I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem is based on historical records surrounding the Salem witch trials of 1692; indeed, at one point during the novel, Condé reprints word-for-word the record of Tituba’s testimony, pulled straight from the Essex County Archives. But though Condé herself draws from these archives, Tituba spends much of her own narrative fretting that she will not be accurately remembered in historical documents. And indeed, while many of the white people who were accused in Salem have been rehabilitated by large amounts of historical research, no such thing is true of Tituba, who is written about only as “a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo.’”
At first, then, the novel shows how profoundly racist many historical archives are; they erase Tituba (and the other enslaved Black women in the town) almost entirely. But while archival history diminishes Tituba, she ends the novel by explaining that “there is a song about Tituba”—it just isn’t written down. Instead, Tituba’s memory lives on in the minds of her spiritual descendants (like a young girl named Samantha) and in the many people whom she helped heal. Moreover, in the book’s closing paragraph, she reflects that she also lives on in the nature she loved so much: in “the crackling of a fire between four stones, the rainbow-hued babbling of the river, and the sound of the wind.” And finally, Tituba lives on in the novel itself; all of I, Tituba can be viewed as a corrective to the faulty archives, as Tituba is finally granted the full, complex biography she deserves. The narrative thus demonstrates a new kind of history, contained not in the pages of an archive but in landscapes and loved ones’ hearts.
Archival History vs. Memory ThemeTracker
Archival History vs. Memory Quotes in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
The dead only die if they die in our hearts. They live on if we cherish them and honor their memory, if we place their favorite delicacies in life on their graves, and if we kneel down regularly to commune with them. They are all around us, eager for attention, eager for affection. A few words are enough to conjure them back and to have their invisible bodies pressed against ours in their eagerness to make themselves useful.
What is a witch? I noticed that when he said the word, it was marked with disapproval. Why should that be? Why? Isn't the ability to communicate with the invisible world, to keep constant links with the dead, to care for others and heal, a superior gift of nature that inspires respect, admiration, and gratitude? Consequently, shouldn't the witch […] be cherished and revered rather than feared?
I was wracked by a violent feeling of pain and terror. It seemed that I was gradually being forgotten. I felt that I would only be mentioned in passing in the Salem witchcraft trials about which so much would be written later, trials that would arouse the curiosity and pity of generations to come as the greatest testimony of a superstitious and barbaric age. There would be mention here and there of “a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo.’” There would be no mention of my age or my personality. I would be ignored. As early as the end of the 17th century, petitions would be circulated, judgments made, rehabilitating the victims, restoring their honor, and returning their property to their descendants. I would never be included! Tituba would be condemned forever! There would never, ever, be a careful, sensitive biography recreating my life and its suffering.
And I was outraged by this future injustice that seemed more cruel than even death itself.
Having someone recognize me after ten years of absence brought tears to my eyes. I had forgotten this ability our people have of remembering. Nothing escapes them! Everything is engraved in their memory!
Maroons? 10 years earlier, when I had left Barbados, maroons were few and far between. There was merely talk of a certain Ti-Noel and his family, who held Farley Hill. Nobody had ever seen him. He had been living in everyone’s imagination for so long that he must have been an old man by now. Yet he was said to be young and bold and his exploits had become household legends.
“Tituba, a slave originating from the West Indies and probably practicing ‘hoodoo.’ A few lines in the many volumes written on the Salem witch trials. Why was I going to be ignored? This question too had crossed my mind. Is it because nobody cares about a Negress and her trials and tribulations? Is that why?
I can look for my story among those of the witches of Salem, but it isn't there.
Sometimes I become a fighting cock in the pit and the clamor of the crowd sends my head spinning […] Oh how I love to give this slave the excitement of winning! Off he goes, dancing and brandishing his fists, a gesture that will soon symbolize other victories. […] Sometimes I become a goat and caper around Samantha, who is no fool. For this child of mine has learned to recognize my presence in the twitching of an animal's coat, the crackling of a fire between four stones, the rainbow-hued babbling of the river, and the sound of the wind as it whistles through the great trees on the hills.