In Haiti, as elsewhere where Rome was in control, baptism into the Roman Catholic Church was compulsory. The converted slaves continued to practice their pagan religions under the appearance of Catholicism by disguising their African gods with the names of Catholic saints. In 1790, Moreau de Saint-Mery observed that “African slaves used their Catholic faith as a scheme under which ‘primitive’ religious practices could be performed.”
Religion-and-international studies professor Leslie G. Desmangles reports that Catholicism and voodoo are so intertwined in Haitian religious life that Catholic and voodoo objects can be seen on the same altars. Voodoo is the dominant force in Haitian political and social life, and its oungans and mambos are powerful and influential figures. Voodoo and Catholic ceremonies are commonly performed consecutively in conjunction with one another for the same event, such as funerals, weddings, and sacred pilgrimages to the waterfalls of Ezili and Damballah.
Professor Desmangles explains:
Catholic ritual performed by the pret savann [Catholic priest] and those performed by the oungan [Vodou priest] coexist … to make the whole of the Vodou ritual. … Vodou baptisms … entail ritual performances by both the pret savann and the oungan. Vodou fills important … civic as well as political functions … Catholicism too is integral to Vodouisants’ lives. …”