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Voodoo was brought to the French colony Louisiana through the slave trade. From 1719 and 1731, the majority of African slaves came directly from what is now Benin, West Africa, bringing with them their cultural practices, language, and religious beliefs rooted in spirit and ancestor worship. Their knowledge of herbs, poisons, and the ritual creation of charms and amulets, intended to protect ones self or harm others, became key elements of Louisiana Voodoo.
The slave community quickly acquired a strong presence in Louisiana. The colony was not a stable society when slaves arrived, which allowed African culture to maintain a prominent position in the slave community. According to a census of 1731-1732, the ratio of African slaves to whites was over two to one. The ownership of slaves was concentrated into the hands of few whites, facilitating the preservation of African culture.
Unlike other areas of active slave trade, there was little separation in Louisiana between families, culture, and languages. The Embargo Act of 1808 ended all slave imports to Louisiana. Authorities promoted the growth of the slave population by prohibiting by law the separation of families. Parents were sold together with their children under fourteen years of age. The high mortality of the slave trade brought its survivors together with a sense of solidarity. The absence of fragmentation in the slave community along with the kinship system produced by the bond created by the difficulties of slavery resulted in a “coherent, functional, well integrated, autonomous, and self confident slave community. As a result African culture and spirituality did not die out, but rather thrived in French Creole culture.
The practice of making and wearing charms and amulets for protection, healing, or the harm of others was a key aspect to early Louisiana Voodoo. The ouanga, a charm used to poison an enemy, contained the poisonous roots of the figure maudit tree, brought from Africa and preserved in the West Indies. The ground up root was combined with other elements such as bones, nails, roots, holy water, holy candles, holy incense, holy bread, or crucifixes. The administrator of the ritual frequently evoked protection from the Muslim God Allah, the Christian God, and Jesus Christ. This openness of African belief allowed for the adoption of Catholic practices into Louisiana Voodoo.
Another component of Louisiana Voodoo brought from Africa was the worship of ancestors and the subsequent emphasis on respect for elders. For this reason, the rate of survival among elderly slaves was high, further “Africanizing Louisiana Creole culture.”