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Updated: Jul 29, 2023

Voodoo at the Bayou

St John's Eve Ceremony, Bayou St John, New Orleans

Voodoo was introduced to New Orleans by the enslaved West Africans, who merged their religious rituals of nature, spirits, and ancestors practices with those of the local Catholic population. Also known as Voodoo-Catholicism, St. John's Eve is celebrated on the day of the summer solstice in New Orleans each year. Begun in the 1830s by Marie Laveau on Bayou St. John, The celebration is a head-washing ritual combined with a public celebration.

Statue of Maria Laveau at the St. John;s Eve Ceremony, Bayou St John, New Orleans

High Priestess, Sally Ann Glassman makes a Veve. Bayou St John, New Orleans

A Veve is a Louisianne Voodoo symbol which acts as a portal for the Iwa or spirit to enter the ceremony during the rituals. Each Iwa has its own unigue Veve and serves as a its representative during the rituals.

The competed Veve whose symbols of circles and lines are unique to each Iwa or spirit
Veve designs vary according to local customs, as do the names of the loa.

"The ceremonies commonly include drumming, chanting, dancing and the drawing of symbols known as veves (vevers). Just as specific colors, objects, chants and drum beats appeal to specific loa, so to do the veves. The veve used in a ceremony is dependent upon the lwa whose presence is desired. Veves are drawn on the ground with cornmeal, sand, or other powdery substances, and they are obliterated during the ritual." Beyer, Catherine. "Vodoun Symbols for Their Gods." Learn Religions, Sep. 20, 2021,

Shrine to Maria Laveau at the Hotel International annual celebration of St John's Eve
Shrine to Maria Laveau at the Hotel International annual celebration of St John's Eve

Shrine to Maria Laveau at the Hotel International annual celebration of St John's Eve
Shrine to Maria Laveau at the Hotel International annual celebration of St John's Eve

The most famous voodoo queen was Marie Laveau (1794-1881), a legendary healer who is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No.1. As a devout Catholic, Laveau merged her faith with the African rituals to create the modern form practiced today.

 Marie Laveau (1794-1881) St. Louis Cemetery No.1
Marie Laveau (1794-1881) St. Louis Cemetery No.1 New Orleans, Louisiana

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Karamojong Women Moroto, Uganda 2013

Roughly 12 million Africans would be stolen from their homes over the four centuries and transplanted to the violent and harsh plantations in the Caribbean and Americas.

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Enslaved people were sold by their tribal war lords and hunted by greedy white traders. The transatlantic slave trade caused a cataclysmic disruption to the culture, economics and social systems of Europe, Africa and America that resounds through society today.

From the 15th to the 19th century ships carrying human beings as cargo sailed from the West Coast of Africa crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean and on to the East Coast of the Americas “The system that emerged became known as the triangular trade because it had three stages that roughly form the shape of a triangle when viewed on a map. The first stage began in Europe, where manufactured goods were loaded onto ships bound for ports on the African coast. There the goods were exchanged for enslaved people.

The transatlantic slave trade was the second stage of the triangular trade - the shipment of enslaved people across the Atlantic Ocean. The shipment to Europe of plantation crops and products made from them was the third leg of the triangular trade. Among the most valuable exports to Europe were sugar, tobacco, cotton, molasses, and rum. Transatlantic Slave Trade Causes and Effects The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

Map showing the primary movement of Enslaved Africans, raw materials, and manufactured goods

National Park Service US Department of Interior

Europe was in need of resources. Poor husbandry methods had depleted its forests, contaminated its water sources and scourged the soil of nutrients. As demands for food and goods grew it was forced to look to the new World to feed the hungry masses. With the discovery of cotton, tobacco and sugar cane the colonial economy flourished. Until it didn’t. The new world crops were labor intensive and death from disease and war wiped out the native Indian labor force.

African slavery was introduced to support the plantation economy. “At its height in the 1780’s an average of 78,000 enslaved people were brought to the America’s each year of this decade. “In what became known as the Middle Passage, “About half the captives are transported from Africa in ships of British merchants. French and Portuguese traders also transport significant numbers of enslaved people.” Timeline of the Atlantic Slave Trade the Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

The enslaved people brought with them their Africans traditions and found their spiritual beliefs in nature were similar with those of the indigenous people. “Combined with aspects of their Christian masters, a religion evolved into the faith that most Black Americans practice today”. Yeye Teish Ifá Orisha storyteller and teacher.

“New England, Boston, New York City, the Mid-Atlantic, Virginia, Richmond, the Carolinas, Charleston, Savannah, the Deep South, and New Orleans were shaped by the trafficking of African people, but few have acknowledged their history of enslavement or its legacy.” Equal Justice Initiative 2023

The Peace Caravan Project continues its mission of Peaceful CoExistence, and Plurality, by bearing witness to the cultural traditions practiced in America today, by the descendants of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

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