In the Haitian religion of Vodu, a priest who serves as a leader in performing rituals and ceremonies is referred to as the houngan or Hungan. The Houngan or “chief of the hun” is the name associated with men leaders within the Vodu religion, whereas women of the same position are referred to as mambo.
It is believed that houngans obtain their position through dream-like encounters from gods or has of the Vodu religion. During these dream-like visions, houngans are chosen to be servants of the religion, and, as such, they are expected to oversee burials, child birthing, healing/cleansing rituals, and other religious ceremonies. In addition to the advisory role, the houngans perform and lead ritual dances, songs, and chants to evoke a Lwa. It is a common belief among Vodu followers that if a person is visited by a particular loa and does not wish to become a houngan, he or she will be threatened with sickness and/or death if he or she does not submit to the Lwa and serve the religion.
A common misconception about houngans in the Vodu religion is that they are witchdoctors and practice “magic” against an individual. In fact, houngans' role within Vodu culture is to perform rituals and/or ceremonies to prevent or ward off influences that have the possibility of affecting a particular person or the life of loved ones. Traditionally, houngans do not view themselves as medicine men or wielders of magic, but rather as intercessors between followers of the Vodu religion and god.
Students or assistants of the houngan are often called on to perform ceremonial dances at rituals in which the houngan or mambo is presiding. Students of the houngan are referred to as badji-cans and can have dual roles as publicity agents or as spies to track the activities of witchdoctors.
A famous houngan among the religion is Dutty Boukman, who many believe initiated the Haitian revolution against the French after a ceremony was performed August 14, 1791, at Bois Caiman, which subsequently led to the independence of Haiti from France in 1804.
- Blier, S. P. (1995). African Vodun: Art, Psychology, and Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Simpson G. E. Race, Culture, and Groups: Haitian MagicSocial Forces 19 (1) (1940). 95–100.