The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

Synopsis

The Things That Fly in the Night explores images of vampirism in Caribbean and African diasporic folk traditions and in contemporary fiction. Giselle Liza Anatol focuses on the figure of the soucouyant, or Old Hag--an aged woman by day who sheds her skin during night's darkest hours in order to fly about her community and suck the blood of her unwitting victims. In contrast to the glitz, glamour, and seductiveness of conventional depictions of the European vampire, the soucouyant triggers unease about old age and female power. Tracing relevant folklore through the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, the U.S. Deep South, and parts of West Africa, Anatol shows how tales of the nocturnal female bloodsuckers not only entertain and encourage obedience in pre-adolescent listeners, but also work to instill particular values about women's "proper" place and behaviors in society at large. Alongside traditional legends, Anatol considers the explosion of soucouyant and other vampire narratives among writers of Caribbean and African heritage who in the past twenty years have rejected the demonic image of the character and used her instead to urge for female mobility, racial and cultural empowerment, and anti colonial resistance. Texts include work by authors as diverse as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, U.S. National Book Award winner Edwidge Danticat, and science fiction/fantasy writers Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson.

Excerpt

I grew up in suburban New Jersey, but my dreams were haunted by the soucouyant. According to the stories shared by my Trinidadian aunts, mother, and grandmothers, the soucouyant seemed to be an ordinary old woman by day. Each night, however, she shed her skin, transformed herself into a ball of fire, flew about the community, and sucked the blood of her unsuspecting neighbors. Afterward, she would return home and slip back into her skin, and the repeated practice made her human form unusually wrinkled. She would not be able to re-don her outer membrane, however, if someone had discovered its secret hiding place and salted or peppered it; this would cause the soucouyant to perish in a frenzy of itching and burning. She could also be destroyed by scattering salt or rice on the doorsteps and windowsills of one’s house: she might be able to enter the premises to satisfy her bloodlust, but she was obligated to count each grain before leaving. At dawn, if neighbors caught her in the midst of her task, they would beat her to death or drop her into a vat of boiling tar or oil; some storytellers alleged that the rising sun would destroy the skinless incarnation of the creature. (In one instance—the version found in Edgar Mittelhölzer’s novel A Morning in Trinidad—the soucouyant has to bend down so low, for so long, to pick up every grain of rice, that she breaks her back and dies.) In any case, the phrase “soucouyant gon’ come for you” has chilled the blood of Trinidadian children for generations—and not just those who misbehaved: anyone’s blood could lure the soucouyant into their home.

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