On the heels of writing out my thoughts & experience reading PUSH I segue into the nonfiction literary work of Zora Neale Hurston, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. Often highlighted for her mastery in crafting “Their Eyes Were Watching God”; a fantastic read, which was written while she was in Haiti collecting folklore history for the book in which I am writing about now! I found solace in breathing in her art created from concrete exchanges that were had in the 1930’s spiraled with her lush vernacular. Zora as a novelist seduced my curiosity and Zora as an ethnographer & anthropologist played with my soul.
Tell My Horse follows her voyages to Jamaica and Haiti in an attempt to unmask the truths and intricacies amongst the accessible and nonaccessible populations within both societies. She starts in Jamaica and is unmoved at what is already known to her, the overt ways in which women were objectified and dismissed as unimportant layered with intense vicarious colorism that paraded itself around during her brief exposure to the culture in Jamaica. I would like to add that she was literally in the mountains, Accompong to be specific, during the 1930’s as an educated single black woman of “fair” skin, which is of utter importance pertaining to the access she was granted and denied based on the materials she was able to gift along with her aesthetic. I am reminded of a conversation I had recently in which I spoke about the importance of the aesthetic. The energy that a person, group or institute puts into their presentation, how they look and how they want others to take in the implicit messaging of their look. Why decorate your office the way you have it decorated, what are you communicating? And why? In those instances what a person is choosing not to communicate is also in the messaging. I digress. Zora balanced the realities of the secluded Maroon society from a place of truth & compassion. They were thriving based on their measurement of what thriving meant and she vacationed in their hospitality and simplistic daily rituals. I connected to Zora’s bravery while on a 5 day hog hunt in nature, uninhibited & unprepared lol. She literally threw herself into experiencing the rich culture in Jamaica rather than attempting to solely document what was being fed to her by others, and that continued and expanded as she floated her way into Haiti.
Zora’s historical accounts of the political upheaval and gruesome consequences of coup after coup in Haiti during the 1930’s ensued a reaction of humiliation and anger in me while reading; how dare she share the turmoil that went on “in my country” – it was jarring, brilliant and accurate. In fact the accuracy captivated me based on Zora’s otherness and non-identification within my cultural context. How did this stranger manage to not only get into the land, but within that entry become a willing and accepted participant rather than remain an observer – that is where the appreciation is derived from! I highlight the time period once again, 1930’s in the Caribbean; all within a little over a decade of when women were granted the right to vote in the United States. She expressively plopped herself into the culture of the other and within that difference embraced the similarities amongst children of the diaspora.
I can go into descriptive examples of how she was exposed to, initiated into and immersed in Voodoo while in Haiti pertaining to its mystical & cultural components but that would suck the novelty out of this piece of literary activism. She documented what she experienced while dissecting the frame in which Voodoo as a religion, Voodoo as a culture, and Voodoo as a symbolic metaphor is experienced within Haitian society. Absolutely breathtaking concerning the ways in which she integrated dignity into the negatively stigmatized practices that have been projected onto a way of life that has no origination in the western hemisphere. Voodoo, or rather Vodun in it's proper appropriation derived out of syncretism already present in the continent of Africa - so far removed from what we know now that the essence of its notoriety lies in its inaccessible aspects; hence its folklore designation as the "wonders" of its origin and magick tends to be passed through families as verbal secrets. Zora as the anthropologist shun light on the actual rituals and ceremonies in their primitive form and did not fall short of that which remained unknown, felt but unarticulated and various symbolism that threaded itself throughout her exploration. I stop myself here. Oh the parables that I could have jumped into from this tasty literary piece!
What a great read! Back to honoring my childhood entertainment, In Living Color...... this gets 2 snaps & a twist!
*Barracoon is due to be released this month via the ghost of the beloved Zora Neale Hurston