Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica Illustrated Edition, Kindle Edition
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“Strikingly dramatic, yet simple and unrestrained . . . an unusual and intensely interesting book richly packed with strange information.”
—New York Times Book Review
Based on Zora Neale Hurston’s personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica, where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer of voodoo practices during her visits in the 1930s, this travelogue into a dark world paints a vividly authentic picture of the ceremonies, customs, and superstitions of voodoo.
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From the Back Cover
Based on acclaimed author Zora Neale Hurston's personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica—where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer during her visits in the 1930s—Tell My Horse is a fascinating firsthand account of the mysteries of Voodoo. An invaluable resource and remarkable guide to Voodoo practices, rituals, and beliefs, it is a travelogue into a dark, mystical world that offers a vividly authentic picture of ceremonies, customs, and superstitions.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
About the Author
Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist whose fictional and factual accounts of black heritage remain unparalleled. Her many books include Dust Tracks on a Road; Their Eyes Were Watching God; Jonah's Gourd Vine; Moses, Man of the Mountain; Mules and Men; and Every Tongue Got to Confess.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B0013L2BN4
- Publisher : Amistad; Illustrated edition (October 13, 2009)
- Publication date : October 13, 2009
- Language : English
- File size : 2068 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 254 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #522,001 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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"Tell My Horse" isn't really a coherent book. It's a collection of free-standing chapters/narratives, with no general introduction, no transitions, and no summing-up or conclusions; it just starts and ends. There is no glossary. It's as if Hurston expects the reader to be familiar already with the vocabulary of voodoo, to know what a houngan or a hounci or a canzo is, or for that matter what a loa is and how loas and orishas are related. Occasionally a word that has been used many times before is suddenly defined in parentheses, again underscoring the independence of the various chapters. The names of Haitian historical figures, some quite obscure, are flung around as if everyone knows their histories. Herbal medicines and plants used in magic are named, but not identified botanically. Songs, chants and prayers are reproduced in full in the original Creole--and almost never translated. It gets very frustrating.
And yet--no one can deny that it is a mesmerizing "read." The detailed descriptions of voodoo practices are both fascinating and horrifying, often entailing bloody animal sacrifice. (Such stuff is going on today right here in the United States; there was recent evidence of it in Sacramento, California, a seemingly unlikely venue.) There are numerous photographs, mostly too murkily reproduced, at least in this edition, to be very informative.
The big question about this book is how to read it. Is it descriptive anthropology? Hurston seems swept into the milieu she describes. Does she believe in what she writes about? Does she believe in the power of voodoo ritual? Most of all, does she believe in zombies? She claims to have tried to interview one, and provides the only known photograph of one. But how does she know this is a zombie? She allows for the possibility that zombies are not and never have been dead--that their masters, the bocors, have a secret drug that puts the victim in a death-like state such that he or she is buried, only to be surreptitiously exhumed and put to work as a zombie. The existence of such a secret "zombie powder" has been much discussed by people interested in such stuff, but never proven or disproven. The topic of voodoo zombies (as against the contemporary pop-culture version) refuses to die. Yes, a very strange book.
Hurston, who did not often (if ever) say why she was there, was truly a part of the daily lives of the people with whom she stayed, and she withheld information about why she was there because she knew that if she told the people, she would see a performance of people’s lives, rather than actual lives, staged dances rather than real dances. Hurston also brings us a superb example of participant observation, and she makes no pretense that she can somehow get data that is completely uninformed by her presence. Neither does she accept stated perceptions at face value, but rather, challenges them when she feels it is appropriate. Consequently, her grasp of what is going in around her is much stronger.
One critique I do have is that Hurston makes sweeping, reductionist statements that betray her positionality (an educated black woman from the United States) in some aspects. I am not saying she wasn’t reflective, as there are many comments throughout the book that lead me to believe she was, but rather, that reflectiveness isn’t ever explicitly stated.
For those who enjoy political intrigue, reading about the death of Leconte (chapter 9) might prove quite enjoyable. Leconte isn’t the only memorable character in the book, even if, historically speaking, he may be the best known. Or perhaps that nod goes to Vilbrun Sam. In any case, there is also the buffoon president, his Voodoo priestess daughter, and her husband the goat. Oh, and zombies. The layout of Hurston’s book sets the reader up for the world in which voodoo is at work at that period of time in history, in all places, at all levels of society, leading up to the title chapter, “Go Tell My Horse,” which refers to the “mounting” (or possession) of a person by a loa.
Whether for enjoyment or assignment (although I do hope those aren’t mutually exclusive), Go Tell My Horse is an enjoyable, fascinating observation of Haiti in the first half of the 20th century, and I highly recommend you give it a read.
"Tell My Horse" didn't flow well or make sense to me. Years ago, I read "Their Eyes Were Watching God," and could recall most of it vividly. As I read this book, I was unable to retain any information.
Maybe other people would enjoy Zora Neale Hurston's "Tell My Horse," but this was actually the first book of Hurston's I disliked.
Top reviews from other countries
Hurston went to Jamaica and Haiti as a mixture of things: an anthropologist, a journalist, a creative writer, a first worlder, a US citizen, an African-America, a woman….and that mixture influenced how she looked at the people she met and their customs, and how she wrote about them. The result is an account of customs and beliefs that is detached yet sympathetic with no trace of condescension (at least I couldn’t detect any). Some of it seemed familiar as I’ve lived in Jamaica and I know many people of Jamaican heritage in the UK. I thought I knew something about Haiti as well, but I learned a lot more from this book.
However, you can see why Hurston was marginalised, not just by the white publishers and reviewers but also by mainstream Black literati. Her independent thinking meant she was frequently off-message. The chapter on women in the Caribbean is a good example of that. I suppose one thing that would have made a conscious African-American in the 30s/40s or later cringe is the way Hurston focuses on conflict and strife within Black communities rather between white and Black. Also she doesn’t present that conflict and strife in a context of slavery and continued oppression. She is more comfortable with folk lore than with political analysis. There’s a suggestion that slavery and oppression mixed with African heritage gives Black people an enhanced and spiritual/esoteric outlook on life compared to whites. In that context it is perfectly reasonable for Jamaicans to believe in duppies, a belief that the white colonial masters would dismiss as ignorant superstition. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance were very uncomfortable with this approach and Hurston, sadly, ended her life in poverty and obscurity.
Kudos to Alice Walker for rediscovering her.
This edition has a very illuminating afterword by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
I’ve since read Hurston’s Complete Stories in the Harper Perennial edition. These editions of Hurston’s works are great value as they include additional material about Hurston’s life and work. The Complete Stories has an account by Alice Walker about how she tracked down Hurston’s tomb in an overgrown cemetery in Florida.
Where the book falls down is the pictures- terribly reprinted, you can barely see anything, and the side rambling into Haitian local politics (in the present day then) that really means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps if there'd been a footnote by a scholar to say how that local bit of political history impacted on Haiti today, I'd have been happy, but as it is, it took me out of the story. Overall, a good read if you read it in the day. It's spooky reading it at night!