriceMars writes that in the mixture that took place in Haiti of African slaves belonging to different tribes “the only religion that still presented itself as a solid equality of traditions of discipline, a priestly hierarchy, capable of imposing some of its rites on all beliefs, was that of Dahomey “. Dorsainvil distinguishes the gods of voodoo into three groups: those from Fan, Arada; Mine, Bibi and Mahi, those who come from Congo, Nago, Ibo and Canga, and those of Haitian origin. Evidently the gods of the first group are Dahomeians, indeed all the first eight mentioned above are from Dahomey. The gods Aguasu and Siligbo, quoted by Dorsainvil, are of special importance in this regard as such names occur among the totems of the Dahomey tribes. The gods of the second group (except the Congo) are of Nigerian origin and those of the third group are Yoruba.
African influences are also notable in popular language and literature. The Franco-Haitian dialect is largely a literal translation of an African language, while folk tales are generally of African origin as well (often burlesque animal tales). In San Domingo the African influences seem to have been less: here the popular stories are generally European (Spanish) and the religion is Catholic. In Haiti, on the other hand, it can be said that the indigenous traditions of African slaves have largely been preserved.