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Wednesday, November 12, 2014


A FRIEND OF MINE RECENTLY ASKED ME HOW MANY WORDS I WRITE A DAY. I told him I didn't want to talk about it. Lately, it seems I've been researching and reviewing all the prior study I have done as I write this next section of The Tattooed Rose. Right now, the setting is on Xaymaca, as Jamaica was originally known. Today, I moved ahead by thirteen words only, which accounts for my grumpiness with my friend's question. I had to rewrite a section to more closely reflect what I think was the mix of the cimarrones, or the run-away slaves, that populated the island in 1550. These people would have been made up of the few Tainos who had not been wiped out by smallpox, as well as slaves from the Yoruba, Fon, Akan, and Igbo tribes of western and central Africa. Plot-wise, I've been trying to make reasonable choices as to how to depict a multi-cultural diaspora and the various religions that come from it. I've been looking into Vodou (which today, is mostly associated with Haiti), Santeria (Cuba), and Obeah, which is Jamaican. It's been an interesting study.

One of the decisions I need to make is whether or not I depict the gods of Obeah as they are known, or if I change their names slightly. I'm inclined to change the names, mainly because I don't want to be disrespectful of any faith. When I originally wrote The Tattooed Witch, I had written it as a rejection of repressive Catholicism and the Spanish Inquisition, but I was never comfortable with that slant, so I changed it to reflect rather than represent. Even if history has shown us terrible things done in the name of organized religion, it doesn't necessarily mean that those who practiced it were all horrible people. Some of them were saints. (I give St. Teresa of Avila as an example). Like people, religion can have both its bad and good elements. It evolves, hopefully for the better.

I thought I'd share a few tidbits of what I've learned lately. Hopefully, these aren't spoilers. A lot of plot can change between the first and final drafts.

Did you know....

1). That today, there are no poisonous snakes on Jamaica? There might have been in 1550. One particular species may have been brought over in hollowed bamboo canes by the Caribs to use as biological weapons against the Taino.

2. Among the Akan people (and others) a child's name is based on the day of the week a child is born, his or her birth order, and special circumstances. There is some thought that Daniel Defoe may have created his character Friday in Robinson Crusoe, by using this device.

3. Like my character Miriam Medina who summoned and communicates with Alonso, a dead High Priest, in the religion of Obeah, Obiu-women interpret the wishes of the dead.

4. Many African peoples, including the Akan, practiced tattooing and scarification known as Adinkra. Some of these marks indicate tribal affiliation.

5. One type of divination is practiced by tossing cowrie shells. These offer 256 different signs known as odu. A simpler type of divination for 'yes/no' answers only, uses four pieces of coconut shell. This is known as the biague oracle.

I'll share more in the weeks to come. This weekend, I'm at the Pure Speculation Festival here in Edmonton, launching The Tattooed Seer on Saturday night. If you're attending, I hope to see you there.

- Susan.

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