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Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938)

by Zora Neale Hurston

Other authors: Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7571330,363 (4.04)17
As a first-hand account of the weird mysteries and horrors of voodoo, Tell My Horse is an invaluable resource and fascinating guide. 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 ceremonies and customs and superstitions of great cultural interest.… (more)
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I was first attracted to Hurston as a person when I learned that she was a visionary anthropologist. She dressed flashy and was considered outlandish and flamboyant. Quite the opposite of her writing which is considered serious, scholarly, didactic, and intellectual. I expected Tell My Horse to be a combination of the two and I was not disappointed. Hurston claims to have seen a real zombie, Felicia Felix-Mentor, and even photographed her! Sadly, she does not share them within the pages of Tell My Horse.
There is a sly humor hidden in Huston's prose which is not easy to do when describing Haiti's violent history. I particularly enjoyed the section on voodoo. Voodoo is a belief, almost like a religion or an ancient form of mysticism. Hurston is patient with her readers while she explains the culture, delving into the powers of a Mambo, a loa or houngan. Do not mess with Ogoun Feraille, god of war. Make sure to honor other gods like Damballa and Guede as well.
Tell My Horse is riddled with superstitions like do not sharpen hunting blades on the day of the hunt or your dogs will be killed. Soups have to be male (cock soup instead of chicken soup). There is a stone that urinates. A goat can be a consort. The story of Celestina and her goat, Simalo, was bizarre. Rumor had it Celestina and Simalo were married. In order to marry a wealthy man, Celestina needed a "divorce" from the goat. Her father ended up murdering the goat and giving it a Christian burial with flowers, closed casket, and smoking censora as the goat was Celestina's father's best friend.
In truth, I wished Tell My Horse came with a soundtrack. I would have enjoyed listening to the songs of invocation. There is a whole section at the end of Tell My Horse of songs of worship to voodoo gods. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jan 17, 2024 |
This is what I wrote in 2009 about this read: "Tougher read, of Hurston's research into Voodoo and life in Haiti and Jamacia; intriguing, mystical, and intellectually challenging . . . whets the appetite for more information about Haiti's history, and the religion of voodoo. Also dispelled much of my mis-understandings, which were formed based on movies / shows mis-characterizations." ( )
  MGADMJK | Jul 31, 2023 |
Everything Hurston touched with her pen turned to gold. Easily one of the five best American novelists of the 20th Century, ZNH was also an anthropologist and folklorist. Tell My Horse explores the culture and customs of Jamaica and Haiti, with a harrowing descriptions of a pig hunt, zombies, and secret cannibal societies. Hurston maintains her witty, particular voice throughout, placing herself as a character on the scene, someone who is trusted to share in the most arcane rituals.

There is some discussion in the postscript of Hurston's chauvinism, in the way she pronounces some dancing "barbaric" and is drawn to the more lurid aspects of voodooism. Throughout her life, she had a more conservative, contrarian bent than many of her AA contemporaries (like Richard Wright). She is not interested in the politics the black experience in the Western Hemisphere, just as she does not idealize her subject matter. She does idealize a white doctor who presides over an insane asylum, a friend who introduced her to some of the elites in the Port au Prince expat community. There is anundertone of disparagement towards Haitians (they are corrupt liars), reminiscent of the character of Mrs. Turner in Their Eyes Were Watching God. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
I am super fascinated by Hurston's anthropological work, and her treatment of the voodoo and politics of Haiti and Jamaica was terrific...but...I think the delivery was difficult for me. I loved it when her wit shone through, but there's a lot of "this happened, then this, then this," which made me doze off or read for pages without actually reading and then I had to back up. And not having a working knowledge of Haiti's history, I had a hard time following the often non-linear addressing of that topic. I am looking forward to reading some more of Hurston's nonfiction, though, to see how it compares.

********
Read Harder: Book published between 1900-1950 ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
I've been interested in Voudoon culture since reading "The Serpent & The Rainbow". Here is another book told by someone from outside, but wholly accepting, of the religion. Hurston spent a lot of time in Jamaica and Haiti and describes the many things she saw there. She was more than a little intrepid, as she set out to learn as much as she could about the beliefs and practices of the culture. ( )
  Eye_Gee | May 8, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zora Neale Hurstonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gates Jr., Henry LouisEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boyd, ValerieContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Diaz, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McKowen, ScottCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reed, IshmaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As a first-hand account of the weird mysteries and horrors of voodoo, Tell My Horse is an invaluable resource and fascinating guide. 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 ceremonies and customs and superstitions of great cultural interest.

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