Toni Morrison’s Recitatif

 Recitatif:  Memory, childish perspectives and race

The issues memory, childhood perspectives and racial and social equality, though not overtly discussed in Toni Morrison’s short story Recitatif are the central themes in her writing.  The story revolves around two little girls Roberta and Twyla who meet at a state orphanage – St. Bonaventure – after they were taken into the temporary custody of the state when both their mothers were considered unfit to have primary custody.  “My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick.  That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s…when Roberta and me came, there was a shortage of state kids, so we were the only ones assigned to 406…”  It is becomes eventually clear that Twyla and Roberta are from different sides of the track, different races and different socio-economic sectors of society.  The girls would never have met if Roberta’s single mother had not been “sick” and Twyla’s single mother derelict in her duties for leaving her small child all along to go dancing all night – either as a stripper or a party girl – I’m not sure which is worse. 


We meet Twyla and Roberta when both were eight years old and meeting for the first at St. Bonny’s – two girls from different walks of life thrown together by circumstances. “So for the moment it didn’t matter that we looked like salt and pepper standing there and that’s what the other kids called us sometimes.”  Recitatif provides several different snap-shots in the lives of both girls as their universes collide several times over the years, and how their interpretation of common threads in their past differ.  Both of their memories are colored by their different backgrounds and by the color of their skin.  If I were to say which girl was black and which girl was white, I would be guilty of stereotyping especially since there is enough evidence and ambiguity to support a claim on either side of the playing field.  But I’ll stick my neck out and say that Twyla was black and Roberta was white.  Why?  Most black kids don’t have food fads. Eat it or else… is a common threat in black households, therefore food deprived Twyla has a large appetite, while Roberta is a picky eater.  “The food was good, though. At least I thought so. Roberta hated it and left whole pieces of things on her plate; Spam, Salisbury steak – even Jell-O with fruit cocktail in it. Mary’s (Twyla’s mother) idea of supper was pop-corn and a can of Yoo-Hoo.  Hot mashed potatoes and two weenies was like Thanksgiving for me.”   Secondly, it is also more likely that a black small town woman would be out dancing all night, than a white one.  Thirdly, it is also highly likely for white small town woman to act the way Roberta’s mother acted that Sunday just before chapel when both girls tried to introduce their mothers.  “Mary, simple-minded as ever, grinned and tried to yank her hand out of the pocket with the raggedy lining to shake hands…  Roberta’s mother looked down at me and then looked down at Mary too.  She didn’t say anything, just grabbed Roberta with her bible free hand and stepped out of line walking…” Shortly after this episode Roberta returned to her mother.

            The next time the two girls cross paths, Twyla was working as a waitress at Howard Johnson Hotel and Roberta was passing through “with her to hairy friends” on her way to a Jimmy Hendrix Concert.  Here the issue of social classes rears its head.  Roberta is already  married, and settled into a large family in Newburg a blue color suburb in the Hudson Valley area of New York.  Newburg has a large population of blacks and a historically disproportionate number of people on welfare and housing assistance.   Her husband’s family has lived in the area for a very long time. “His grandmother has a porch swing older than his father and when they talk about streets and avenues and buildings they call them names they no longer have.”  Meanwhile, Roberta is living a life of leisure, going to rock concerts and the like, not a care in the world.  Twyla goes over and speaks to her but has the feeling she is being rebuffed because of her waitress uniform and station in life.  “I was dismissed without anyone saying goodbye, so I thought I would do it for her. How is your mother?”

            The next time the girls meet, towns on the outskirts of Newburg were on the upswing and scores of IBM executives had moved into the area.  A Food Emporium had opened to serve the needs of the nouveau riche.  Turns out chauffeur driven, “servants and all” Roberta had married a rich widower with four children and was living the life of relative luxury over in Annandale, a white color neighborhood on the outskirts of Newburg.  The girls are happy to see each other, are talking and laughing.  Twyla is living the moment but is introspective – “once twelve years ago, we pass like strangers. A black girl and a white girl meeting in a Howard Johnson’s on the road and having nothing to say…”  They promise to keep in touch.

            The next time Roberta crosses Twyla’s path was in the middle of racial strife caused by a proposal to desegregate schools by bussing black children white schools and visa-versa.   The whole brouhaha was not fully understood by Roberta, but she sprang into action when after meeting Roberta at the picket line has a disagreement about the value of bussing children to other schools out the area, and whether or not she kicked Maggie – the bow legged mute who worked in the kitchen back at St. Bonaventure state home, when they were eight years old.  What follows next is a ridiculous picketing showdown, with Roberta against bussing and Twyla for bussing.  “My signs got crazier each day and the women on my side decided that I was a kook. They couldn’t make heads or tail out of my brilliant screaming posters. Twyla and Roberta meet once more once snowy Christmas Eve, Roberta was dressed to the nines and more than a little drunk, however she was anxious to clear the air with Twyla assuring her that she had wrongly accused her of kicking Maggie.  Again they reminisce.

            A defining moment in the essay is the meeting at the Food Emporium, where Twyla muses “I placed the groceries and kept myself from glancing around to check Roberta’s progress. I remembered Howard Johnson’s and looking for a chance to speak only to be greeted with a stingy “wow.” But she was waiting for me and her huge hair was sleek now, smooth around a small, nicely shaped head. Shoes, dress, everything lovely and summery and rich. I was dying to know what happened to her, how she got from Jimi Hendrix to Annandale, a neighborhood full of doctors and IBM executives. Easy, I thought.” –  Twyla’s thoughts are typical of an African American who look at whites are having everything easy.  When you look at it she’s right too.  Blacks who become successful face incredible odds and have to prove themselves time and time again in order to get ahead.  Roberta learned to read long after Twyla could, but because she is white gets a leg up in life while Twyla does not. “Everything is so easy for them. They think they own the world.” 



Toni Morrison’s Beloved — My take on this iconic book

Toni Morrison’s Beloved:

The Power of Love, the Power of Memory

The novel Beloved written by Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison; chronicles a 20 year period (1850-1875) in the life of Sethe a slave women – the dehumanizing horrors she endured, the events that triggered her escape to freedom as well as events that took place after her escape.

Sethe was born the state of Kentucky to an African slave woman she hardly knew.  Her mother was pointed out to her a few times by her care-giver and an eight year old girl her also cared for her.  Memories of her childhood are suppressed and most of what she cares to remember begin at age 13 when she was sold to the Garners proprietors of Sweet Home, a plantation where a “lax” sort of slavery was practiced; because of this, Sethe and the other slaves Halle, Sixo, Paul D, Paul A and Paul F are “treated well.” Before Sethe’s arrival, there were no female slaves at Sweet Home. Former house slave Baby Suggs had been freed.  Her son Halle, the last of her eight children had hired himself out on Saturdays and Sundays for five years to buy her freedom.  Sethe was her replacement.  Sethe was the object of desire for all of Sweet Home’s men. It took her a year to make up her mind, but she chose Halle for her husband. This is in part because she admired the devotion he showed by buying his mother’s freedom.  On the eventual death of Mr. Garner, Mrs. Garner, herself ailing, asked her brother-in-law to help her run the farm.  The man, dubbed school-teacher by the slaves, along with his nephews became a dehumanizing and sadistic force turning their “idyllic existence” into a life of torture. The slaves plotted to escape.

During this escape plot, Sethe who is in an advanced state of pregnancy sends her three children ahead of her to her mother-in-law’s house in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This includes her sons Howard and Buglar and her yet to be named young daughter. She plans to join them there later. However, the planned escaped is found out by school-teacher and some of the slaves are caught.  Sixo and Paul F are murdered, but Paul D is brought back to the plantation. A bit, not unlike that of a horse is affixed to his mouth.  Fresh from the capture of Paul D and the murder of Paul F and Sixo, the Garner boys rape Sethe in a barn. One holds her down while the other ‘stole’ the breast milk she is saving for her baby who’s is gone ahead of her to Ohio.  School-teacher watches the whole thing and takes notes. School-teacher is not the only one watching. Unbeknownst to Sethe, and her attackers, Halle her husband lays hidden in a loft witnessing the act. He is paralyzed by what he sees and it drives him out of his mind. It took her nearly 20 years to find out what happened to her husband.  Sethe still shares a good rapport with Mrs. Garner and reports her family member’s transgression to her.

Sethe is whipped within an inch of her life for talking.  Despite the open wounds on her back and being almost nine months pregnant, Seth escapes across the Ohio River.  She would have died except for the assistance of Amy Denver, a white girl on her way to Boston to find velvet, and who tends her wounds and helps her to deliver her baby. She calls the baby Denver in Amy’s honor.  Following her dangerously eventful journey, Sethe arrives atBaby Sugg’s house – 124 Bluestone Road, where she spends 28 wonderful days in freedom – “Days of healing, ease of talk. Days of company: Knowing the names of 40, 50 other Negroes…One taught her the alphabet; another to stitch.  All taught her how it felt to wake up at dawn and decide what to do with the day. ” (111) Tasting this freedom adds another dimension to Sethe’s already complex personality. One fateful day, school-teacher, a nephew, a slave catcher and the town’s sheriff show up at 124 to take Sethe and her children back to Sweet Home.  Sethe runs to the back shed where she attempted send them back to God.  This is what the four saw; Inside, two boys bled in the sawdust and dirt at the feet of a nigger woman holding a blood-soaked child to her chest with one hand and an infant by the heels in the other. She did not look at them; she simply swung the baby toward the wall planks, missed and tried to connect a second time, when out of nowhere- in the ticking time the men spent staring at what there was to stare at- the old nigger boy, still mewing, ran through the door behind them and snatched the baby from the arch of its mother’s swing.” (Pg. 175)  Denver is unharmed, while Howard and Buglar recover, however, her “crawling already?” baby girl did not make it.  Sethe is taken to jail.  Following Sethe’s hard-fought freedom and return to 124, a baby ghost unleashes its fury on the house.  Eighteen years later, it is chased away when Paul D, the last of the Sweet Home men turns up out of the blue.   Later, the ghost, needing to be near its mother, returns in the body of a young woman, and is welcomed back into the house on Bluestone Road.  She told the household of Sethe, Paul D and Denver that her name is Beloved.  Sethe does not or chooses not to recognize that this is the name carved on the headstone of her dead baby. Denver however, recognizes Beloved as her dead sister.


Can a woman’s tender care

Cease towards the child she bares?

Yes, she may forgetful be,

Yet will I remember thee


The central story in Beloved around which all the other vignettes revolve, is Sethe’s murder of her baby daughter.  She demonstrates that she loved her children fiercely, but then turned around and tried to kill them. The knee-jerk reaction would be one of disgust and scorn. But faced the unique sets of circumstances, why wouldn’t she.  In her defense, Sethe and the other main characters in Beloved are broken people, broken by the circumstances of their birth. Buby Suggs bore eight children; all except Halle were traded away to other farms, never to be seen again the knowledge of that broke her.  The only family Paul D knew were Paul F and Paul A the other men of Sweet Home – not having roots broke him.  From the day she was born, Sethe has been systematically dehumanized, broken-in, she saw her mother maybe less than a dozen times, the last time she saw her mother she was a decomposing corpse who had been lynched. By virtue of the life she was born into, Sethe was broken person.

With her escape and the experience of freedom, Sethe had started to heal, she underscored this in a conversation with Paul D she once said, “I don’t have to tell you about Sweet Home – what it was – but maybe you don’t know what it was like for me to get away from there…I did it. I got us all out… We was here. Each and every one of my babies and me too… it was a kind of selfishness I never knew nothing of before. It felt good. Good and right. I was big and deep and wide and when I stretched out my arms, all my children could get in between.

In comparison to other slave owners, the Garners might have treated them humanely – as humanely as one treated a beloved pet. The animal treatment continued after Mr. Garner died, but his brother, school-teacher upped the anti.  Sethe and the other slaves on Sweet Home were subject to physical abuse, emotional degradation and Sethe the only female was brutally raped while school-teacher watched and took notes.  Why then would she, after experiencing freedom and self-determination, want her children to go back to slavery?  Sethe’s justification for her ultimate act of sacrifice is articulated while she explained the events to Paul D shortly after he was clued in to her act of violence.  “She was squatting in the garden and when she saw them coming and recognized schoolteacher’s hat, she heard wings. Little hummingbirds stuck their needle beaks right through her headcloth into her hair and beat their wings. And if she thought anything, it was No. No. Nono. Nonono.  Simple.  She just flew. Collected every bit of life she had made, all the parts of her that were precious and fine and beautiful, and carried, pushed, dragged them through the viel, out,  away, over there where no one could hurt them…where they would be safe”(192).  

Sethe’s experience of slavery is not unlike that of Jamaican National Hero Samuel Sharpe, who after organizing the Christmas Rebellion of 1831 was arrested, tried and sentenced to be hung.  The Christmas Rebellion was the last stand of Jamaican slaves and lead to the proclamation of freedom less than two years later.   Just before being lead to the gallows Sharpe famously said, “I’d rather die on yonder gallows, than live in slavery.”    The passion that both Sharpe and Sethe feels and strong, and emotion only felt every once in a lifetime – Sharpe, happy to go to the gallows, Sethe happy to end her children’s life than allowing their enslavement to continue.  

Unless you are Sethe, or Sharpe or someone who is stripped of self-determination and dignity, then you would recoil at the thought of a woman systematically cutting the throat of her children.   Indeed, witnesses white and black alike were dumbfounded by the act she had committed, and unless you were Sethe there’s no way of understanding.  School-teacher’s nephew couldn’t understand it – with legs shaking, he asks, “what she gone and do that for?  As sadistic as school-teacher was, it shook him to his core; “the woman schoolteacher bragged about, the one he said made fine ink, damn good soup, pressed his collars the way he liked besides having at least ten breeding years left. But now she’d gone wild, due to the mishandling of the nephew who’d overbeat her and made her cut and run. Schoolteacher had chastised that nephew, telling him to think-just think-what would his own horse do if you beat it beyond the point of education (176).  It is clear then from school-teacher’s musings that Sethe’s status on Sweet Home farm was barely better than a beast of burden.  Sethe – a person; a human being with self-awareness and self-worth and newly found independence, and whose feelings are being compared to that of a horse.  Who would want that for themselves or for their children?

            Beloved, the novel is also about love, pure and simple.  It is also about maternal love, brotherly/sisterly love and self-love.  “Look like a loved them more after I got here. Or maybe I couldn’t love them proper in Kentucky because they wasn’t mine to love. But when I got here, when I jumped down off that wagon – there wasn’t nobody in the world I couldn’t love if I wanted to [Sethe](191).”   Lynda Koolish solidifies this point.  “While maternal love is certainly a focus of the novel, the male protagonists in this novel also struggle towards a determination of appropriate loving within which they can survive.  In the absence of that stipulation, namely survivability, Halle loves too much and ends up with his face in the butter; Sethe’s companion and lover Paul D, haunted by the consequences of what he see as Halle’s and later Sethe’s ‘too thick love,” is determined to love small and suffers enormously for the consequences of his decision. (Koolish 170)


The novel Beloved is also about how memory of the past can be so burdensome, it holds us back like “the best Georgia hand-forged chains” keeping us from enjoying the now and looking forward to the future.  “Much of the novel explores the extraordinarily anguishing interlude of time during which virtually all the protagonist, not just Sethe, exist almost as dream walkers to expend their psychic resources keeping the past at bay (Koolish).  The specter of Beloved is her mother’s memory of her, her guilt, her shame for having killed her own child.  Beloved is also her unwillingness to let go of that memory of what Beloved might have become if she had been allowed to grow up.  Koolish points out, “That Beloved exists as the repository of unresolved feelings suggested by the fact that Stamp Paid confirms that initially Beloved is only seen by Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and himself each of whom has an enormous burden of guilt, shame, sadness, and fear.” (Koolish).  Beloved’s ghost being chased away by Paul D symbolizes a time when Sethe puts the specter of Beloved out of her mind, if only for a little time so that she can enjoy more pleasant memories with Paul D with whom she has a common past which does not include Beloved.  Her pre-occupation with Paul D distances her from Beloved, Denver is not happy with this situation, as Paul D has robbed the household of Sethe’s attention – when Sethe gives attention to Beloved, Denver benefits.  Koolish makes this point about healing and memory “For healing to take place, dissociation must give way to the full reclaiming of that wounded self, the reintegration of that denied self as part of the core of one’s being.  Each character in Beloved goes through a process by which he or she gains not only an awareness of that shadow, but an introspective awareness of the psychological origins of the split-off self.  The shattering and reclaiming of memory proceeds in similar ways for most of the central protagonists of the novel.  The memory of what has happened to them is pushed aside, externalized, repressed, planed in a box, given over to someone else, but where psychic disintegration has taken place, each character splits into a “core self” and “alters,” none of whom possess the others’ memories.”


As they get comfortable with each other at 124 Bluestone Road, Beloved returns, embodied in a young girl, unable to stay away, needing to be fed by Sethe’s love.  She is as needy as a baby, thriving on the love of Sethe, and to a lesser extent, Denver’s love and when Paul D becomes wary of her, symbolically forces him to give himself, the only way he could “love” her. “Touch me on the inside” she pleads “call out my name,” she begs.  As she takes more love than anyone in this house has to give, she saps their spirit and Sethe sinks into a deep depression, Paul D becomes a drunkard, living in the church basement and Denver struggles to find herself, the find her independence,  to let go off the shackled of the past and to love herself.   Love takes a lot away from 124, but love also gives back.  Lead by Stamp Paid, the community bonds together to save the family at living 124.   Neighborly love – what more can one ask for.

“Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death”





Works Cited:

Cowper, William. Hark My Soul, English Hymn 1731-1800)

Koolish, Lynda.  To be Loved and Cry Shame”: a Psychological reading of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. San Diego State University 2003.


A child weaned on poison finds comfort in abuse

A child weaned on poison finds comfort in abuse

Violence in Women’s Literature

Observations from the book Sharp Objects – A Novel by Gillian Flynn

The book Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn describes a troubled girl with a dark past from a moneyed but troubled family who are the epicenter of a troubled town.  The girl in question, Camille Preaker, covers the crime beat at Chicago’s fourth largest newspaper – The Chicago Daily Post.  Thumbtacks, steak knives and razor blades are some of Camille’s sharp objects.  Camille is a cutter.  She carves negatively connoted words her own flesh, eleven of which are synonyms for anxious (60).  Random terms – kitty, curls and cupcake; wicked, petticoat and queasy speak to her moodsThe words all had one thing in common; they marked stressful events in Camille’s life.  Says Camille; “sometimes I can hear the words squabbling at each other across my body.  Up on my shoulder, panty calling down to cherry on the inside of my right ankle.  On the underside of a big toe, sew uttering muffled threats to baby just under my left breast.  I can quiet them down by thinking vanish, always hushes and regal, looking over the other words from the safety of the nape of my neck. (62)


Camille’s troubles are many and complex, they spring from a painfully unhappy childhood where she longed for the love and affection of her mother, and daydreamed about finding her real father.  “I’ve long since given up trying to discover anything about my dad… I can’t stand to think about him too specifically,” she laments.   Camille cut herself the first time when she was thirteen, the same year she lost her baby sister; started on her period, explored her sexuality and became Wind Gap’s most beautiful and sought after teenager.  The violence spectrum is covered end-to-end in Sharp Objects, the weapons of are both tangible and intangible.  The sharp objects to execute gruesome murders, psychological torture, self-inflicted wounds, mental torment and sexual violence.  But perhaps the sharpest objects are mothers who inflict torture upon their children taking away their ability to become normal members of society.   Camille’s grandmother Joyo made Adora into a sociopath and Adora in turn passed on the sickness to her children.   So cold an unfeeling was Adora that she was not afraid to tell Camille how she felt.  “I think I finally realized why I don’t love you,” she said.  I tried to tell myself I was intrigued, like a scientist on the edge of a breakthrough, but my throat closed up and I had to make myself breath.  “you remind me of my mother. Joya. Cold and distant and so smug.  My mother never love me either, And if you girls won’t love me, I won’t love you.


Camille never went back to Wind Gap after College, she put down roots in Chicago and tried making a life for herself, but it is hard to cut herself off from the memories of Wind Gap and her mother, and shortly after a stint in a Psych ward to resolve self-injury, her editor Curry assigned her to a story in Wind Gap.  She hadn’t been back in a decade, but someone was targeting little girls in the small Missouri Town.  This could make her into a sought after journalist, so she made a long over-due, but reluctant return to the town of her childhood. 


Author Gillian Flynn demonstrates how parental violence physically and emotionally killed three girls.  Camille Preaker and her sisters Marian and Amma bear the brunt of this violence from their mother Adora, the mentally unstable supreme queen of Wind Gap.  Amma and Camile are physically strong and are able to withstand the violence meted out to them by their mother, however, but no so much the emotional and mental pain which turned them both into damaged goods.  Sadly, Marian’s body could not withstand the violence, and it killed her. 

Adora devoted herself to making Marian sick and spent every waking hour caring for her at the expense of her oldest – Camille.  This took a toll on her, she was the daughter of the town’s wealthiest and most influential person; however, being ignored had a colossal impact on her.  “I’m here… when I am panicked, I say them aloud to myself, I’m here. I don’t usually feel that I am. I feel like a warm gust of wind could exhale my way and I’d be disappeared forever, not even a sliver of finger-nail left behind.” (95)


Camille’s youngest sister Amma was born while Camille was away in College, she barely knew her.  Amma longed for the same care and attention as Camille did, and in a round-about way found out that Adora would care for her and be attentive if she was sick.  Unlike Camille, she did not refuse Adora’s ministrations.   The lonesomeness which inflicted damage on both Camille and Amma’s psyche had different results.  Camille sort to self-injury, alcohol and drugs while in addition to drugs and alcohol Amma became a psychopath.


Mothers are powerful symbols in their daughter’s life, and often, the relationship between a mother and child shapes the child future.  Both girls acquired impairments not unlike feral children who have little or no experience with care, affection and human social behavior.   Their disorders that are in direct relation to the experiences they have survived.    Adora did not have positive role models either; her mother Joya was also a stern, cold and detached woman from whom came no open display of affection.  Children who do benefit positive stimulation, normal mother-to-child bonding and primary socialization and who suffer neglect in their formative years are incapable of living a normal life.   Just as the body needs air, food and water for optimal health ones mental and emotional health also need to be nurtured.  This idea is clear in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a theory developed 70 years ago by American psychologist Abraham Maslow.  Maslow explains by using a five-section pyramid which has at the bottom basic fundamental human needs such as food and water.  This is followed by safety and security needs like shelter, personal safety and health. This is followed by emotional needs which includes a sense of belonging, friendship, family a sense of being valued which helps to build self-esteem and self-respect which is at the fourth level of the pyramid.  At the top is self-actualization where each person becomes their ideal self.  Each sector of the pyramid forms the foundation of the complete person and deprivation in any area will impact a person’s ability to become their best self.  Deprivation in any area of the pyramid would be violently abusive.

Psychologist also says that humans are naturally social. Therefore, in order to develop normally, children need adults to care for them, communicate with them, keep them safe, show them love and affection.  In Sharp Objects Camille, Mariane and Amma did not benefit from a normal relationship with their mother.  Yes their basic fundamental needs were met in that they had food and shelter, but they lived in a kind of emotional isolation in which they were starved of a healthy relationship with their mother.  The pain that both Amma and Camille bear is very clear when in a drug infused haze Camille both girls level with each other, positive that they did not have their mother’s love.  What’s more, they often felt they had to compete with their dead sister.  “…It’s impossible to compete with the dead.” (64)

“She doesn’t like you.”“

“No she doesn’t.”

“Well she doesn’t like me either, just in a different way.”

“Did she like you less after Marian was dead?”


“So it didn’t help.”  “What?”  “Her dying didn’t help things.”


Adora was hateful cold and detached yet at the same time, needy.  She poisoned her children so that she could minister to them. Not to spend quality time with them as normal parents try to do, but to do seem as a kind of nursing and mothering angel.  Adora is classic textbook case for Munchausen by Proxy syndrome (MBPS).  MBPS is a rare form of child abuse that involves the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker.   The care-giver causes symptoms in the child through poisoning, medication, or even suffocation.  Typically, the cause is a need for attention and sympathy from doctors, nurses, and other professionals.   The first time we saw this in Shape Objects, was when Adora came to see Camille in hospital.  When we were alone she talked about the foliage and some new town rule that required Christmas lights to taken down by January 15.  When my doctors joined us, she cried and petted and fretted at me. She stroked my hair and wondered why I’d done this to myself.  (64)  It is also believe that it isn’t just the attention that’s gained from the “illness” of the child that drives this behavior, but also the satisfaction in deceiving individuals who they consider to be more important and powerful than themselves.  Because the parent or caregiver appears to be so caring and attentive, often no one suspects any wrongdoing.   Diagnosis is made extremely difficult due to the ability of the parent or caregiver to manipulate doctors and induce symptoms in their child.    Adora’s middle child suffered for most her entire childhood , undergoing numerous test and hospital stays, however, Doctor have never been able to make a diagnosis. A nurse working with Marion however noted.  “The child exhibits signs of illness after spending time alone with her mother, even on days when she had felt well up until maternal visits.  Mother shows no interest in Marian when she is well, in fact seems to punish her. Mother holds child only when she is sick and crying.” (226).   If only the nurse was taken seriously, then it could have saved Marian’s life.  Camille would have been given a more normal up-bring Amma, if at all born, would not have become a serial killer a girl who “enjoyed hurting.” (251)






Short Story: Never judge a book…

I now live in a city that by far more diverse than Jamaica.  There are multiple religions and sects, and groups and subgroups that you have to contend with.  A recent run-in with a heavily tattooed and pierced (white) chap in the suburbs of Connecticut, made me ponder personal hang-ups.  We were on our way to Young Rod’s annual Bar-be-cue when we blew a tire.  It could have been a disaster, but Joel skillfully brought the car to a stop without flipping it over. We then got out to survey the damage – it was not a pretty sight.  Our pierced and tatted “friend” was according to him driving behind us and saw what happened, stopped and offered to assist.  He looked scary, at least from my point of view. Joel didn’t seem overly concerned so I kept my mouth shut.

Our guy had all kinds of colorful artwork all over his body – snakes and dragons and whatnot.  Just the kind of a person my fertile imagination saw chopping me up limb, by chubby limb and storing in his refrigerator, or like Hannibal, he’d probably use my brain matter to make stir-fry.

I watched as he jacked up the car, crawled under it and attempted to remove the spare without much success.   He emerges several minutes later, flushed and sweating.   The tire had not been removed in so long; the nuts and bolts were rusted in place.

“I’m gonna have to go get my toolbox.  I don’t live very far, maybe ten minutes away, he said in his Connecticut drawl.  Fifteen minutes later, he was back – three cute kids in tow, one not yet and year old.  He introduced each by name, explaining it was his time to baby-sit.  His wife had to go off somewhere.   I felt ashamed, how could I have labeled this nice man – a God send not less – a serial killer?

When the job was finished and we offered  him money, he was at pains to point out that he did not do it for financial gain, but found pleasure in helping people that needed it.  We gave him a tip anyway.

Academic Paper: The Most Beautiful People in the World

The Wodaabe Tribe: 

The Most Beautiful People in the World

The people of the Wodaabe Tribe live in the deserts of Niger, West Africa.  By size Niger, it the one of the largest countries on the continent of Africa, but also one of the most impoverished nations in the world.  A land-locked Niger is bordered by Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Nigeria and Mali among and few others.


There are about 100,000 people who identify themselves are Wodaabe, however, by ethnicity, they are closely related to the Fulani people.  The only difference is that they are Nomadic by nature and perhaps the last of the pastoralist on continent of Africa.  They love their way of life, and value the great outdoors.  The Wodaabe people roam the land along the southern edge of the Sahara close the border of Nigeria and Chad following wherever the cattle leads them, which is usually to better grasslands and waterholes.  They value the great outdoors and the freedom that this kind of life affords them. While the tribe has always been cattle herders, their Nomadic way of life is a kind of cultural adaptation caused by several factors.  This includes displacement caused by warfare as well as by an increase in the population of the general area in the early 1900s after French colonizers ordered slaves to be freed.  The freed slaves, the Taureg became cattle herders and farmers.  The competition for agricultural space and pasture caused pressure on the land which led to environmental degradation and over time pushed the tribe further south.  Total devastation of the environment has lead to the demise of the Wodaabe way of life.


Their way of life has been much the same for many years, perhaps dating back to the early 20th century.  They consider themselves pure, living off the land, following the cattle.  Modern day Wodaabe are still untainted by automation, advances in technology and kind of consumerism that drive the economies of many city states.  They have come in constant contact with civilization and many migrate to the cities during the dry season to find work so that they can buy millet and replenish their herds, however, city life does not appeal to them as they long to go back to “follow the cattle”.


Except for their cattle – the long horned Zebu – the same cattle that have been found painted on ancient rock walls – the Wodaabe have very little in the way of possessions.  This is an intelligent move on their part, as traveling light is desired for people always on the move. 


Wodaabe neighbors

There are about 100,000 people who identify themselves are Wodaabe, however, by ethnicity, they are closely related to the Fulani people.  The only difference is that they are Nomadic by nature and perhaps the last of the pastoralist on continent of Africa.  There is no love lost between the Fulani people and Wodaabe tribe.  The Fulani has dubbed the tribesmen as “Bororos: herdsmen in tatters,” while others call them “cattle Fulani” as well as “the people who do not pray.”  The Wodaabe view the Fulani with equal disdain, proudly adhering to their ethnocentric views of being culturally superior to the rest of the Fulani people.  In that same vein, they identify themselves as a people who are “under the taboo of purity” and believe that their adherence to ancient traditions preserves this purity.  These traditions incorporate a code of conduct which includes modesty, patience, reserve and loyalty.  They also value beauty and charm in their every-day interactions with each other.


Origin Story

For the Wodaabe Tribe, there is no holy book as their language is spoken and not written.  However the beautiful story of the origin of the tribe has been told over and over for many years and in many ways.  Two children came out of the water and they made a grass house and stayed at that place.   Later, some cows came out of the water…”   One constant thread in the Wodaabe stories is the relationship with water or water spirits as well as the cattle’s continued involvement in their existence. 



The people of the Wodaabe Tribe are loosely Islamic.  Their treatment of religion would be similar to a westerner who was baptized as a baby making them of the Christian faith.  However, as an adult, the person no longer adheres to the rules of the church, but will invoke the name of Jesus during times of difficulty.  Along the same lines, the Wodaabe invoke the name of Allah in times of great distress as well as at births and death, therefore they are not strict or extreme in their religious practices.  In addition to their Islamic beliefs, there is a certain level of animism in their culture.  They in a spiritual realm and that certain spirits live in the trees and in wells, and that these spirits have been troubled by how they have been treated. They also believe that some spirits are dangerous.



The Wodaabe Tribe sticks to a strict diet dictated by religion, tradition and the requirement that they remain pure.  Their staple diet consists mostly of ground millet, for which they trade butter and sometimes cows in order to acquire.  Their diet also includes milk from their cows as well as yogurt.  Rarely, they will eat the meat of goats of sheep, and on special occasions such as a wedding, they will eat the meat of cows.


Wodaabe Marriage Practices

Among the Wodaabe tribe, there are fifteen sub-groups.  Membership in a group is by way of kinship whether by birth or marriage.  Your membership in a particular group also dictates who you will marry.  Polygamy is part of the Wodaabe status quo and marriages are arranged among member of the same lineage by the bride and groom’s parents while they are still infants.  Even though the wedding is conducted while both children are pre-pubescent, they normally remain with their families until they become adolescents.   There are also different kinds of marriages.  An arranged marriage is called koogal, while a love match is called a teegal.  Wodaabe married women receives a dory of cattle from her husband’s family.   This belongs to her and to her only. Therefore, if she leaves her husband, then she is free to keep the cattle as they are hers.




The Wodaabe are sexually liberal, young girls are free to have sex with whoever they please.  Even though this is so, members of the tribe would not dream of carrying on amorous activity in full view of everyone.  Husbands and wives do not touch each other in public. This seems to be in direct contrast with their liberal nature.   In a video taken of Wodaabe men during the time of their annual festivities, one young man who seemed painfully shy tells another that he was touched by women in plain view of everyone. This is obviously unusual.  Therefore, the Wodaabe’s concept of privacy is highly evolved even if their view of sexuality is more broadminded than that of western culture.


The Wodaabe Beauty Contest

One important cultural event for the Wodaabe people is the annual Geerewol; a week of festivities that takes place during the rainy season.  It is an opportunity for all the groups within a particular lineage to come together in fellowship.  Since lineage is an important ingredient in your ability to marry someone, the Geerewol is also an important marriage market of sort. Central to the Geerewol and perhaps the high-point of the celebration is a beauty contest for men.  In this regard, the Wodaabe has turned western concepts of beauty and power on its head.  For the Wodaabe, it is the men who are objectified and are left to the mercy of the women. The men participating in the contest are judged by a set rules and values which are fundamental to the Wodaabe culture.  They see themselves as the most beautiful people on earth, however, their beauty is judged by a different set of rules than that of westernized customs.  The women judging the contest look for this beauty discernible through tallness, sparkling white teeth, pronounced white of the eyes, a perfectly spherical head, a long nose, dancing ability, patience, strength and endurance.  Endurance is a particularly important part of the event, as men who are unable to withstand five to seven grueling hours of tribal dances (Yaake), would not be in the running to be chosen as the winner.  At the Geerewol, there are no runners-up.


Preparation for the Gerewol sometimes takes several hours.  The men help each other to get ready even though they will be competing against their friends later.  The men use make-up to accentuate their eyes, nose and paint their faces red.  Some of the make-up comes from natural sources, but their eyeliner comes from carbon of used flashlight batteries.  The costumes are bright and colorful consisting of white beads attached to elaborate head-pieces in which is stuck a white ostrich feather.  The entire clan, including the elderly and children watch the contestants are they compete.  The winner’s prize is not money or material gain, but the fact that he might find a wife, and in most cases second wife.


Wodaabe Migration to the Cities

Member of the Wodaabe Tribe began migrating to other are in the late 1960s because of severe recurring drought which killed off their cattle.  Some were able to hire themselves out as herdsmen because of skills with cattle, while other moved to major cities.  In the city, the Wodaabe use their knowledge of herbs to make and sell concoction.  They also make and sell craft items.  They also braid the hair of women from other ethnic groups.  The main motivation for Wodaabe migration is to find money in order to reconstitute the herd this has not been a very successful venture on their part.  Today, there is very little of purely Wodaabe people left and they continue to be marginalized by the Niger power structure as well as environmental degradation. 


Photo credit

German Postcard 2007 distributed by Changing World, Germany


Works Cited

The Holy Bible: New International Version, Genesis 1 vs 24-26: December 10, 2012

Loftsdóttir, Kristín:  The Place of Birth: Wodaabe Changing Histories of Origin  (2002)  December 14, 2012

Boesen; Elisabeth: Gleaming like the sun:  Aesthetic values in Wodaabe Material Culture (2008) December 8, 2012

Herzog. Werner:  Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun (1989)



Academic Paper: The Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange


The word globalization is a pretty new construct, born in the age of technology coupled with the explosion of the information super-highway.  The word might have been coined less than 50 years ago, but the idea of sharing everything including food, and various ways of life began hundreds of years ago – this was globalization in its embryonic stages.


Globalization at the micro level is an ancient process.  Hundreds, or perhaps thousands of years ago, villagers all over the Americas criss-crossed territories and borders, rivers, lakes and even oceans to fish, hunt and forage.  In Africa much the same happened and in Europe, merchants went back and forth buying and selling wares from village to village and even from country to country via horses and carriages.  As these early pioneers met up with their neighbors, they not only exchanged commodities, they exchanged ideas about farming, weaponry, and tools as well as how to successfully treat ailments in both man and beast. 


As these exchanges continued, old ways were left behind as newer, more efficient methods were introduced.  I would imagine that these micro-exchanges of information, seeds, plants and animals caused no harm as people were dealing at the local level and caused little or no harm to the balance of nature.  Therefore, plants and animals exchanged between Germany and Austria would not have caused any big shift in organisms or a big eco-shakeup.


The Columbian Exchange

           The Columbian Exchange is used to describe the wholesale exchange of plants, animals of varying kinds and species which crossed the Atlantic Oceans with European settlers into the Americas.   Species endemic to the Americas were also taken back to Europe.  The exchange included agricultural crops, domestic animals such as horses, pigs and poultry.  The exchange also unwittingly carried micro-organisms, pests and disease causing agents.  The Columbian Exchange started with Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the new world in 1492. 


            Author and historian Alfred Crosby coined the term the Columbian Exchange back in the in the 1970s.  His book of the same name explored the environmental impact that the Columbian Exchange had on the environment.  His book came at a time when environmental stewardship was not as hip as it is in 2012.   Crosby’s book gave post 1492 events a name and forced others to look at both sides of the events that changed the diversity, way of life and diets of people on both the Old and New Worlds. 


            Of course there were some benefits in this exchange.  The Americas benefitted by adding variety and diversity of fruits, vegetables and animals for food.  The tools introduced to the new world made work easier for natives.  However, with the animals came diseases such as small pox, Mumps, Measles and Influenza which served to wipe out the native populations.  The big question the is; what would have happened if the Columbian Exchange did not upset the balance of nature?

Therefore, depending on where you are sitting, Christopher Columbus’ 1492 Voyage could be described as the best thing to happen the idea of food security or the most catastrophic, planet altering event in modern history.  If this is so, then the Columbian Exchange ranks right up there with that meteorite which wiped out the pre-historic world. 


Crosby himself seemed to think so when he described the Columbian Exchange as “a grunting, lowing, neighing, crowing, chirping, snarling, buzzing, self-replicating and world-altering avalanche.”   As inelegant as this description is, it aptly described how the Columbian Exchange turned the eco-system the New World its head, and wiped out millions of lives with the importations of diseases, not only the diseases that wiped out the natives, but there must have been some kind of impact on native plants, produce and animals.



The events of the Columbian Exchange were an attempt by Europe to stamp their identity upon the Americas.  Let us plunder, take what we want, let us also make everything as familiar to us as we have it back home.  Here was a new land, let us take it over, let us make it our home away from home.  “..the exchange ..was part of a broader process of trade, migration, investment, colonization and exchange of ideas” (Green).  This is evidence that the Columbian Exchange was the start of globalization at the macro level.


One of the crops introduced to the Americas was sugar cane.  The plant favored warmer climate and became an economic driver for Europe.  Sugar replaced honey as the main sweetener in Europe and was the major cause of enslavement of Africans who were needed to work on sugar plantations.



The Eco-system

It is a well known fact that the introduction of new plant species into any area can create havoc for native species.  I would imagine the introduction seeds, seedlings, herbs, shrubbery etc, changes the landscape in the New World for good. 

There is proof that introduced species wreak havoc on native species, for example, in my native Jamaica, on a tour of the Blue Mountains and John Crow Mountain National Parks – Jamaica’s highest mountain range, I learned that there were approximately 500 endemic species of plants growing along the mountain range.  The tour was conducted by a group of ecologists who were at pains to point out how the spread of introduced species, including ornamental flowers, were threatening the forest by crowding out and suffocating native species.  As beautiful as the Ginger Lilies were, they were a source of great heartache for these ecologists who saw them as a nuisance. 

The ginger lilies self replicated at a fast pace, sending out new shoots ever so often.  One plant can in a matter of months spawn dozens of new shoots.  The ginger lilies were hardy and withstood any weather, they did not need a lot of soil to thrive, they had a shallow root system which as they spread overwhelmed and crowded out other plants which eventually died.

 The lilies were also, bad substitutes for the plants which they killed; as their root systems did not go far enough to hold the soil together, therefore, in times of adverse weather the ginger lilies indirectly caused landslides and hardships for human mountain dwellers who are marooned on these mountains, sometimes for weeks before there is help.


            The ginger lily is just an example of what one plant can do to an eco-system.  Imagine then, the hundreds of species introduced to the Americas and how these species altered the eco-systems of the places where they were introduced.



Much of our current diet in the Americas is based largely upon items that were introduced to this hemisphere by Europeans.  It’s been hundreds of years since milk, eggs, butter and cheese poultry, beef and other things have become staple items in our diets.  Consider an American diet without pizza, hamburger, hot dogs and fried chicken.


Not only is Columbus responsible for the above, he also has an impact on fruits and vegetables as well.  On the island of Jamaica the national dish is ackee with cod fish and roasted breadfruit.  Both had been brought to Jamaica by Europeans and have since flourished.  Now there are millions of trees, bearing enough fruit for domestic use and forming the basis of a processing industry which keeps the Jamaican Diaspora supplied.


I fondly remember guava and mango soaked summers of my childhood where my friends and I ate mangos all day.   Mangos are a favorite fruit all over the Americas and a big source of foreign income for countries such as Mexico, however, prior to 1492, there were no Mangos on any of the islands in the Caribbean.  There were however lots of avocados, beans, peppers, peanuts, pineapples, potatoes and pumpkins which are some of the items that the America’s contributes to the Columbian Exchange.  On one hand the Americas might want to thank the Europeans for these gifts. But what of the food items already in existence in the Americas?  Does anyone really know what was available and what became of it?



The use of animals for transportation and labor is also Columbian introduction.  Prior to Columbus visit, there were not horse, donkeys, cattle, poultry etc.  The introduction of horses meant travel was quicker and there were more efficient means by which to carry out agricultural tasks such as using horses and oxen to prepare land for planted. 



Natives of the Americas had not close interaction with animals and had not built up the kinds of immunities that the Europeans had.  The Americas were free of certain diseases and therefore, natives had no antibodies to fight off these diseases.  Therefore diseases such as chicken pox, small pox, malaria, mumps, measles and cholera were fatal additions to the Americas.   Europeans introduced dozens of diseases to the Americas; however, it is believed that the Americas contributed Syphilis to Europeans.


Modern fail safe

In today’s world, countries have various restrictions preventing the import or export of plants, animals, soil and various disease agents including human vaccines to prevent the spread of both plant, animal and human diseases, the importation of which would alter the ecology, and be devastating to agriculture, and cause devastating loss of life in others. 


Whenever I enter a city in the United States from my native Jamaica, I have to fill out a customs declaration form that certifies that I am not in possession of any disease bearing agents such as plants, seeds, fruits and vegetables, meats or wildlife, cell cultures or have been on a farm with livestock prior to coming into the country.  At most ports, my luggage is subjected to an electronic scan which looks for any contraband. Conversely, on my trip back to Jamaica, custom officers do a manual search of my possessions. 


These measures are taken to prevent the entry of alien species which may be dangerous to an area’s ecological balance.  There were no such checks and balances in 1492, therefore, plants and animals of all genres and species criss-crossed the Atlantic and altered the balance of nature.



Works Cited


Gambino, Megan. 2011. October 05, 2011. Alfred W. Crosby on the Columbian Exchange. Retrieved October 20, 2012.


Green, Thomas.  2007.  The Columbian Exchange and the Reversal of Fortune.  The CATA Journal, Vol. 27, No. 1 Winter 2007.