The ‘Black’ Witch of Salem

Please read the following article about Tituba:

The ‘Black’ Witch of Salem?

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100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: Forget what you think you know about the person who started it all.

BY: HENRY LOUIS GATES JR.
Posted: April 14 2014 2:00 AM

Editor’s note: For those who are wondering about the retro title of this black-history series, please take a moment to learn about historian Joel A. Rogers, author of the 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof, to whom these “amazing facts” are an homage.

Here are 24 Amazing Facts About Tituba culled from Gates’s article:

  1. “Given the looseness of 17th-century spellings, we see her variously referred to as “Tetaby, Titibe, Tittabe, Tittube, Tiptop, Titiba, Tittuba, and Titaba.”
  2. “According to historian Elaine Breslaw, we can now make the more educated guess that Tituba was a member of the Arawak Indian tribe from present-day Guyana or Venezuela, where she was stolen into slavery and eventually bought by Samuel Parris, a merchant in Barbados.”
  3. “In his 1997 book, The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History, scholar Peter Hoffer points to evidence that Tituba is a Yoruba name and suggests that Tituba was of African origin.”
  4. “Also interesting are the speculative theories about Tituba’s name: Was it a Latin name imposed by her master or, as Breslaw posits, derived from an Arawak subgroup, the Tetebetana?”
  5. “What we do know is that, by 1689, the then-Reverend Samuel Parris moved again, this time from Boston to Salem to oversee the village church. Soon after, Tituba appears to have married another of Parris’ slaves, John Indian.”
  6. “Parris’ last will and testament suggests that the couple may have had a daughter named Violet.”
  7. “As for the first slaves in New England, they were likely Native Americans captured during the Pequot War of the 1630s, while the first African slaves probably arrived through an exchange that sent some of those Native Americans to Providence Island (a Puritan slave colony off the coast of Nicaragua).”
  8. “By 1700, there were roughly 1,000 people of African descent living in New England out of total population of 90,000.”
  9. “A neighbor of the Parrises, Mary Sibley, enlisted Tituba and John Indian to prepare an English folk recipe called a ‘witch-cake,’ consisting—get this—of rye meal and the bewitched girls’ urine.”
  10. “Once baked, the cake had to be served to a dog—yes, a dog—that, by digesting the grains and urine, would somehow draw the girls’ tormentors out.”
  11. “There is no evidence that Tituba, the slave, had any particular interest, knowledge or skill in magic before she arrived in Salem. The ritual she performed was based on English folk magic at Mary Sibley’s request.”
  12. “Context matters: In society today, we look to science to explain uncertainties, but back then, as my colleague David Hall writes in his splendid 1989 book, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment: Popular Religious Beliefs in Early New England, “[t]he people of seventeenth-century New England lived in an enchanted universe.”
  13. “This brings me back to the witch-cake. The girls reported that Tituba’s specter followed them and clawed at them when she was nowhere near them. When she was out of the room and out of their sight, Tituba learned, the girls knew where she was and what she was doing.”
  14. “At first, Tituba denied involvement in any devilish activities, but it quickly became clear that that was not what her inquisitors wanted to hear. So, perhaps to regain control over a rapidly deteriorating situation, Tituba flipped and told her judges a series of fabulous and ever-creepier stories filled with witch covens and evil spirits.”
  15. “What fascinates me is that a slave was able to make such public accusations against white neighbors; though, to be sure, they were in defense of her owner’s extended family and made to a village she by then knew was bewitched by the idea of being bewitched.”
  16. “Through her testimony, Tituba was not only able to fend off death, but also seemed to succeed in frightening those who were, without question, above her socially, politically, economically and with respect to religion.”
  17. “To pull this off, Breslaw posits that Tituba wove her story together with a mix of European, Indian and perhaps even West African folklore that she had absorbed. It was what we call improvising or, as I’ve said the black tradition goes, ‘She wasn’t lying; she was signifying!’”
  18. “Throughout their long and terrible ordeal, Good and Osborne clung to their claims of innocence, with Osborne eventually dying in prison and Good found guilty and hanged. Tituba, meanwhile, borrowed time by continuing her confessions.”
  19. “Even though she had escaped indictment as a witch, inmates in Colonial New England were required to pay their prison costs. This was a problem for Tituba, who, as a slave, had no assets and, worse, an owner in Parris who refused to pay so as to keep her from returning to his home.”
  20. “As a result, Tituba was sold to a new owner who agreed to cover the charge: seven pounds. It’s possible that John Indian was sold with her, though all the records show is that young Violet, likely Tituba’s daughter, remained a Parris family slave.”
  21. “Tituba received a surge in interest as a character in Arthur Miller’s classic 1953 play, The Crucible, which won a Tony Award for best play. The witch hunt Miller presented was intended to serve as an allegory for McCarthyism, but it also reflected the racial politics of the 1950s.”
  22. “Miller’s Tituba was a black woman from Barbados, steeped in witchcraft and frightened and servile, superstitious and religious, saying infuriating lines like, ‘Mister Reverend, I do believe somebody else be witchin’ these children.’”
  23. “As long as the Salem witch trials continue to have a hold on the American imagination, Tituba will be there, as she was in the 1957 and 1996 film versions of The Crucible; in its revival on Broadway in 2002; in novelist Ann Petry’s book for young readers, Tituba of Salem Village, as an intelligent, sensitive woman trying to navigate the slave system.”
  24. “If the debate over Tituba’s origin remains undecided, at least, having shed the ‘savage’ stereotype, her memory can be that of not just a slave but also a survivor, a woman in a dangerous situation with no one to speak for her, a woman who, in her efforts to endure, managed to turn her accusers’ fears back upon themselves.”

Use the information found in the article and the above list and write a poem called

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at Tituba” 

incorporating this factual information and adding your own spin on it.

See Grand Center Creative Writing for more information and examples of this format.

Example One:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Tituba

I.

Whether Tiptop or Tetaby
The looseness of my century
According to my history
I was sold into slavery

II.

Bought by Parris
to the Barbados
Is my name Latin?
No one knows

III.

Moved to Salem
Found a man that’s handsome

IV.

His name was John Indian
We got married

V.

Black witch of Salem
How can that be?

VI.

When a lady named Mary
wanted a cake made from pee?

VII.

I ain’t know no magic
I ain’t have no skill

VIII.

I promise that the things
you speak of
aren’t real.

IX.

They adding pressure
I must confess,
Yes.

X.

Yes,
I spoke with the
the Devil

XI.

Yes,
I saw her
dancing with him.

XII.

Mixing my talk with
the white folk
to gain
their trust

XIII.

Oh but I wasn’t lyin’
I was “signifyin'”

Example Two:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Tituba

I.

Raven is black
and so was she

II.

Cowards are cowardly
until there is someone to blame
good people are good
until there is someone to blame

III.

First winters
are
Cold
Beautiful
and white.

IV.

She loved to sing
Yet no one heard
except the girls
dancing in the woods

V.

Violet.
Named after a flower?
Chosen especially for her
by her caring mother?
Or named for the culture
she was born into.

VI.

Witch, Christian, slave, Witch, African, singer,
Witch,
good, bad,
Witch.

VII.

The devil’s agents met not in the woods
But under the roof of a church

VIII.

Like a kestrel swept overseas
Tituba came from a land that was unknown

IX.

Tituba, Tituba, where can you be?
I think the devil is following me.
Tituba, Tibuba, where did you go?
I think the devil is after my soul.

X.

She left
She lost
She confessed

XI.

Witches among us.

XII.

Fear is often mistaken for
Truth.

XIII.

Witches are everywhere.
All you have
to do
is
Point.

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