Vodou, sometimes referred to as Voodoo, is a religion that blends Catholicism with West African diasporic faiths. Primarily practiced in the Caribbean, Vodoun incorporates ancestor worship and animism alongside saints and African gods. Many of the traditions followed today are directly related to those brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans hundreds of years ago. During the colonization of Hispaniola, Africans from many different tribes brought their customs with them. These beliefs were blended with the native Taino Indians of Haiti, along with the influence of Spanish and French Catholicism.
During the late 18th century, there were a number of slave rebellions in Haiti, and former slave Touissaint L'Ouverture led battles against the French colonists. Haitian lore attributes L'Ouverture's success to a Vodou ceremony -- according to legend, this was the beginning of the revolution. Today, while many of Haiti's people identify as either Protestant or Catholic, nearly all acknowledge the country's connection with Vodou.
Bob Corbett of Webster University has a wonderful outline of the basic beliefs of Vodou on his page at Introduction to Voodoo in Haiti. He describes the basic concepts of Vodou, as well as the deities and ritual format. Corbett reminds his students "to recognize that Voodoo is Haiti's religion, it is taken very seriously not merely by unlettered peasants, but many intelligent and learned members of the Haitian society believe as sincerely in Voodoo as do German theology professors in their Christianity."
Following the January 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, Vodou was brought to the forefront of the public's attention. A scholarly association for the study of Haitian Vodou was formed at University of California, Santa Barbara, and named Kosanba. Their website says, "The presence, role, and importance of Vodou in Haitian history, society, and culture are unarguable, and recognizably a part of the national ethos. The impact of the religion qua spiritual and intellectual disciplines on popular national institutions, human and gender relations, the family, that plastic arts, philosophy and ethics, oral and written literature, language, popular and sacred music, science and technology and the healing arts, is indisputable."