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

3
Draining Life Rather than Giving It:
Maternal Legacies

[Lynda Barry’s Filipina vampire] symbolizes her maternal history, the
fractured female relationships in her family, and the replication of this
troubling system through four generations: how grandmas, like the
[vampire] herself, suck the life from their own daughters by bonding with
and thus “stealing” their granddaughters’ affection away from their own
mothers
.

—MELINDA DE JESÚS

In an ancient text from Kabbalistic Spain, there is a story detailing an encounter between Lilith, Adam’s first wife who refused to succumb to his authority, and the prophet Elijah. When he asks where she is going, she replies: “My lord Elijah, I am on my way to the house of a woman in childbirth … to give her the sleep of death and to take her child which is being born to her, to suck its blood, and to suck the marrow of its bones, and to steal its flesh” (Patai 299). Children were perceived to be at special risk because Lilith and her demonic female offspring were supposed to plague newborns, sucking their blood and strangling them. While early twentieth-century Aramaic scholar James A. Montgomery attributes the source of the Lilith legends to “the morbid imagination” of “the barren or neurotic woman,” pregnant mothers, and frightened children (quoted in Patai 298), I contend that the stories are just as illuminating about patriarchal anxieties and “neuroses”: very much like the stories of the soucouyant and other female vampires, Lilith tales reveal disgust for— and punishment through the demonization of—the woman who refuses to be dominated by male authority or to abide by social dictates for the “naturally” maternal, nurturing, and demure female presence.

This chapter asserts that conventional soucouyant stories from the circum-Caribbean and other parts of the African diaspora are typically used to control women’s behavior, especially when it comes to childbearing and child rearing. Although grandmothers, mothers, and daughters have often been complicit in maintaining this control and curtailing female independence by passing on the stories in similar ways as the

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