A Review of Maryse Conde’s I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem
“There would be mention here and there of a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing hoodoo. There would be no mention of my age or my personality. I would be ignored. . . . There would never, ever be a careful, sensitive biography recreating my life and its suffering. And I was outraged by this future injustice that seemed more cruel than even death itself….”( Conde 110) . Here lies the premise behind I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem. My interest was peaked immediately when I initially came across this book for a myriad of reasons. For one, I had read Sequ, one of the author’s previous works and became fond of her writing, but I was primarily compelled to dive into this books because whenever any topic regarding American colonial history emerged in any of my high school classes, as a student, I purposefully and very publically laid my head on the desk and drifted off into a deep sleep or daydreamed in what I thought was an admirable form of protest. Ironically, I later majored in American History in college and became an American History teacher. I did not hate history. I lived and breathed it at a very young age; however, any events that occurred before the Civil War, specifically the colonial era, bored me for it rarely reflected any individuals that looked like me. It was not until I went to college where I realized that people of African descent arrived in Jamestown three years before the Puritan passengers whose families would later take part in the Salem Witch trials.
Before I begin my review I must state that most historians now believe that Tituba was a Native American of Caribbean descent. However, in Conde’s tale, she is unapologetically West African, whose mother, a member of the Ashanti tribe, was abducted and raped aboard a ship destined for Barbados. Although her mother suffered extreme misfortune in life and attempts in death to guide her daughter to freedom, Tituba’s quest for love, acceptance, and relationships constantly redirects her to a life of bondage. Yet, it is at times hard to sympathize with Tituba, because the author effectively foreshadows the detrimental consequences of every single one of her choices. For example, ignoring her mother and godmother’s warnings from the spirit world, she relinquishes her freedom for a slave whose loyalty from the beginning seems facile. She then uses her hoodoo knowledge of healing for revenge which ultimately forces her to move from the gentle and protecting arms of the island of Barbados to the cold callous clutches of Salem, a town that is being held captive by the ignorance and religious fanaticism of the Puritan community. She suffers the fate of descendants of the slave trade and is completely cut off from her ancestral guides. She tries to form relationships with the same set of white women and young girls who will in the end be her accusers. I, Tituba Black Witch of Salem was written in the 90s, and I feel that almost all of Tituba’s relationships and encounters are allegorical representations of different aspects of the feminist movement and the frustration and betrayal many Black women have felt for decades. However, sometimes I felt this message was delivered with minimal guile. All of the men in her life do not mean her harm unlike almost all of the women she encounters. Although at times I wanted to throw the book across my room out of frustration of Tituba’s naiveté, I could not help but remembering events in my own life where I too made ill choices out of the desire to be loved and accepted. Whatever views you have on modern feminism, I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem is worth a read because I have not come across a book in a while where eyewitnesses to puritanism and the Salem Witch Trials have not succumbed to the mass hysteria and religious zealotry of the town. From day one Tituba realizes that the people and the town are mad and it was entertaining following her while she tried to escape both their damning labels and deathly gallows of Salem.