The secret societies of the Sanpwel are...
secret, but their existance and function is public
knowledge in Haiti, particularly in rural areas.
Sanpwel is not a Vodou religious phenomenon,
it is a secular organization affiliated with
Vodou, much as the Knights of Colombus
are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
The confusion between Sanpwel and
Vodou is compounded by the fact that
high-ranking Houngans and Mambos
are often high-ranking Sanpwel members.
The Sanpwel functions as a law-enforcement
agency, and takes sanctions against people
who violate one or more of the "Seven
Conditions". These violations include disrespect
of parents or siblings, slander which deprives
someone of their livelihood, "stealing" a woman
(?), speaking ill of the Sanpwel, and other
Sanctions range from a kou le (French -
coup l'aire) which induces a mild illness,
to zombification. Parents often frighten
misbehaving children with stories about the
Sanpwel, but actually no sanctions are
ever undertaken without a meeting of the
higher-ranking society members and usually
members of the offender's family. It is not
an arbitrary and unfair exercise of authority.
Now, having said that, I should note that the
Sanpwel societies, like some Houngans and
Mambos, were in some measure corrupted
during the Duvalierist regimes.
It is difficult for me to say more, because as
a member of the Sanpwel I am sworn to
secrecy on certain topics, but I have said
some of what I am free to say, and I hope
it will shed some light.
Mambo Racine Sans Bout