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

By Giselle Liza Anatol | Go to book overview

2
Nineteenth-Century Connections: European
Vampire Stories and Configurations of the
Demonic Black Woman

Some of the foolish customs out here [in then British Guiana] must have
come originally from England or perhaps it may be vice versa
.

—REVEREND J. S. SCOLES, 1885

This chapter considers a coexisting influence on the soucouyant myths that were rooted/routed in West African cultures—another set of sites for the network—and on the contemporary renditions of Black female vampires, both within the African diaspora and without: nineteenthcentury British narratives. The colonial presence of the British in the Anglophone Caribbean ensured the exposure to, if not absorption of, canonical English literary texts, historical narratives, and social norms by the resident population. As folkorists of the African Americas such as Melville Herskovits and, later, Roger Abrahams and John Szwed argued, “Peoples cannot live side-by-side, even in the most extremely restricted situations, and not affect each other culturally” (Abrahams and Szwed 10–11). One must recognize, however, that cultural transmission is not a one-way process, a unidirectional flow from one node (the colonial “center”) to another (the “periphery” of the colonized). Ingrid Thaler asserts as much in her study of Black Atlantic speculative fiction: “[There are] processes of constant (and often indirect) interaction through which tropes travel between black and white cultural contexts across the Atlantic. [… T]he boundaries of these cultural contexts are permeable and flexible instead of strictly separate. Therefore, cultural production takes place as communication, interplay, and exchange” (2). Thus, while soucouyant tales were already in existence among the African Caribbean population—most likely transferred from Africa by enslaved peoples1— these tales were not inviolable: Caribbean culture is a syncretic one. Some storytellers might have preserved “African sensibilities” and only

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