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Women & Voodoo
August '08

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Corrupted by Skin Color: Racist and Misogynist Perceptions of Hoodoo in Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Kelli V. Randall

August 2008

        “Voodoo” is often mistaken for “hoodoo” because of the common etymology the two words share.  Voodoo, the practice of the ancient African religion of Vodoun, has roots in West African culture.  Its modern form is still practiced in parts of West Africa today.  “The syncretism of Catholicism and West African belief which resulted in voodoo is perhaps the best known of these transformations of African religion in the face of New World pressure” (McMillan 101).  Hoodoo, the manifestation of a trans-cultural phenomenon of voodoo, was brought to America by enslaved Africans who survived the perilous Middle Passage.  Because hoodoo incorporates a variety of cultural practices from diverse traditions, it demonstrates the syncretism of religion and the natural world.

        “Hoodoo is a vernacular term for the maleficent practice of voodoo” (Tucker 627).  Hoodoo or “folk magic” is commonly referred to as conjure, local magic, sorcery, “rootwork” and spells.  In the opening chapter of Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1992), Tituba describes the hoodoo practices she learns:

Mama Yaya taught me about herbs. Those for inducing sleep. Those for healing wounds and ulcers. Those for loosening the tongues of thieves. Those that calm epileptics and plunge them into blissful rest. Those that put words of hope on the lips of the angry, the desperate, and the suicidal. (Condé 9)

In modern contexts, these hoodoo practices Tituba describes are commonly viewed as “folk remedy,” superstition and old wives’ tales distinct to both African-American and Southern cultural contexts.  “The practice of both Christian and folk traditions including divination, voodoo, herbal magic, and witchcraft were common throughout the South and often were not mutually exclusive” (McMillan 109).  The foundation of this natural religion is an intimate understanding of the closeness between nature and life.  Even though the traditional manner for passing on this “folk knowledge” is from person-to-person, there are no designated practitioners of hoodoo in a community.  Mama Yaya, who raises Tituba after her mother, Abena, is killed, teaches Tituba “the prayers, the rites, and the propitiatory gestures” (Condé 10).  Nature that nurtures, hoodoo or “folk remedies” become classified as common knowledge passed on through generations. 

        “Witchcraft,” a pejorative synonym for the word “hoodoo,” inappropriately designates hoodoo as an evil practice.  Maryse Condé attacks negative connotations surrounding hoodoo to cast its ritual practices in a positive light in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (1992).  The word “witch,” rooted from the Anglo-Saxon word “wicca,” means wise one or magician.[1]  In various historical, anthropological, religious and mythological contexts witches are said to have the use of supernatural or magical powers.  “The final authority is in the word “witch” itself, for it has the power to name a reality” (Harris 113).  The word “witch” is terribly problematic, for it has negative racist and sexist connotations.  Trudier Harris discusses the pejorative connotations the word “witch” has for women of color:

Seldom do we extend the focus on religion and conjuration to consider how black women may have fared in the colonies in the early days of this country when women often simply because they were women, were believed to be something other than human, even in league with the devil. (105)

Maryse Condé is highly critical of and deconstructs the racial construct of a black woman as witch.  I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, demonstrates the inadequacy of the label “witch” for Tituba.  “In Tituba’s world, therefore, the word ‘witch’ is infinitely more fate-determining than the word ‘slave.’ Slaves can be succored and protected; witches are to be burned” (108).  The label witch does not fit Tituba because she does not meet the criteria of practicing evil. 

        Racial identity is the sole criteria for identifying Tituba as a witch.  “The image of witch, therefore, is ultimately more important than the individual human being whose life is inscribed into those features” (111).  Again, the literal meaning or connotation of the word witch contradicts who Tituba really is.  If judged according to her actions, Tituba herself states that she should be should be “cherished and revered rather than feared” (Condé 17).  Instead of greeting Tituba “with shouts of joy and welcome” and presenting her “with a list of illnesses” to cure, the townspeople fear and admonish Tituba (14).

        Maryse Condé critiques and ultimately rejects pejorative definitions of the word “witch” in order to definitively give Tituba an identity as a life-giving sorceress.  Mama Yaya teaches Tituba “to cure others and heal, a superior gift of nature” (17).  Tituba is labeled a witch even though she is inherently good.  She uses her magical powers to help suffering people and for the betterment of the community, but never receives “respect, admiration, and gratitude” (17).  Yet as the novel reveals, stereotypes about witches are linked to gender, race and sexuality.  Stereotypes based on race and gender have particularly unforgettable consequences.  Tituba has a unique position between competing discourse of identity and difference.  Her racialized experience of gender demonstrates that the connection between woman and witch is misogynist.  Condé rescues Tituba from this racial subjugation by claiming a life, a voice and an identity for her within the novel.  Angela David writes, “Via an active, constitutive voice, Tituba leaps into history, shattering all the racist and misogynist misconceptions that have defined the place of black women” (x). 

        While Tituba is falsely accused of working evil on individuals throughout the community, Condé demonstrates how Tituba’s hoodoo practices actually benefit the community.  Tituba uses her spiritual powers to heal, to love and to show reverence for her ancestors.  Angela Davis concludes, “It is because of her dedication to the ways of her ancestors—and the use of her healing powers to help the women of the family that owns her—that she becomes a target of the Salem witch hunt” (xi). Unlike many white witches, who upon confession faced the possibility of redemption, Tituba receives unjust treatment and no possibility of pardon:

The Salem judges, who relentlessly pursued those whom Tituba implicated in her testimony, did not know what to do with her.  Due to her confession, they were unable to put her to death, and due to their presumption of her irreversible degeneracy, they were unable to tolerate her presence in the Village. (Tucker 626) 

Tituba faced permanent exile from the community solely based upon her race.  Tituba is not banished solely upon the basis that she practices witchcraft.  Instead, the white community’s disapproval of Tituba’s hoodoo practices manifests itself as racialized fear.  Both Tituba and her cultural practices are perceived as diabolical because she is a woman of African descent.  To the community, Tituba’s heritage is alien and her foreign cultural ritual practices are pagan.

        While mythological witches are often supernatural creatures, historically many people have been accused of witchcraft or have claimed to be witches.  Moreover, stories about witches have captured the literary imagination of writers, artists and film-makers alike. “Witches, then, are perceived to have authority over the natural and human worlds, and they have broken down the barriers between humanity and the supernatural in that they conspire with the devil” (Harris 113).  The long-lost story of Tituba, in particular, has recently become a curiosity.  Ann Petry vividly recreated the life and story of Tituba in her children’s book Tituba of Salem Village first published in 1964.  Yet, in her novel, Petry constructs Tituba as a victim.  Decades later, Arthur Miller attempted to depict Tituba in his screenplay The Crucible (1995).  Miller’s Tituba, a minor character with a very minimal role, is very critical of Puritan society.  Condé, Miller, Petry and other artsists’ cultural fascination with witches is undoubtedly motivated by a historical event—the Salem Witch Trials.  Although many would trivialize the event, “contemporary historians classify the witch scare as an episode in either social-political development or gender conflict” (Breslaw 535).  Various interpretations or representations of witchcraft accusations, trials and executions are based on the literal historical facts but largely stand as liberal interpretations of witchcraft episodes in the name of artistic or literary license.

        Salem was a small town and thus, secrets were difficult to keep.  It would not have been uncommon for gossip or hearsay to be considered capital “T” truth.  “In 1692 in the village of Salem, Massachusetts and its environs between the months of March and October, more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and arrested. Of the convicted, 19 were hanged, 1 was pressed to death under a plank overlaid with heavy stones, and 4 died in prison waiting to be sentenced” (Tucker 624).  Tituba was the first to be accused of witchcraft.  In addition Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn and Dorcas Good were also accused.  Their accusers included the young girls Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Parris, Elizabeth Hubbard and Ann Putnam.  Tituba’s primary accusers were Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams.  Everyone in Salem village believed these two girls even thought they knew their allegations of witchcraft were a lie. 

        In Salem during the year 1692, these girls formed a club where local village girls listened to Tituba tell them stories about magic, superstition and witchcraft.  “Storytelling (the potency of words) becomes authoritative in that Tituba has the power to weave word-spells over the girls” (Harris 109).  The girls admired Tituba’s “transformative power of words,” but these meetings pronounced danger (109).  “The group of girls who conspire to accuse Tituba of witchcraft might also be jealous of the authority inherent in her imagination” (109).  Furthermore, Salem’s townspeople observed that the young girls were acting strange.  Out of fear of harsh punishment, the girls not only accused Tituba of practicing witchcraft but also accused other respectable women of the community.  Previously Tituba’s closest confidant, Betsey understood the racial implications behind her allegations of witchcraft against Tituba:  “You, do good? You’re a Negress, Tituba! You can only do evil. You are evil itself” (Condé 77).  Betsey’s equation of African ancestry with evil mirrored popular perceptions of race during the 17th century. 

        Tituba was jailed for fourteen months and then put on trial.  Hester, a parodied character from Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, instructs Tituba: “Make them scared, Tituba! Give them their money’s worth!” (99).  Indeed, the only way that Tituba could escape the horrible fate the townspeople had in store for her was to confess practicing witchcraft.  “As soon as Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft in order to protect the ‘children,’ the associations of race and maleficium became overpoweringly strong” (McWilliams 588).  Miraculously, Tituba was given the freedom to live.  “There was a law in Massachusetts that spared the life of a witch if she confessed” (Condé 101).  Tituba’s racial identity coupled with her confessed witchery resulted in the townspeople fearing her hoodoo practices.  Other innocent women who chose not to confess were killed despite false accusations of witchcraft against them.  The girls who accused Tituba were “attracted to the role-playing of pretending to be bewitched without attention to the consequences of their deadly game” (Harris 109).  The only punishment they suffered was the guilt of lying.

        Witches are deeply embedded within American culture through film, holiday, literature and superstition.  We are enthralled by witches, whether they are good or bad or whether they are sorcerers or modern day practitioners of Wicca.  We are captivated by the aura of the magic and power they are said to possess.  However, historical constructions of witches differ drastically from the images and stereotypes embedded in folklore, fairy tales and film that we have invented.  We typically associate witches with cauldrons, brew, casting spells, wearing all black, pointy hats, broomsticks, cats and turning people into toads.  These witches are usually never beautiful; instead, they are evil, creepy, old hags with long finger nails, warts and green faces.  The evil witch is an archetype that we have come to know and enjoy in children’s stories such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White.”  She is also a popular character in children’s film such as The Wizard of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid or Harry Potter.  Teenage shows such as Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch, and Bewitched project more positive images of the prototype of the good witch.  Yet, we seem to prefer horror in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Witches of Eastwick and The Blair Witch Project.

        The iconography of witches is most reflected in our adoption of Halloween as an American holiday.  Witches have a long history of association with Halloween.  Legend stipulates that witches gather on October 31st, commonly referred to as All Hallow’s Eve, on broomsticks to celebrate at a party hosted by the devil.  It is believed that witches cast spells on people unbeknownst.  Furthermore, witches are said to be able to transform themselves into different forms to bring about magical mischief.  We have even come to associate black cats with witches.  Allegedly, witches can change into cats who are spirits of the dead.  We also pass on the lore of witches through superstition.  Undoubtedly, the most popular superstition we have adopted suggests that if a black cat crosses one’s path, turn around and go back because if one continues, bad luck will strike. 

        Early settlers that came to America brought along with them their beliefs in witches.  These American legends spread and mixed with Native American beliefs in witches and the black magic associated with the slaves.  Africans, Native Americans and West Indians had different perspectives about witchcraft than Europeans.  To people of color, witchcraft had nothing to do with the devil.  Their hoodoo practices were used to heal the sick and better the community.  To Europeans, witchcraft was anti-Christian and its practice involved contact with the devil: 

To many Whites, Africa was a strange and heathen land rampant with demons and devils who were the objects of worship by its inhabitants.  Devils were often in the thoughts of the colonists and were found at almost every turn.  The belief that Blacks were inherently connected to the worship of Satanic forces no doubt greatly influenced many Whites automatically to suspect them of witchcraft. (McMillan 107)

Europeans linked the practice of witchcraft or “black magic” to people of color.  Furthermore, Europeans believed that witches sold their souls to the devil for magical powers to do harm to others.  This kind of magic, commonly referred to as black magic, is used for malevolent acts to deliberately cause harm in some way. 

        Black magic is often referred to as works of the left hand.  It was invoked to kill, injure, cause misfortune, destruction or for personal gain without regard to harmful consequences to others.  “The most significant factor which served to protect the peoples of African origin from the accusations and punishments of witchcraft, however, was that Whites feared the believed magical powers of Blacks” (113).  Not all black magic, however, has malevolent intentions behind it.  As a result, “the study of race and witchcraft in New England is a highly complex endeavor” (103).  Chadwick Hansen draws a most important conclusion:

We are not free of racism, and we will not be free of it until we recognize, among other things, that beliefs and practices which we regard as superstitions do not necessarily have racial boundaries—until we recognize, in short, that witchcraft, when it is found in New England, is more likely to be English in origin than Indian or Negro. (12)

        I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem is critical of the hypocrisy, racism and religious bigotry of Puritan New England of the 17th century.  As the novel reveals, slave culture promoted belief in a positive type of sorcery in contrast to European belief that all sorcery was the work of the devil.  Some consider it to have beneficial and benevolent uses, such as killing off diseases or pests.  “White magic,” commonly referred to as works of the right hand, is used for the good of the community.

        Tituba’s connection to the devil is made solely on the basis of skin color.  Thus, it is important that we place the Salem Witch Trials in the context of the racial and gendered discourses of 17th century Puritan New England because there were specific political, local, economic, religious and social contexts that were contributing factors resulting in the outbreak of witchcraft accusations.  Thus it is important “to situate witchcraft accusations in the social and cultural context from which they almost invariably emanated” (Rowlands 296).  Puritans had extreme patriarchal beliefs.  Women were considered entirely subservient to men.  “Yet in an interesting reversal of the usual stereotypical situation, the notion of rationalist manhood during this era seems to have disappeared. Men seem to become intuitive, subject to the hysteria of imagination in ways that they traditionally associate with women” (Harris 112).  An important question that we must ask: “Were the men merely transferring their own insecurities, their own madness, onto the women?” (112).  Ironically, women were considered to be weaker than men mentally, morally and physically.  Thus disadvantaged, women turned to witchcraft to wield power and to bring their desires to fruition.  Women were considered to be lustful beings by nature.  Lust was considered an innate quality women possessed.  Therefore, the Puritans felt that women by nature had the propensity to be evil, and they were more likely to worship the devil.

        Tituba is the product of rape—a bastard child.  Tituba describes herself:  “I was born from this act of aggression.  From this act of hatred and contempt” (Condé 3).  Her English or European father raped her Caribbean-Black mother on a slave ship.  Thus, Tituba is mulatto.  Ironically, her violent conception and mixed racial identity appear to support the negative connotations associated with being a witch.  Angela Davis writes, “There are those who dispute her [Tituba’s] African descent, countering that she was Indian, perhaps hoping to stir up enmity between black and Native American women as we week to recreate our respective histories” (Condé xi).  Davis highlights the complexity of Tituba’s complex fragmented heritage as a black Caribbean woman of Barbados practicing West Indian culture.  Dark-complexioned, Tituba believed in her own religious practice of voodoo.  Her skin color made her different from the Puritans of Salem village.  Tituba states, “In Bridgetown Susanna Endicott had already told me she was convinced my color was indicative of my close connections with Satan” (65).  From the townspeople’s perspective, Tituba’s skin color solidified that her cultural and religious belief practices were diabolical:

The salient characteristics in the Puritan mind, shared by both Indians and Africans, was their degeneracy due to their alien culture, pagan rituals, and corrupted skin color. Therefore, being perceived as both African and Indian served not to diminish but to intensify the satanic stigma attached to Tituba and to heighten fears and fantasies Puritans projected on her.   (Tucker 628) 

Among the swirling accusations of witchery, Tituba became the number one suspect because of her racial identity.  When the girls accused Tituba of witchcraft, everyone in Salem village was inclined to believe that it was God’s will that the evil black witch doing the devil’s work be tried and Condémned. 

        Tituba buys into the fantasy of witchcraft and tells her accusers exactly what they want to hear—her admission of guilt.  Tituba reveals to the community members that she met with the devil and that she bewitched the girls.  A crucial question remains: “Why were the judges and jury so willing to believe Tituba’s fantastic testimony?” (626). Members of Salem village felt without a doubt that witchcraft had infected Salem village.  “As Blacks occupied the lowest rung within the society, their ability to survive the ordeals of the witchcraft trials itself indicates something of the perceived power they possessed” (McMillan 99).  Tituba was feared, and her false confession marked the outbreak of the witch hysteria that became known as the Salem Witch Trials. 

Tituba disproves the notion that witches are inherently wicked.  Condé removes the race and gender stigma associated with stereotyped witches to focus on the feminine power over patriarchy that Tituba possesses: 

Women gain authority through their knowledge of healing, and it is in this arena that they become most susceptible to accusations of witchcraft. By easing the pain of others, as Judah White and Tituba do, women not only supplant the power of the local male doctors, but they appear to those who would accuse them of transcending the bounds of nature to which out of their rightful place in the chain of being, particularly that of being lesser knowing than men. (Harris 113) 

        As Trudier Harris notes, Condé shifts the conversation from preconceived misogynist notions about witches to meaningful revisions that recognize the power witches possess that is free of patriarchy.  Tituba was a powerful woman who threatened the status quo in Salem.  Thus, she was accused of witchcraft.  However, her good deeds stand in stark contrast to the accusations of witchcraft made against her.  Hester emphatically states, “You cannot have done evil, Tituba! I am sure of that, you’re too lovely!” (Condé 96).  Hester understands that the connotative meaning of the word “witch” is really an inaccurate label that does not fit Tituba’s actions.  Tituba herself even questions, “Why in this society does one give the function of witch an evil connotation? The witch, if we must use the word, rights wrongs, helps, consoles, heals” (96). 

        Tituba possess the power to undo her enemies, but she chooses to use her magical gifts to love, help and heal others.  Tituba heals Samuel Parris’s wife and daughter when they are sick.  Tituba loves Benjamin D’Azendado so much that she enables him to speak with his deceased wife’s spirit.  Tituba selflessly reconnects Benjamin with his wife in spite of her new-found love affair with him.  Tituba always manages to put others before herself.  In the Afterword of the novel, Ann Armstrong Scarboro writes:

Tituba seems too good to be true, in that she refuses to use the weapons of her accusers to protect herself from their attacks. Much as we admire her, the person Condé creates really is too good to be true; one wonders how anyone could possibly be as forgiving as Tituba is in such traumatic circumstances. (220) 

At the moment she is viciously accused of wrong-doing, Tituba contemplates rendering “an eye for an eye” (73).  She decides, “Those around me were as ferocious as the wolves that howled at the moon in the forests outside Boston and I had to become as ferocious as they were” (73).  Yet, Tituba adheres to Mama Yaya’s “old humanitarian lessons”:  “Don’t let yourself be eaten up by revenge. Use your powers to serve your own people and heal them” (29).  Tituba realizes that “evil is a gift received at birth” that she was never born with (73).  Tituba did not “come into the world armed with spurs and fangs” (73).

        A look at Tituba’s relationship with John Indian reveals the importance Condé places on Tituba’s power to love.  Indeed, the ability to love is an attribute that contradicts the stereotypical profile of a witch.  In an early part of the novel, John Indian playfully refers to Tituba as a witch.  Tituba scratches John Indian’s finger to get a drop of his blood for a hoodoo ritual to ensure that he will love her.  John Indian replies, “Ow! What are you doing, little witch?” (17).  Though John Indian playfully refers to Tituba as a witch, the irony in her response to his outburst reveals how serious the issue is: “He was joking, but it made me think. What was a witch? I noticed that when he said the word, it was marked with disapproval. Why should that be? Why?” (17).  John Indian claims that he has been “bewitched” by Tituba’s seductive feminine powers.  The bewitching John Indian refers to is Tituba’s womanly seductive prowess, not her magical powers.  Indeed Tituba’s blinding love for John Indian leads her into slavery.  She possesses unconditional love for John Indian; even when he ultimately betrays her she continues to love him.  Tituba loves the sexual relationship she shares with John Indian so much that she subjects herself to the culture of Salem. 

        Tituba’s healthy sexual appetite is a contributing factor to her being labeled a witch.  Yet, Condé paints Tituba’s hypersexual activities in a most positive light.  Condé succeeds in rescuing Tituba from the stereotype of the exotic, licentious, over-sexualized, primitive black woman.  Angela Davis argues, “Tituba is a powerfully sexual being. She accepts and embraces her sexuality and does not allow the strong sexual attraction she feels for men to dilute her active solidarity with women, black as well as white” (x).  In the novel, sex is a normal and natural part of the human experience.  The fact that Tituba enjoys sex is an indication that she considers herself beautiful.  Tituba does see within herself the ugly physical attributes associated with being a witch.  Her sexuality is an expression of the natural way of things.  By Puritan society’s standards, the label witch fits Tituba because her sexual habits are considered promiscuous.  While women who enjoyed sex were often stereotyped as witches, Puritan laws and customs were not Tituba’s own.  Tituba is aware of the contradiction in her desire to be a free woman and her desire to be in control of her sexuality.  She realizes that the two are incompatible. 

        Tituba is never able to fully assimilate into life in Salem.  She never converts to their Christian belief practices.  Instead, Tituba remains protected by her ancestral spirits that do everything in their power to save her from the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials, a time of social unrest in society.  I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem deserves to be valued and recognized as a historical novel.  “The catalyst for the panic in Massachusetts Bay Colony was Tituba Indian, a slave woman (Tucker 624).  Condé clearly aims to tell a part of history that has been untold.  “Considering the primary role Tituba played in these events, official histories pay little attention to her. Indeed, the story of Tituba’s life is not recorded in histories of the Salem witch trials” (624).  Condé rescues Tituba from historical void by revealing the integral role Tituba played in the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century.  In the novel, Tituba states that she fears that there will only be “a few lines in the many volumes written on the Salem witch trials” (Condé 149).  She questions, “Why was I going to be ignored? … Is it because nobody cares about a Negress and her trials and tribulations?” (149).  Her conclusive response is that “I can look for my story among the witches of Salem, but it isn’t there” (149). 

        Condé’s novel forever changes traditional historical accounts of the Salem Witch Trials which dismiss the central role of importance Tituba had in this major event in history.  “Tituba was a Carib Indian woman who played an important part in the Salem witchcraft trials (she was the first confessor), and has played a curious role in American history ever since” (Hansen 3).  Condé rewrites history by re-telling the story of Tituba, the accused, from a non-western perspective.  She subverts history to reveal the close connection or the fine line between history and fantasy.  “I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem includes both fictional elements…and the actual historical persona of Tituba, who lived during the Salem witch trials and had been accused of being a witch” (Hancock 167).  In this novel, fact and fiction merge to create a new historical perspective of the Salem Witch Trials. 

        Condé reveals the flaws within a history that privileges whites but Condémns people of color.  As Angela Davis notes, “Tituba looked for her story in the history of the Salem witch trials and could not find it” (Condé ix).  In an interview, Maryse Condé confesses, “For me Tituba is not a historical novel. Tituba is just the opposite of a historical novel” (200-201).  Condé emphatically states:

I was not interested at all in what her real life could have been.  I had few precise documents: her deposition testimony.  It forms the only historical part of the novel, and I was not interested in getting anything more than that.  I really invented Tituba. (201) 

Condé asserts that she does not consider herself a historian.  Instead, she sees herself as a dreamer instead.  Condé’s dreams and imagination are the foci instead of facts and scholarly research.  Angela Davis argues that Condé attempts to “retrieve fragments of an intentionally ignored history and to reshape them into a coherent, meaningful story (ix). 

        Condé’s subversion of The Salem Witch Trials is then motivated by the need for accuracy in history and creativity in craft.  Davis’s statement calls attention to the fact that constructing history is challenging for people of color because their history seems to be confined and defined by slavery.  I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem shows the connection between Caribbean and American histories of slavery.  In terms of identity, Tituba is a cultural mixture.  She symbolizes the chain of connection between Caribbean and American people and their African ancestors.  Tituba’s story neither fits within the colonial nor the post-colonial narrative.  Unjust treatment of people of color by history is largely because of race, but in Tituba’s case gender, too, is a significant factor.  Tituba is dismissed from history because she is a woman of color.  Angela Davis argues, “Tituba’s impassioned efforts to revoke her own disappearance from history—Maryse Condé’s fictional re-vision of her story—is Tituba’s revenge” (ix).  

        I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem contains elements of magical realism and the postmodern and historical novel forms.  The novel is clearly magical realist because witchcraft is the subject of the novel and it is intrinsic to the plot.  The rich irony and parody that emerges within the novel is evidence of the postmodern.  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter (1850) appears as a character in the novel.  Hester discusses feminist issues with Tituba.  The title of the novel, if carefully analyzed, points toward Condé’s use of the historical narrative genre within the novel.  First and foremost, the title’s incorporation of the word “Salem” indicates the importance Condé places upon a specific location in American history.  “I, Tituba” means Tituba tells her own story.  The pronoun “I” places emphasis on Tituba as a real person with a life, story and identity of her own.  History from a western perspective attempts to deny Tituba these rights.  Tituba is a survivor and not a victim.  First person narrative strategy adds portraiture to Tituba’s story.  Because it is Tituba’s first-hand account, there is no need to second-guess whether or not her story is credible.  First person narrative strategy also allows for a greater connection to be drawn between Tituba the narrator and her audience of readers.  Because we as readers know Tituba so closely, we are able to sympathize with her plight.  The injustice of history’s treatment of Tituba becomes even more overtly obvious once this relationship between reader and protagonist is established. 

        Names and naming are of central importance to Caribbean literature and culture.  Thus, Tituba’s name in the title of the novel emphasizes Condé’s desire for Tituba’s name to go-down-in-history.  Setting the record straight to those who know biased accounts of American history, Condé demonstrates how history can be tragically flawed.  Tituba herself even confesses her fear of being forgotten and lost from history:  “It seemed that I was gradually being forgotten.  I felt that I would only be mentioned in passing in these Salem witchcraft trials about which so much would be written later, trials that would arouse the curiosity and pity of generations to come as the greatest testimony of a superstitious and barbaric age” (110).  Tituba fears that she will be diminished to a mere mention of “a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo’” (110).           

        Maryse Condé saves Tituba from historical obscurity by telling the untold story of a lone black woman Condémned in the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.  Angela Davis asserts, “And when Tituba takes her place in the history of Salem witch trials, the recorded history of that era—and indeed the entire history of the colonization process—is revealed to be seriously flawed” (x).  Condé’s story prevents Tituba from being dismissed from history in the same way that she was ultimately banished from Salem and lynched in Barbados.  Ann Armstrong Scarboro finds:

Condé’s primary purpose in this text is to shift the focus to Tituba’s personal power as a woman and as a human being. In doing this, she allows her heroine to subvert racial and sexual domination by the double Other (socially established whites/ selfish men), and she empowers her readers to throw off their own chains as well. (213) 

        Tituba emerges as a folk heroine at the conclusion of the novel.  Scarboro asserts, “Tituba’s entire life is a demonstration of the power and importance of love. Her sense of humanity is all the more dramatic and powerful for being set against the background of tyranny and hatred of difference that flourished in Puritan New England” (219).  A survivor instead of a victim, Tituba’s death is a vehicle from the physical world to the spirit world.  Tituba becomes a spirit no longer among the living, but an ancestral spirit that has the power to influence the lives of descendants to come.



Works Cited

Breslaw, Elaine G.  “Tituba’s Confession: The Multicultural Dimensions of the 1692  Salem Witch-Hunt.”  Ethnohistory  44.3 (1997): 536-556.

Condé, Maryse.  I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem.  New York: Ballantine, 1992.

Hansen, Chadwick.  “The Metamorphosis of Tituba, or Why American Intellectuals Can’t Tell an Indian Witch from a Negro.”  New England Quarterly  47.1 (1974): 3-12.

Harris, Trudier.  “Before the Stigma of Race: Authority and Witchcraft in Ann Petry’s Tituba of Salem Village.”  Recovered Writers/ Recorded Texts: Race, Class and Gender in Black Women’s Literature.  Ed. Dolan Hubbard. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1997. 105-115.

McMillan, Timothy J.  “Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race and Resistance in Colonial New England.”  Journal of Black Studies  25.1 (1994): 99-117.

McWilliams, John.  “Indian John and Northern Tawnies.”  New England Quarterly  69.4 (1996): 580-604.

Petry, Ann.  Tituba of Salem Village.  New York: Crowell Company, 1964.

Rowlands, Alison.  “Telling Witchcraft Stories: New Perspectives on Witchcraft and Witches in the Early Modern Period.”  Gender & History  10.2 (1998): 294-302.

Tucker, Veta Smith.  “Purloined Identity: The Racial Metamorphosis of Tituba of Salem Village.  Journal of Black Studies  30.4 (2000): 624-634.

[1] A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft. Originally, a witch could be a male or female with alleged supernatural powers.  Over time though, only women became identified with being witches.  Men were called sorcerers, warlocks or wizards.  The majority of Europeans historically accused of witchcraft were women, and in legends and popular culture the stereotype is female; however, males were also often referred to as witches. 

Dr. Kelli V. Randall is Assistant Professor of English at Salisbury University where she teaches African-American Literature and American Women Writers of Color. Dr. Randall holds a B.A. in English from Emory University, an M.A. in English from Penn State University and a Ph.D. in English from Emory University. She has previously taught English at Dekalb Technical College, Emory University, Georgia Perimeter College and Spelman College. Her current research focuses on marriage fiction in the Age of Realism.

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