In AIDS Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame, Paul Farmer gives a general, yet very detailed perspective of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Haiti. This book covers the epidemic from the beginning in the early 1980’s and it provides an excellent view of the different perspectives and theories that the U.S. had about Haiti and vice versa. Farmer explains what he thought were the causes of the AIDS epidemic in Haiti and how the government, social and cultural perspectives and beliefs were part of this situation. He refers to these perspectives as “AIDS accusations” and are all interconnected by stigma, racism, cultural beliefs and classism.
One of the accusations that is implicitly based on classism is the “Sorcery Accusation”, locally called maji, in the village of Do Kay. According to Farmer, when a person was achieving success and economic advancement this was perceived as being done at the expense of the others who were less fortunate or poor. As a result, someone who practiced voodoo or maji could send a sida makandal in return. Makandal was the term used to describe a sorcery bundle that voodoo practitioners could send to harm another person based on their success. Farmer refers to the story of Dieudonné to explain how people in the Do Kay village believed that a makandal of AIDS was sent upon him by a person in the city of Port-au-Prince as a result of jealousy. Dieudonné is an example of why AIDS was known as the jealousy sickness among villagers in Do Kay. I found this explanation extremely interesting because the message behind this was that those who gain wealth without sharing with their poor neighbors need to be punished in some form. In other words, sorcery and voodoo serves the purpose of punishing those who breach the obligation of sharing with and helping others. It serves the function of reinforcing the equality within a society where equality has come to be narrowly defined as shared poverty. It also shows how classism also exists in extreme poverty conditions. Regardless of someone’s “poverty level”, if other person was perceived as going over that subjective level; a jealousy sickness (in this case HIV) should be sent to them because they were “taking advantage” of other who were less fortunate.
This is a clear example of how classism was expressed in the form of sorcery in rural areas of Haiti. Another interesting point of view that Farmer shows in his book is Sorcery for healing purposes. In this perspective sorcery is seeing as a good way to get cured or to improve someone’s health. In the story of Anita, a woman that gets infected from her husband who was rumored to be a victim of another AIDS sorcery, Farmer explains how one person tried to prepare a gad, which is a maji potion or beverage that can help improve one’s health. This potion was given to Anita with hopes of curing her from AIDS.
While reading the book, I was transported to my childhood where I was raised. Coming from Puerto Rico, one of the Caribbean countries most influenced by African voodoo, I was raised in a household in which Santeria and Espiritismo were practiced. My mom was an “espiritista” a witch healer and medium who used to do rituals very similar to the ones Farmer explained. She used to practice this religion by performing rituals to improve our family’s health, to “protect” our family and to harm others who were perceived as enemies. I share this information because sometimes it is hard to understand how a culture can be so involved with voodoo or maji and we underestimate their beliefs. For some cultures voodoo, maji, santería or espiritismo are the only things they have to feel protected or healthy and those beliefs are culturally validated, which was also one of the reasons why Haitians in Do Kay believed that AIDS was a sickness that could have been send through sorcery and it could get cured through voodoo rituals. It is fascinating to me that in 2014, these beliefs are still being validated in different cultures even though we have empirical studies, data and science to explain many health related topics.
In summary, Farmer’s AIDS Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame is a great book to understand other cultures that are being affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how stigma, socio economic factors, racism and classism can influence a country’s perception in the whole world. Also by reading Farmer, one can learn how perspectives within a culture about what are the causes of HIV/AIDS can serve as a barrier or advantages when targeting the epidemic.