Can voodoo help to resolve climate change?

In the mid-1990s, I was involved with a group of Haitian grassroots activists, largely a part of the Liberation Theology Lavalas (or the “great flood”) movement, and their supporting Haitian-American counterparts. With the return from exile of the first democratically elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the air was electric with expectation, “Espwa” (hope) that finally a change for the better was possible. 

Words such as “democracy”, “dignity” and, most commonly, “solidarity” were bandied about in the air like new-found treasures. Supporters of Aristide sported T-shirts and banners quoting the then president: “Randevou bo tab la”, or “Let’s meet together at the table”.

Aristide’s invitation was clear: everyone needed to come to the table to meet, plan, and contribute. And everyone – simply everyone – had something valuable to give to the movement for positive social change. 

Not only was this recognition of the value and capacities of the rich, the poor and everyone in between, it was also a call to action: this movement couldn’t be carried by just one person. In order to have a chance at manifesting a new vision of a democratic Haiti, moving out of misery (if only into the next level of poverty), everyone needed to step up and give what she or he had to give, and to do it for the long haul.

Aristide’s invitation was clear: everyone needed to come to the table to meet, plan, and contribute. And everyone – simply everyone – had something valuable to give to the movement for positive social change

Working alongside farmers and villagers across Haiti, I came to learn a bit about Vodun, what is commonly (and incorrectly) termed “voodoo” in English-speaking cultures. I learned how the Haitian social structure in village life was built around the structure of the crossroads in Vodun, where the worlds of ancestors and their living descendants met, and where everyone brought their own particular skills and resources to contribute to village well-being – all equally valued. Aristide’s call for solidarity, “Randevou bo tab la,” gained deeper resonance, power and meaning.

Today a local-to-local climate change community based adaptation and climate justice movement is emerging across regions, across the globe, with potential to lead the way for the world’s coping (adaptation) with the impacts and threats of climatic change. 

From 24 to 30 April, IIED’s 8th annual conference on community based adaptation to climate change (CBA8) took place in Nepal, and at the beginning of the event, I had the opportunity to sit and speak with Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at IIED and chief organiser of CBA8. From him I heard words that stirred memories of my early days in Haiti – “dignity”, “respect” and, most powerfully, the need for global “solidarity”.

Haitian grassroots activists gather in the mid-1990s. Image: Emilie Parry

Saleem’s words struck a powerful chord with me as I see the emerging local-to-local climate justice movement, and the efforts of CBA networks, as another stage along the continuum of global movements for social change and justice. 

CBA8 saw local practitioners, community partners, UN representatives, large donors, NGO workers, heads of state and government representatives from 62 countries and six continents all come together. Here we were all equal, each person’s role and experience a necessary piece of the climate justice puzzle.

The challenges that climate change poses require all of us, no matter what role or label, community or culture, alliance or affiliation, to step up and contribute the skills and resources we have in order to tackle and cope with the vast, at times overwhelming, complex difficulties that climate change brings to our doorsteps.

“Randevou bo tab la!” Everyone has a seat at the table, and everyone’s contributions are needed and important.

This is not a pat on the back, recognition simply of human capabilities in corners great and small. This is a call to action. A call to come together in solidarity, to care for, protect, and work together for the sake of dignity and respect of all life, all beings.

Will you come to table? And what will you bring?

For more details, read this Full coverage of CBA8, including debate and discussions, videos and photos. 

Emilie Parry is a doctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and Environment (emilie.parry@ouce.ox.ac.uk). During CBA8, she volunteered as a rapporteur and conducted a participant survey for IIED. This post originally appeared in the IIED blog.

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