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In August 1791, a gathering of Africans, frustrated by the horrors of slavery they were forced to endure in the lucrative French colony of San Domingue, entered into a sacred ritual that would spark what may be considered the greatest effort of African resistance in the Western hemisphere. In the woods of Bois Caiman (Caiman Woods in Haitian Creole), led by a Vodou houngan or spiritual leader, the ceremony, now named after the meeting place where it was held, is said to have provided the inspiration responsible for the bloody Haitian revolution.

The ceremony, complete with the sacrifice of a black pig and oaths of secrecy and loyalty, is reminiscent of sacred rituals practiced in traditional Africa. Unlike other insurrections by enslaved Africans in various parts ...

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