'Moi, Tituba Sorciere ... Noire de Salem' as a tale of 'Petite Marronne.'(Maryse Conde: A Special Issue)
Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse (66)(1)
This quotation from Edouard Glissant's Caribbean Discourse seems an appropriate introduction to Maryse Conde's fictional work, Moi, Tituba sorciere . . . Noire de Salem. The novel centers on a woman from Barbados, Tituba, whose memory and history are reconstructed by the Guadeloupean writer. My reading of Tituba as a symbol of the losses, conflicts and new beginnings imprinted in Caribbean history and the constitution of a Caribbean identity, concomitantly involves a unitary vision of the Antilles that is certainly not a denial of the diverse histories of the islands, but a recognition of their common cultural dislocation and fragmentation.
Apart from Conde's incentive to write a novel about a woman from the Caribbean, some of the pre-texts for her selection of Tituba's story were the Barbadian woman's invisibleness in the annals of history (in this case, American history) and her minor role in fictional accounts of the Salem trials.(2) Tituba's prise de parole in a first person narrative and her centerstage position additionally emphasize her story as a counter-narrative to western historical perpectives on oppressed and colonized peoples.
Set in the 17th century, i.e. back in "the subterranean convergence" of Caribbean histories when Africans started to be brought en masse to the New World, the novel evokes the reconstitution of a collective memory and a myth of creation. The introductory pages highlight the coincidence between the violence of the European conquest, Tituba's mother, Abena's brutalization and deportation to the Americas, and Tituba's birth: the product of Abena's rape and humiliation by an English sailor during the Middle Passage. The fact that the narrative voice then insists on Yao (Tituba's adoptive father) inventing her name out of his imagination and love, significantly underlines the will to start anew: "It was [Yao] who gave me my name: TITUBA. Ti-Tu-Ba. It's not an Ashanti name. Yao probably invented it to prove that I was the daughter of his will and imagination. Daughter of his love" (6).(3)
Unlike other myths of origin, however, Conde's restoring Tituba to historical and memorial existence does not involve establishing a mythical transcendental realm, or even regulating the content of history, in general, and Tituba's story, in particular. Rather, the protagonist's situation in the Caribbean historical experience and the particular scene of her naming foreshadow her relationship to the transformative power of historical and self invention, and the possibility of identitary re-creation.
In this paper, I will contend that, written under the sign of hybridity and transformation, Moi, Tituba sorciere . . . reveals itself to be paradigmatic of the complex fabrication of Caribbean identity, and presents the protagonist's resistance to the ideology of Sameness, "effectively imposed by the West," according to Glissant (97). I will first discuss the narrative's frame and form, and its relation rather than opposition to history. Figuring the mixture of history, fiction and memory, the novel reflects an alchemy of forms worthy of its narrator's witchcraft, and projects the possibility for other histories to emerge. I will then analyze Tituba's practice of her art as resistant to the socio-racial status quo - a possible metaphor for what Glissant celebrates as "a pattern of fragmented Diversity" (97) ["l'ensemble fragmente du Divers" (190)] - and contrast her position to that of her two lovers: John Indien's and Christopher's responses to the plantation system and the Puritan world.
When she is still a child, Tituba is chased from the plantation where she was born on account of the curse Abena and Yao (then, both dead) brought their master. She is raised by Man Yaya, an old woman known and feared for her witchcraft, and learns the art of healing and communicating with the invisible world under her guidance. After Man Yaya's death, she falls in love with John Indien, Susanna Endicott's slave, and accepts being sold with him to a minister on his way back to New England. There, Tituba is tried as a witch by the Puritan community, put in jail, then bought by a Jewish merchant, and returned to freedom. Back in her native Barbados, she joins a group of maroons led by Christopher before associating with Iphigene, the son of a legendary rebel called Ti-Noel. Tituba and Iphigene are denounced for preparing an uprising and hanged. From the invisible world, their role has now become to encourage rebellion among their people.
Conde's entry of a historical note at the end of the novel recapitulates factual data and inventories various perspectives (or their absences) on Tituba's life: historians' accounts of the Salem witch trials and their dismissal of Tituba's fate, the American novelist Anne Petry's version of Tituba's story, vague traditional beliefs about her life and, lastly, Conde's own choice of Tituba's fate. Juxtaposing these various narrative forms, Conde collapses the distinctions between historiographies, fictional writings, and popular legends, and exposes them as inherently partial, if not ideologically committed. This is nothing very new or surprising; and if we are to read this postface, and Conde's novel in general, as a parody of modern discourses on history as a construct,(4) we should not overlook the novel's participation in the reconstitution of a Caribbean text from within. In an essay on writing history, Clarisse Zimra remarks that "the Caribbean text has sought to superimpose itself . . . onto a collective text that had already been written: the pre-text of white supremacy" (229). Moi, Tituba sorciere . . . specifically restores to history the figure of a black Caribbean woman, either suppressed, or stereotyped, or weakened by previous accounts. Additionally, Conde's (we may say) postmodernist narrative strategy reflects the particular fabrication of Caribbean reality which, in interviews, she has commented upon: "[L]es Antilles sont des creations totalement artificielles du systeme capitaliste. Le paradoxe, c'est qu'en fin de compte, ne d'une creation vraiment artificielle, le peuple antillais existe" [the Antilles are totally artificial creations of the capitalist system. The paradox is that ultimately, born of a truly artificial creation, the Antillean people is].(5)
Beyond the modern debate on the relationship between history and literature, Conde's Tituba in fact stages the necessary intervention of fiction and the writer's imagination to counteract the imposition of a "non-history." In Eloge de la creolite Jean Bernabe, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant are quite categorical, arguing that,
our history (or our histories) is not totally accessible to historians. Their methodology restricts them to the sole colonial Chronicle. Our Chronicle is behind the dates, behind the known facts: We are Words behind writing [nous sommes paroles sous l'ecriture]. Only poetic knowledge, fictional knowledge, literary knowledge, in short, artistic knowledge can discover us, understand us and bring us, evanescent, back to the resuscitation of consciousness. (37-38, 99, emphasis in original)
Literally echoing the concept of a "speech under writing" ["paroles sous l'ecriture"] the novel's epigram places the written narrative under the aegis of the storyteller, Tituba: "Tituba and I lived for a year on the closest terms. During our endless conversations she told me things she had confided to nobody else." The fact that the "I" to whom Tituba is about to tell her story is undersigned Maryse Conde calls for more commentary. In addition to the writer's poetic license with temporality and intimacy with her subject during the creative process, Conde's epigrammatic formula suggests that Tituba's memory of her life story and history cannot but rely on a knowledge bounding also "the act of imagination . . . with memory."(6)
Of further interest to our argument is a 1991 interview where Conde incidentally refers to the historian Pierre Nora's work on the "lieux de memoire" to contrast her writing of history in Segou, published in two volumes in 1984 and 1985, with her writing of memory in Traversee de la mangrove, published in 1989.(7) Although Conde does not mention Tituba (published in 1986) in this connection, it is tempting to perceive the novel as a transitional form or "the play of memory and history" which defines the "lieux de memoire," according to Nora. Characterized by hybridity, the "lieux de memoire" are not only meant "to stop time" and "the work of forgetting," "[they] . . . exist because of their capacity for metamorphosis, an endless recycling of their meaning" (Nora 19). Conde's re-invention of Tituba's story similarly implies a form of recovery of the past which is open to change and becoming. (In that respect, the novel's emphasis on Tituba's witchcraft is certainly not a coincidence). In her foreword to the English translation of the novel, Angela Davis even reminds the reader that some people have argued about Tituba being a Native American. She concludes:
Should a Native American Tituba be recreated, in scholarly or fictional terms, this would be true to the spirit of Conde's Tituba and her revenge. For, in the final analysis, Tituba's revenge consists in reminding us all that the doors to our suppressed cultural histories are still ajar. (xiii)
A paradigm of the fabrication and hybridity of the Caribbean experience, Moi, Tituba sorciere . . . undermines the concept of a settled historical account and a History rooted in Sameness. Conde's text ultimately signals future histories to be made, while Tituba ends her narrative declaring that "[her] real story starts where this one leaves off and it has no end" (175).
Next, I want to focus on Tituba's witchcraft (inherently related to metamorphosis and hybridity) as both a practice and a metaphorical figure upsetting the socio-racial status quo. Tituba's art is a determinant factor in her life story and her self-formation. It brings John Indien and Tituba together; it leads Susanna Endicott to sell them both to Samuel Parris, a New England minister; it provokes Tituba's denunciation as a witch and her imprisonment; it attracts the maroon Christopher's self-interest. Her being black and a woman only reinforce her stigmatization as a witch. While her healing powers and ability to communicate with the invisible world stand at the root of Tituba's persecution, her craft also represents her strength and identitary relation to her island and her invisible Man Yaya, Abena and Yao. In spite of white society's and John Indien's pressures, she always fully assumes her knowledge and refuses to deny it. More to the point, Tituba's witchcraft defines a counterdiscourse to the "essence" of white presence and domination, embodied by the plantation system and the Puritan society. Her witchcraft, which I will describe as a practice of petite marronne, ultimately conflicts with John Indien's debrouillardise and Christopher's marronnage, two other responses to the colonialist ideology.
John Indien's motto is survival through compliance with the plantation system. Finding comfort, a sense of home, and freedom in a hut behind his mistress's house, he makes clear to Tituba that he will not give up "his" home and live in her "rabbit hutch": "I'm not a bush nigger, a maroon! I'll never come and live in that rabbit hutch of yours up in the woods. If you want to live with me you'll have to come to my home in Bridgetown" (17). Playing within the rules of authority, John's attitude, more precisely, epitomizes the stabilizing effects of carnivalesque discourse and mimicry: their reinforcement of the status quo. It is probably not a coincidence that John and Tituba's second meeting occurs during Carnival season: "[I]t was carnival, the only season of the year when the slaves were free to enjoy themselves" (16). Later, when Susanna Endicott takes to her bed, John invites a crowd of friends for another carnivalesque release at "his" place. The merriment, drinking, and dancing last all night, illustrating the abolition of restrictions and inversion of "normalcy," with a climactic, cross-dressing scene. The guests manage to get a hand on the clothes of Susanna Endicott's late husband, "put [them] on and imitat[e] the solemn and pompous manners of men of his rank" (32). However, while upsetting the hierarchical order of the day, John's carnival paradoxically contains the very denial of dis-order, implicitly stated when he tells Tituba that, "[one] expect[s] niggers to get drunk and dance and make merry once their masters have turned their backs. Let's play at being perfect niggers" (32). Tituba's disgust at a debauchery she never witnessed before in her isolation in the woods leads John to warn her: "My friends will think you're condescending. They'll say your skin is black, but you're wearing a white mask over it" (32). The Fanonian hint could not be less subtle and suggests that Conde is indeed parodying contemporary theoretical discourses. As for John Indien, he will put on a white mask, joining and mimicking the chorus of Puritan voices identifying witches in the village of Salem. Ultimately, he will play husband to one of the Salem villagers.
As maroons, Christopher and a few companions live in the woods outside the plantation system, retaining minimal relations with it.(8) By Glissant's definition, marronnage implies "l'opposition culturelle fondamentale au nouvel ordre impose a l'esclave. . . . un exemple incontestable d'opposition systematique, de refus total" [the fundamental cultural opposition to the new order imposed upon the slave. . . . an incontestable instance of systematic opposition, of total refusal].(9) In Christopher's case, however, it soon becomes clear that his interest is self-aggrandizement: his desire for immortality through a song of his own composition praising his exploits and the invulnerability he requires Tituba to confer upon him. While Tituba's invisible spirits have warned her all along against Christopher, she finally learns about his negotiations with the landowners, after she has left his camp and gone back to her first home in the woods by the plantations. Iphigene, the son of the legendary maroon Ti-Noel whom Christopher would like to emulate, informs her that Christopher's precarious freedom depends on his denunciation of any imminent revolt on the island.
Christopher's and John Indien's tactics of survival, therefore, reveal motivation by individual interests, ultimately harmful to the slave community, in general, and to Tituba, in particular. The two men's antithetical "choices" involve negotiations with the system that oppresses them and the preservation of the status quo. Contrasting with her former two lovers' positions, which I will further qualify as assimilation in John Indien's case and as grande marronne in Christopher's case, Tituba's situation in the plantation system and her witchraft rather reflect a practice of petite marronne. In Chronique des sept miseres, Patrick Chamoiseau makes the distinction between grande marronne and petite marronne which he also calls marronnage de devant-les-bois (162-65).(10) The former term refers back to Glissant's own definition of marronnage as the "total refusal" of the order imposed upon the slave and the maroon's corollary flight from the plantation. While the grand matron elects the mornes as the locus of resistance to slavery, the petit matron or practitioner of petite marronne inhabits an interstitial space between the plantation system and its outside "where the runaway absents himself partially and temporarily, and usually at no great distance, from the plantation and continues to live in ambivalent symbiosis with it until he eventually returns."(11) (The exclusive use of the masculine pronoun may well be attributed to the reality of women's lesser mobility in their capacity and responsibility as mothers, if not to the writer's oversight). It is true that Tituba never is or becomes a runaway in a literal sense. However, I will contend that the young woman articulates a practice of petite marronne through her witchcraft and her attendant interstitial position, between the woods and the plantations, between the invisible world and the hardships of daily life.
Her complete isolation from the plantation system ends soon after Man Yaya's death. Discovering one day that her seclusion and association with the older woman have fostered fear and respect towards her on the part of the slave community, she starts getting out of the woods to make herself known as a healer and comforter, not as a terrifying figure. Far from qualifying as open rebellion, her activities from the margins of the plantations, nonetheless, antagonize the planters' aggressive policies against slaves deemed too bold. Iphigene whose life she saves becomes a case in point.
Leaving her interstitial position between woods and plantations and running back into the jaws of slavery to live with John Indien would seem to preclude any further liberating steps and her practice of petite marronne. Relinquishing her relative freedom for a life under Endicott's roof and control never translates, however, into a loss of self and her acceptance of the masters' belief system. On the contrary, not only does Tituba never doubt or think of giving up her witchcraft, but her knowledge of nature's healing power and her ability to communicate with the invisible world enable her to withdraw from the vicissitudes of the Puritan world at Susanna Endicott's and later at Samuel Parris's, and to preserve a relation with her native Barbados when living in exile.
A practice which defines her identity and ensures her survival, Tituba's witchcraft more explicitly becomes a contaminating factor of white society's rule and presence on the occasion of the Salem trials. Already in Bridgeport, Susanna Endicott's continued harassment leads Tituba to retaliate and strike the mistress with a literally polluting disease. From that time on, Endicott is condemned to her bed where she lies in the terrible stench that emanates from her body. In New England, Tituba gets an ambivalent reception from an evil-spirited Puritan community who both reject her and seek her help for dispensing revenge around them. Ultimately, during the witch trials, Tituba decides to play the game of the authorities: she gives a few names and thereupon triggers a whirlwind of denunciations which soon spreads like a plague to other villages and towns (115). In the midst of her persecutors, her marginalization - i.e., both her capacity and her stigmatization as a witch - gives her the potential to disrupt the "essence" of white Puritan Barbados and New England.
Admitting that Tituba's witchcraft is "deliberately overdrawn" in her novel, Conde confirms its metaphorical significance (Scarboro 212). Various discussions (essentially, among Western feminists) have also put into question the revolutionary potential of the sorceress in the Western context - a context Tituba is after all confronted with. However, Tituba's interstitial position may well represent a contemporary and consciously anachronistic response to the politics of identity and racial discrimination: a refusal to think of liberation in binary oppositional terms that ultimately conform to the colonist, and later on, colonialist logic. Assimilation and separatism, embodied respectively by John Indien and Christopher, have been historically related to questions of identitary "essence," and therefore, exclusions. In opposition to this practice, Tituba's position establishes relationships, symbolized by her healing powers that she extends to the few Whites (they happen to be women and/or Jews) who genuinely care for her. Resisting the socio-racial status quo which the masters' belief system demands, her petite marronne metaphorically underwrites a shift from traditional notions of identity to a recognition of cultural hybridity - the heterogeneity of her island and the Caribbean, in general, which Glissant further describes as "l'ensemble fragmente du Divers."
1. All citations from Glissant's text are taken from Michael Dash's translation, Caribbean Discourse, unless otherwise indicated.
2. In particular, see Ann Armstrong Scarboro's afterword in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), 187-225; "'Je me suis reconciliee avec mon ile': Une interview de Maryse Conde," by Veve A. Clark, Callaloo 12.1 (1989): 86-133; and "Un entretien avec Maryse Conde: La sorciere de Salem" by Elizabeth Nicolini, Jeune Afrique (Oct. 15, 1986): 76-79.
3. All citations from Conde's text are taken from Richard Philcox's 1992 translation.
4. Scarboro's afterword includes an interview with Conde where the writer warns her readers "not [to] take Tituba too seriously" (212): they should not miss the presence of parody in the novel.
5. See interview by Marie-Claude Jacquey and Monique Hugon, "L'Afrique, un continent difficile," Notre librairie 74 (1984): 24. The translation is mine.
6. In her essay on "The Site of Memory," in Inventing the Truth, the Art and Craft of Memoir, edited by William Zinsser (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), Toni Morrison also expresses the need to bridge the gap between fiction and memory. Speaking of her literary heritage - the autobiography, and more specifically, slave narratives - and of her "wish to extend, fill in and complement" these narratives (120) which are "silent about many things" (110), she insists that "the act of imagination is bound up with memory" (119).
7. See "An Interview with Maryse Conde and Rita Dove," by Mohamed B. Taleb-Khyar, Callaloo 14.2 (1991): 357.
8. In Black Rebellion in Barbados: The Struggle Against Slavery, 1627-1838 (Bridgetown: Antilles Publications, 1984), Hilary Beckles in fact remarks that, as early as the second half of the 17th century, maroonage became difficult on Barbados because of the absence of hills and the small size of the island: "By the 1670s, about 70% of the island's surface was employed in the cultivation of sugar, and the remainder posed no special problems for the militia in the field" (35).
9. Le discours antillais, 104. This citation is part of an essay not included in Dash's translation.
10. The term marronne, used to designate the female practitioner of marronnage, should not be confused here with petite or grande marronne which Chamoiseau clearly identifies as two forms of marronnage.
11. This distinction between grande marronne and petite marronne was first brought to my attention by Richard Burton's talk on Chamoiseau's novel in the Winter of 1992 at Florida International University. I quote from the article on which the presentation was based, "Debrouya pa peche, or Il y a toujours moyen de moyenner: Patterns of Opposition in the Fiction of Patrick Chamoiseau," Callaloo 16.2 (1993): 473.
Bernabe, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant. Eloge de la creolite/In Praise of Creoleness (1989). Trans. M.B. Taleb-Khyar. Paris: Gallimard, ed. bilingue, 1993.
Chamoiseau, Patrick. Chronique des sept miseres (1986). Paris: Gallimard, 1988.
Conde, Maryse. Moi, Tituba sorciere . . . Noire de Salem. Paris: Mercure de France, 1986.
-----. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. Trans. Richard Philcox. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992.
Davis, Angela Y. Foreword. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. By Maryse Conde. xi-xiii.
Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Trans. Michael Dash. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992.
-----. Le discours antillais. Paris: Seuil, 1981.
Nora, Pierre. "Between Memory and History: Les lieux de memoire." Trans. Marc Roudebush. Representations 26 (Spring 1989): 7-24.
Scarboro, Ann Armstrong. Afterword. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. 187-225.
Zimra, Clarisse. "W/Righting His/tory: Versions of Things Past in Contemporary Caribbean Women Writers." Explorations: Essays in Comparative Literature. Ed. Makoto Ueda. Lanham [MD]: University Press of America, 1986. 227-52.
PASCALE BECEL, a native of France, is an assistant professor of French at Florida International University.
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|Date:||Jun 22, 1995|
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