Tituba

Sometimes life just gets in the way – I had started preparing this post for Halloween but then I got some mad “growth opportunities” that have taken this website off my priority list. Still, I was well into this crazy tale that I hadn’t heard before so I have decided to complete and publish this anyway. I hope you enjoy.

**

A friend suggested I look up a “scary” person to feature for Halloween but when I started searching around I didn’t really feel like the serial killers and tyrants that were popping up when I got on the Google machine quite fit with this blog.

She then suggested witches and that took me down the rabbit hole of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. As someone who in my youth had briefly decided I wanted to be a “white” witch (using my powers for good, not evil) I was surprised to realise that I’d never really read much about the Salem Witch Trials.

It didn’t take me long to find someone I wanted to focus on: Tituba, the possibly Caribbean slave of a Reverend in Salem.

Quick context:

  • Salem is a city in Massachusetts.
  • Salem was a location thoroughly wrapped up in the witch craze from the 1300s. 
  • Already steeped in sordid and bloody history, the Salem Witch Trials were what earned the city its infamy.
  • Reverend Samuel Parris became Salem’s first ordained minister in 1689.
  • Tituba was a slave, well liked by the family and very close to the daughter of the Reverend.
  • When both the daughter and niece of the Reverend started fitting, thrashing, spitting and grunting (which historians believe to be the result of a poisonous fungus they were consuming) they pointed to Tituba and two homeless women for “bewitching” them.
  • Tituba, being accused of this, confessed to being a witch and pointed fingers to others in the community. She was so convincing in her tale that her accusers believed she had met with the devil. 
  • In an interesting twist her telling such detailed accounts of her dealings with the devil made her valuable to the townspeople. Her apparent murkiness around her co-accused resulting, as she claimed, from the devil not trusting her, lead to the townspeople keeping her alive to seek her ongoing council.
  • Whilst nearly 200 accused men and women were tortured and killed for their implications with the devil, Tituba was imprisoned only. She was released and subsequently fled with her husband, another employee of the Reverend’s household.
  • It is said that Tituba then disappeared into the folds of history.

There is so much to unpack in this moment in history. Learning about humans like Tituba just make me reflect that there are millions upon millions of beautiful human beings who have shuffled through the folds of time and history, forgotten because they did not belong to a group of people who were deemed worthy of recording or remembering. Had Tituba not been accused of witchcraft she would have lived her life without causing a ripple in the water and disappeared with time.

Simultaneously, what extreme circumstances to pull someone into the history books. She must have been terrified. The cunning and cleverness it took to keep herself alive are admirable. I am sure she expected to be terminated at every turn, every hearing, after every question answered.

Tituba may have been painted to be the “scary” woman who started the Salem Witch Trials, but really it was the misunderstandings of a series of young girls’ physical health poorly stirred into a pot of mistrust of slaves, misunderstandings of alternative faiths and mistakes by little girls to push attention away from them onto an easy target.

As a side note of sorts, I chose the photo I have used for this post because it is striking and also the alternatives were intensely unforgiving depictions of Tituba as some kind of monster-like, leering woman. This actress, Ashley Madekwe, played Tituba in the TV series “Salem”. Choosing her as the modern day imagining of Tituba makes me wonder if this is an attempt to re-imagine those women in history dealt such a poor hand in a way that gives them the light they deserve, or is this a fetishisation of a really horrible time in history that wasn’t “sexy” or “naughty” or “quirky”. It was down right dirty and horrible and it makes me wonder whether the unforgiving depictions are more accurate, if only for the fact that the whole time was harsh, evil and harrowing.

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