Historical Inaccuracies In American Horror Story: Coven

First of all, I just love American Horror Story. The show is amazing…simply put. If Jessica Lange doesn’t win every eligible award out there, than the establishment is just incredibly out of touch. Ok, so enough with that. This is not what this blog post is about. It is about something that I heard in the second episode of season 3 (Coven).

When Angela Bassett’s (who’s also doing a wonderful job…as always…plus she really does seem to not age) character Marie Laveau talks about her voodoo origins, she mentions that she (they?) are descended from a black women from Salem, MA who was (or got her power from) an Arawak Indian. I was really surprised by that claim. I honestly know nothing about voodoo. But I do know that the Arawaks were the original inhabitants of Jamaica…and in fact, Jamaica is one of the few New World countries that kept its indigenous name (the Arawaks called it Xymaica). The Arawaks were also known as Tainos, and lived on many islands throughout the Caribbean. In fact, about 62 percent of Puerto Ricans have some Taino lineage (another interesting linguistic note is that Arawaks called Puerto Rico Boriken, which is why many Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Boricuas).

Arawaks

Arawaks (also known as “Tainos” or “Caribs”)

But I’m getting a teeny bit off track here, because this post is about voodoo. Perhaps I’m a little sensitive to this topic because when I was younger, neighborhood kids used to ask me if my Grandmother was a voodoo witch. I knew nothing about voodoo…but it sounded bad, so it was all pretty offensive. I later came to realize that what Jamaicans called “Science” was really voodoo; and I did grow up hearing about the disdain for people who sought out the Obeah Man (pronounced OB-yah) to deal with their problems.

It wasn’t until I moved to South Florida where there was a thriving Haitian community that I came to learn that voodoo is a French term for the West African term “vodun”, and describes the “science” that is practiced in Haiti and Louisiana. Whatever it may be referred to, it is quite clear that the practice has origins in West Africa. The Arawaks did have a religious practice, but it wasn’t related to voodoo.

So it makes you wonder, why did the writers write this backstory? Does it make Marie Laveau seem more “exotic” that her power comes from an extinct indigenous people from the Caribbean as opposed to West Africa? Seriously…think about it. Is it “safer”…especially since it was the voodoo witches who gave the White witches their power…

I really don’t know. I mean it was a simple sentence and maybe I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill here. But you could have easily just stated the historical truth. Marie Laveau’s story also puts Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), the “human voodoo doll” (interesting power choice, heh?) in an interesting position. She gives her backstory as also being descended from the “Black witch in Salem” (her name may have been given, but I don’t recall it). She states outright that she didn’t believe that there were any Black witches. What I predict is that Marie Laveau is going to try to bring Queenie over to her side; with the good ol’ “come join your own kind” bit. Yeah, I can see it going there…it’s just too easy. I’ll be shocked, quite frankly, if it doesn’t.

Oh well. It is very cool that this season of American Horror Story is featuring actual characters from history (just like the other seasons have). However given what I’ve heard so far, I wouldn’t take what is shown or said as actual historical fact (should we ever?).