I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem is filled with descriptions of the natural world: Condé details “the shadow play of the flamboyant, calabash, and silk-cotton trees” of Tituba’s native Barbados and contrasts this lushness with the sparse forests and “white mottled sky” of Salem, Massachusetts. From a young age, Tituba has learned from skilled healer Mama Yaya how to use tropical plants, alongside incantations and animal sacrifices, to heal others or to change their behavior. But when she arrives in Salem, she finds that none of the plants and animals she has long relied on exist in this new climate; she must substitute black cats and raw potatoes for the snakes and herbs she used on her native island. Thus Tituba learns that just as “nature changes her language according to the land,” she must change her healing practices according to nature.
It follows, then, that the kind of natural magic that Tituba does in warm Barbados is very different from the kind she is able to accomplish in bitterly cold New England; as a young, enslaved woman named Sarah puts it, “knowledge must adapt itself to society.” In addition to using different plants—and in addition to feeling less connected to the “invisible world”—Tituba finds that while spells said on the island are usually used to heal, spells said in America often do more harm than good. Ultimately, I, Tituba therefore demonstrates that there is tremendous knowledge to be found in nature, if (like Tituba) one knows where to look. But the novel also suggests that people are fundamentally shaped by their environments, and that an inhospitable environment can lead to inhospitable (or even cruel) people—as it does in Salem.
Nature as Knowledge ThemeTracker
Nature as Knowledge Quotes in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Mama Yaya taught me about herbs. Those for inducing sleep. Those for healing wounds and ulcers. Those for loosening the tongues of thieves. Those that calm epileptics and plunge them into blissful rest. Those that put words of hope on the lips of the angry, the desperate, and the suicidal.
Mama Yaya taught me to listen to the wind rising and to measure its force as it swirled above the cabins it had the power to crash.
Mama Yaya had taught me the sea, the mountains, and the hills. She taught me that everything lives, has a soul, and breathes. That everything must be respected. That man is not the master riding through his Kingdom on horseback.
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?
In the early afternoon a man came to see [Susanna], a man such as I had never seen in the streets of Bridgetown, nor for that matter anywhere else. Tall, very tall, dressed in black from head to foot, with a chalky white skin […] I have already said much about the eyes of Susanna Endicott, but these! Imagine greenish, cold eyes, scheming and wily, creating evil because they saw it everywhere. It was as if I had come face to face with a snake or some evil, wicked reptile. I was immediately convinced that this Satan we heard so much about must stare in the same way at people he wishes to lead astray.
I cannot describe the effect this unfortunate black cat had on the children, as well as on Elizabeth and Samuel. Samuel Parris seized his prayer book and began to recite a seemingly endless prayer […] Abigail asked, holding her breath: “Aunt, it was the devil, wasn't it?”
“What will you think up next? It was only an animal that was disturbed by our arrival. Why do you keep talking about the devil? The invisible world around us only torments us if we provoke it.”
“I cannot do what your heart dares not disclose. The woman who revealed her science taught me to heal and console rather than to do evil. Once, when, like yourself, I dreamed of doing my worst, she warned: ‘Don't become like them, knowing only how to do evil.’”
[Sarah] shrugged her frail shoulders under her wretched shawl. “Knowledge must adapt itself to society. You are no longer in Barbados among our unfortunate brothers and sisters. You are among monsters who are set on destroying us.”
That night Hester lay down beside me, as she did sometimes. I laid my head on the quiet water-lily of her cheek and held her tight. Surprisingly, a feeling of pleasure slowly flooded over me. Can you feel pleasure from hugging a body similar to your own? For me, pleasure had always been in the shape of another body whose hollows fitted my curves and whose swellings nestled in the tender flatlands of my flesh. Was Hester showing me another kind of bodily pleasure?
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.
At one moment the rain fell in soft whispers, drenching plants, trees, and roots, unlike the hostile, icy rains I recalled in the land I had left behind. Yes, nature changes her language according to the land, and curiously, her language harmonizes with that of man. Savage nature, savage men! Protecting, well-meaning nature, open hearted and generous men!
My first night on my island!
The croaking of the frogs and agua toads, the trill of the night birds, the cackling of the chickens frightened by the mongooses, and the braying of the donkeys tied to the calabash trees, the spirits’ resting place, kept up a continual music. I never wanted the morning to come.
The reader may be surprised that at a time when the lash was constantly being used, I managed to enjoy this peace in freedom. Our islands have two sides to them. The side of the masters’ carriages and their constables on horseback, armed with muskets and savage, baying hounds. And the other, mysterious and secret side, composed of passwords, whispers, and a conspiracy of silence. It was on this side that I lived, protected by common collusion. Mama Yaya made a thick vegetation grow up around my cabin and it was as if I lived in a fortified castle. An inexperienced eye could only make out a tangle of guava trees, ferns, frangipani, and acoma trees, specked here and there by the mauve flower of a hibiscus.
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.