Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, by Kameelah L. Martin (auth.)

By Kameelah L. Martin (auth.)

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The Widow Paris was a devout member of the Catholic Church and volunteered a great deal of her time to the parishioners of St. Louis Cathedral. Under the mentorship of one Padre Antonio de Sedella, the Widow Paris watched over orphans, prisoners, and others in need as part of her faith. 39 One of the legends surrounding her life tells of her power to stall the public execution of two men by conjuring the hangman’s ropes loose. Scholars insist that such an incident did actually occur—however, the Widow Paris’s involvement is expunged from the newspaper reports.

That she is a healer and uses her knowledge of herbs and roots to heal those in Salem Village and Barbados is also an indication that perhaps Petry is being more suggestive of Tituba practicing an African-derived spirituality to her young readers than originally perceived. Both she and Condé bind Tituba to alternate spiritual cosmologies that, for people of color, are usually indicative of the syncretic cultures of the African diaspora. This association connects Tituba and the spirit-working traditions that moved from Africa, to the Caribbean, and finally to the North American continent.

Although Petry is more subtle in her depiction of Tituba as spiritually inclined and grounded in the traditions of an African past, the signs are ubiquitous. Petry’s narrative begins on the morning Tituba is sold to Samuel Parris rather than with her early life in Barbados. Upon the realization that she and her husband, John Indian, are being sold away from their beloved Barbados, she immediately questions “why she had “Thou Shall Not Suffer a Witch to Live” 33 had no feeling of foreboding to indicate that something dreadful was going to happen” (Petry 3).

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