Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies

Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies

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by Elaine G. Breslaw

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In this important book, Elaine Breslaw claims to have rediscovered Tituba, the elusive, mysterious, and often mythologized Indian woman accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 and immortalized in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Reconstructing the life of the slave woman at the center of the notorious Salem witch trials, the book follows Tituba from her


In this important book, Elaine Breslaw claims to have rediscovered Tituba, the elusive, mysterious, and often mythologized Indian woman accused of witchcraft in Salem in 1692 and immortalized in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

Reconstructing the life of the slave woman at the center of the notorious Salem witch trials, the book follows Tituba from her likely origins in South America to Barbados, forcefully dispelling the commonly-held belief that Tituba was African. The uniquely multicultural nature of life on a seventeenth-century Barbadan sugar plantation—defined by a mixture of English, American Indian, and African ways and folklore—indelibly shaped the young Tituba's world and the mental images she brought with her to Massachusetts.

Breslaw divides Tituba’s story into two parts. The first focuses on Tituba's roots in Barbados, the second on her life in the New World. The author emphasizes the inextricably linked worlds of the Caribbean and the North American colonies, illustrating how the Puritan worldview was influenced by its perception of possessed Indians. Breslaw argues that Tituba’s confession to practicing witchcraft clearly reveals her savvy and determined efforts to protect herself by actively manipulating Puritan fears. This confession, perceived as evidence of a diabolical conspiracy, was the central agent in the cataclysmic series of events that saw 19 people executed and over 150 imprisoned, including a young girl of 5.

A landmark contribution to women's history and early American history, Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem sheds new light on one of the most painful episodes in American history, through the eyes of its most crucial participant.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Breslaw (history, Univ. of Tennessee) provides a fascinating account of Tituba, an American Indian slave woman whose confession inspired much of the 1692 Salem witch trials. Breslaw reveals Tituba as a South American (not an African, as 19th- and 20th-century writers supposed) who was sold into slavery in Barbados and came to Salem with the Reverend Samuel Parris, her owner. Tituba skillfully used her knowledge and storytelling ability to save her own life and to express defiance of her master both in her confession and in her subsequent recantation. Highly recommended for scholars in American history and literature as well as general readers.-Carolyn M. Craft, Longwood Coll., Farmville, Va.
Reconstructs the life of Tituba, the Indian slave woman at the center of the notorious Salem witch trials, from her likely origins in South America to her life in Massachusetts. Details Tituba's part in the witch trials, and illustrates how the Puritan worldview was influenced by its perception of possessed Indians. Includes a timetable of accusations and confessions, a chronological list of 53 confessions, and transcripts of Tituba's confessions, plus b&w photos and drawings. For general readers and students of history. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
“A fascinating theory about the origins of the witch hunt that is sure to influence future historians. . . . a valuable probe of how myths can feed hysteria”
-The Washington Post Book World

“A fine example of readable scholarship.”
-Baltimore Sun

“An imaginative reconstruction of what might have been Tituba's past.”
-Times Literary Supplement

Product Details

New York University Press
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American Social Experience
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Chapter One

Tituba's Roots: An Arawak from Guiana

They are spoken of as having come from New Spain, as it was then called,—that is, the Spanish West Indies, and the adjacent mainlands of Central and South America.

—Charles Upham, Salem Witchcraft

In July of 1674 Captain Peter Wroth, lately of Kent in England, setsail from Barbados on his sloop Sanoy hound for the northeast coastof South America.(1) His mission was to locate md kidnap AmericanIndians to sell as slaves in Barbados and, as an incidental part of the trip,to trade with friendly Indians. The vessel, propelled by the easterly tradewinds, sailed generally south/southwest for three hundred miles pastTrinidad to the Orinoco River delta on the coast of South America. Astarboard turn to a more westerly course brought them up the Orinoco toone of its tributaries, the Amacura River, their chosen destination (seeFig. 1).

Sailing southeast on the Amacura, the crew spied canoes carryingfourteen Indians, who were invited on board to trade. As some of themen bargained with the Indians, Wroth decided to permit the peacefultrade. They were, he assured his ship's master, William Price, of thewrong tribe to kidnap. Probably Carib, they were protected by theEnglish King's orders to maintain friendly relations with the enemies ofthe Dutch settlers. The continuing hostility between the Caribs and theDutch in America encouraged the English monarch to woo the Carib orCarib-allied tribes as potential allies in a continuing Anglo-Dutch conflict.(2)

English trade rivalry with the Dutch hadresulted in sporadic warfare,which was renewed in 1672. At the time of Wroth's kidnapping expedition,those competitors for world commerce were engaged in the thirdAnglo-Dutch War of the century.(3) Entrepreneurs like Wroth, encouragedby Barbados's Governor Lord Willoughby and his successor in 1673, SirPeter Colleton, to raid and spy on the Dutch colonies, had seized theopportunity to kidnap Indian allies of the Dutch, particularly Arawakrelated tribes. Wroth had erred during previous escapades when he hadattempted to establish a trade in Indian slaves and had captured Caribs,who were under the protection of the English King. The entrepreneurhad been ordered to desist and return the captive Caribs to the SouthAmerican coast.(4) But in the summer of 1674 Wroth was determined tofind tribes that lacked sufficient European support to cause diplomatic ormilitary reprisals.

The Sanoy continued its upriver course on the Amacura and metanother twenty-four Indians who also came aboard to trade. Again, afterconsultation with his crew, Wroth decided that they should not molestthat group of men. Ostensibly, so far they had encountered only Englishallies and Wroth was not about to run afoul of the King's orders a secondtime. But it is also possible that from the start Wroth and his crew wereintent on locating women for his intended slave trade. In the first twoencounters the Sanoy had met only men in the visiting canoes. For reasonsdiscussed below, the planters in Barbados favored women slaves in generaland Amerindian women in particular. Wroth may well have wantedto satisfy that demand and therefore maintained peaceful contact with themale Indians he met while keeping an eye out for women traders.

On the second of August, eight women and two children approachedthe Sanoy with more trade goods. They too were welcomed aboard. AgainWroth consulted his crew. This time the men agreed they had likelycaptives and they devised a plan to kidnap the women and children.Some of the crew were told to guard the Indians, canoes and be preparedto pursue those who resisted. Wroth grabbed the first woman and hiscrew seized three more and then the children. In the confusion, fourwomen were able to jump overboard. They frantically began to swimaway. Wroth, anticipating that the women would resist and familiar withthe swimming ability of the local Indians, ordered his men to paddle thecanoes to catch the runaways. The women swam gracefully and swiftlywith heads under the water. But they were no match for the speed of thecanoes.(5) The men set off immediately, caught up with the women, andthe fleeing swimmers were brought back to the sloop.

Satisfied with their successes and still on the alert, the crew waited forthe tide to turn. As it ebbed, the Sanoy sailed down the Amacura Rivernorthward into the Orinoco and out to the Atlantic. Within a month theyarrived back in Barbados with their booty of trade goads and ten captiveIndians to sell into slavery. Immediately upon landing in Bridgetown, themain port in Barbados, William Price, the master of the vessel, enteredhis deposition on September 2, 1674, to prove that the captured Indianswere not of a friendly tribe protected by any treaty.(6) Price suggested thatthey were Arawak Indians or from an Arawak-related tribe known to beallied with the Dutch and,therefore, vulnerable to English attack.

Wroth and Price brought their captives to Barbados to satisfy whatthey perceived as a potential market for American Indian householdslaves. The fact that the captives were women was, therefore, no mereaccident. The enterprising Peter Wroth seemed determined to supplyIndian women to substitute for the declining number of English houseservants arriving on Barbados's shores.

The experience of those eight women and two children goes far toexplain Tituba's presence in Barbados. Charles Upham's report in thenineteenth century that, according to local legend, Tituba and her husband,John, "were spoken of as having come from New Spain . . . thatis, the Spanish West Indies, and the adjacent mainland," is borne out bythe record of known slave-capturing activities in South America.(7) PeterWroth's ventures are evidence of an existing, albeit small, slave tradebetween the South American coast—identified at the time as the SpanishMain—and Barbados. It is there on the northeast coast of South Americain present-day Venezuela that Tituba, the Indian slave woman, probablyhad her beginnings.

It is possible that Tituba could have been born in Barbados, the daughterof earlier captives or natives to the island. While possible, this scenario isimprobable given the demographics of the Indian population on theisland. At the time of English settlement in 1627, no American Indianswere living in Barbados. Archeological evidence indicates they had livedthere in earlier times, but the English colonists found an uninhabitedisland in 1627. Within a few years Df the arrival of the English, a smallgroup of Arawaks had been persuaded to move to Barbados from theGuiana coast of South America to teach the islanders how to growappropriate crops. Subsequently enslaved, those Arawaks were by the1650s either dead or they and their descendants had been returned to themainland.(8) Thereafter, until the I660S, Indian slaves, when acquiredwere usually a result of warfare with other Europeans in the West Indies.The number was never very large and, as a result, few of the Indianslaves left descendants. At no time were American Indians a significantdemographic factor in Barbados or capable of sustaining an independentAmerican Indian society there. During the course of the seventeenthcentury they shrank in numbers and economic importance as plantersturned to other population resources.

The major source of labor in Barbados until the middle of the seventeenthcentury was immigrant indentured servants from the British Islesparticularly England. Their number declined during the 1660S as a resultof a growing anti-emigration campaign in England supported by governmentprograms that increased the cost of recruiting servants and growingcompetition for a labor Force from other English colonies: Virginia, Maryland,Jamaica, and South Carolina.(9) At-the same time new efforts on thepart of English merchants to tap into the African slave trade broughtdown the price of African labor and sugar planters in Barbados shifted toblack slave labor.(10)

Indian labor for field work, either slave or free, was not of particularinterest to the planters of the British West Indies. T:he Indian death ratewas so high following contact with Europeans and their passive resistanceto the labor demands of the seventeenth-century invaders so profoundthat English colonizers gave little thought to using native labor in thesugar fields. They linked susceptibility to disease and a refusal to workunder European Supervision with a general physical weakness that renderedIndians unfit for agricultural labor. It is true that by the seventeenthcentury the worst of the epidemics that resulted from first contactbetween Europeans and Indians, and that had killed untold millions ofnative Americans, was over. The survivors of that sixteenth-centurydemographic disaster had begun to increase in numbers and to developthe means to resist both European diseases and European warfare.(11)Continued violent resistance coupled with a European mythology of anative population unable to cope with the demands of large-scale agriculturediscouraged an interest in using Indian labor on the tobacco or sugarplantations of the West Indies.(12)

There was, however, continued low-level interest in American Indiansas domestic servants in Barbados until at least 1675. The earlier Arawakshad impressed the planters with their skill at fishing and cooking.(13)Englishmen in Surinam had also employed Indians as domestic labor.(14)The continued association of native Americans with household workalong the coast reinforced the earlier views of the Barbados planters.After midcentury, as fewer English immigrants were available for domesticservice, planters in the island colony renewed their interest in trainingthe few available Indians for household work. They often rejected theIrish or Africans as potential sources of domestic workers. African slaveswere more valuable in the sugar fields, but were often suspected ofconspiracies against the planters. The Irish they considered lazy, undependable,and even more dangerous than Africans.(15) Planters in bothBermuda and Barbados feared that Irish servants and African slaves werenatural conspirators. One planter complained in 1655 that the Irish were"a profligate race who were in the habit of joining themselves to runawayslaves."(16) The mild-mannered Arawaks had no such reputation.

Most Indian resistance to enslavement tended to be passive, taking theform of mass suicide or a reluctance to perform physically demandingtasks. The native peoples appeared to submit completely to their fateonce captured. The refusal-to work was explained by Europeans as a signof inherent physical weakness on the part of all Indian groups, theabsence of violent reaction proof of total submission.(17) Such Indian formsof resistance were incomprehensible to Europeans, constituting an invisibleharrier between the two cultures that aroused little concern or, at theworst, disparaging comment.(18) Passive resistance was not perceived as athreat to property or life.

Until the end of the century, the very small American Indian presenceon the island conjured up little threat to the Barbados planters. Arawaksin particular had the reputation of being a peaceful, unaggressive people.Caribs were less attractive as slaves because of their violent resistanceagainst European infiltration and their reputation for the unpleasant customof cannibalism. They were, however, a rare presence in Barbados.

During the seventeenth century the intricacies of British policy vis-a-visthe Spanish, French, and Dutch had dictated which Caribbean Indianswere most vulnerable to capture and enslavement. Sporadically, ashostilities among the European rivals rose and fell during the seventeenthcentury, Amerindian captives were brought from Jamaica, St. Vincent,St. Lucia, and Dominica to Barbados and enslaved. Occasionally anunsuspecting Carib trading with the Barbados settlers was trapped on theisland and forced into slavery.(19) In Dominica, however, the Caribs heldon tenaciously defying European attempts at control. By 1670, moreoverthe English found that some islands, particularly the French-controlledSt. Vincent and St. Lucia, were more valuable as a source of trade inwood than as the object of warfare, so-kidnapping ventures soon endedthere.(20) As hostilities with the French declined, so did the capture ofIndian staves from the other islands. In addition, very few descendants ofthe small number of captive Caribs remained in Barbados. Those whosurvived the high mortality among slaves found little opportunity to formfamily groups.(21)

Other potential but less likely sources for an Indian slave in Barbadosinclude the Carolinas and Massachusetts, where conflicts between theEnglish and the Indians had led to the transport of mainland Indians tothe West Indies. It has been suggested that Tituba was a Wampanoagwho had been captured during King Philip's War in Massachusetts,sold to the West Indies as a slave, and subsequently brought back toMassachusetts by Samuel Parris.(22) That scenario is possible but in lightof the very bitter heritage of Puritan-Wampanoag hostility, somewhatimprobable. King Philip's War of 1675-76 had led to the expulsion ofmost Wampanoags.(23) It seems unlikely that Parris would have broughtback to Massachusetts members of the tribes that had been banished tothe West Indies as punishment for the death of thousands of English settlers.

There is some indication that Indians from South Carolina may havebeen forcibly transported to Barbados during the last quarter of theseventeenth century. Barbarians migrating to the new colonies in theCarolinas became involved with an Indian trade-that included slave captives.Some of those Indian slaves may have been sold into slavery butthere is no specific evidence of such sales in Barbados, apart from commentsby Indian traders that the slave trade resulted in sales to the WestIndies following clashes in 1670 and 1674. Most of the Indian-whiteclashes in South Carolina, however, occurred after 1680 and followingthe prohibition in Barbados of the importation of Indians.(24) The Carolina-Barbadosties may hint at such slave-trading connections, but thereis no record that they actually conducted such a trade with the island orthat Tituba had rooms among those Carolina tribes.Most of the available evidence for the presence of Indian slaves in Barbadospoints to contact with the Circum-Caribbean area that includes thenortheast coast of South America and not North America.(25) It is mostlikely that the small number of Indian slaves in Barbados during the16705 were immigrants brought there as captives in war or kidnappedfrom other Caribbean areas including the coast of the mainland that,although called the Spanish Main, included English and Dutch coloniesin Guiana.(26) As Peter Wroth's escapade in the Orinoco area indicates, arecent Arawak-Guiana background seems to be the most likely explanationfor Tituba's origins.

These Dutch settlements on the mainland of South America continuedto be a minor source of Indian slaves for the English from the T660S untilat least T674. Wroth's expedition was not the first of its kind, although itmay have been the last attempt to find slaves on the South Americancoast. The area called Guiana included a string of trading posts betweenthe Amazon and the Orinoco where Dutch merchants had built up agood trade with the Arawaks. Sandwiched between the Dutch allies andthe Spanish was the small English settlement at Surinam. At the end ofthe second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667, the Dutch lost their settlementalong the Hudson Giver in North America and took over Surinam.Nevertheless, the English in Barbados, in violation of the peace treaty,continued to raid Dutch-allied Arawak villages, providing a small streamof Indian slaves from the mainland to supply the market for domesticservants. Peter Wroth had been involved in that trade beginning in 1665at least.(27)

The outbreak of the third Anglo-Dutch War in 1672 coincided with asudden increase in-the price of Africans. In its zeal to eliminate the Dutchcarrying trade from its American possessions, English imperial policygranted a monopoly of the slave trade to the Royal African Company in1672. The inexperienced company, however, was unable to satisfy thedemand for African labor and the price of slaves rose precipitously.Barbados planters protested against the loss of their energetic Dutchsuppliers, but it was only after 1676 that supplies would increase, due toincreasing competition from small English slave-trading promoters.(28) Inthe interim, their adequate supply of African labor gave renewed impetusto raids on Indian villages in both the Essequibo and the Orinoco/AmacuraRiver areas of South America. In 1673 Peter Wroth stepped up hisactivities on the South American cost.

The official English policy was to maintain friendly relations withmainland Caribs hostile to the Dutch and their Arawak allies. Caribsupport was valued. Lord Willoughby, for instance, as the Governor ofBarbados, had sent expeditions to Guiana in 1665 to take Essequibo andNova Zeelandia. He expected and drew on assistance from the Caribswho were at war with the Dutch and their Arawak allies.(29) Nonetheless,in the years of official peace following that second Anglo-Dutch War(1655-67), Wroth indiscriminately raided both Arawak and Carib villageson the periphery of the Dutch colonies. During the third war withHolland in 1673 he brought eleven Caribs from the Amacura River toBarbados as slaves. The King ordered him to return them to SouthAmerica and to stop antagonizing the friendly Indians.(30) Arawaks receivedno such protection and would continue as fair game for his exploits.

The following year Peter Wroth returned to the Amacura River,possibly to return these Caribs, but also to look for more acceptablecaptives. During that trip }re brought back another ten Indians—theeight women and two children mentioned above—presumably Arawaksthis time, to sell into slavery in Barbados. Wroth's venture was the lastrecorded attempt to supply Barbados with native American labor. Twoyears later, the Barbados Assembly banned the importation of Indianslaves, effectively halting the immigration of American Indians to Barbados.(31)Shortly thereafter slave tracers competing with the Royal AfricanCompany won concessions to increase their imports of Africans to Barbadosand the temporary decline in the supply of slaves ended.

The labor crisis in Barbadus, precipitated by the declining number ofwhite indentured servants, the high mortality among all labor sources,and the Royal African Company's monopoly of the African slave trade,was resolved somewhat by an increasing supply of slaves transportedacross the Atlantic from Africa after 1676 and a slow natural increase inthe native-born African slave population. American Indian slavery, neververy popular, lost all support with these changing labor conditions andthe fatal population of Indians continued a rapid decline.

It is also possible, but less likely, that Tituba could have been thedaughter of two Indians who arrived in Barbados sometime during the1660s. Nonetheless, the continuing high mortality of slaves in seven-teenth-centuryBarbados, combined with a lack of Indian men to fatherchildren, hampered any possibility of a natural increase among AmericanIndians, except as mixed ethnic-racial groups.(32) Such offspring rapidlylost their identity as Indians and are virtually impossible to separate fromthe developing African slave society.

There are no references in the seventeenth-century records to peopleof combined African-Indian heritages. The children of mixed matches inBarbados were absorbed into slave society as African children. Thosechildren were considered Negroes and their descendants merged with thelarger African-American community. Tituba, however, was not the resultof any racial mixture. All extant Massachusetts references to herclearly specify that she was an American Indian. In New England as inBarbados, children of mixed Indian-African parentage were described asNegro and not Indian. Their experiences paralleled that of children ofAfrican-white couples, merging into a black rather than a white community.(33)

Given the pattern of the slave trade in that area of the West Indies andthe structure of Anglo-Dutch ,elations, it seems reasonable to concludethat Tituba and most other Amerindian slaves living in Barbados duringthe 1670s probably came from one of the Arawak-related tribes of northeasternSouth America, that is from Venezuela or Guyana (the English-speakingcountry sandwiched between Venezuela and present-day Suriname).Tituba would have been among the small contingent of AmericanIndians forcibly transported to Barbados from the South American coast,the Spanish Main, and shipped to the island m, more than ten yearsbefore moving to Massachusetts in 1680. An Arawak-Guiana backgroundseems to tee the most likely explanation for Tituba's origins.

Although the evidence is circumstantial, Tituba, transported to Bostonsix years after that 1674 kidnapping event, may well have been one of thechildren in Wroth's cargo that September day in 1674. Evidence uncoveredin the Barbados records suggests that Tituba was just a child,somewhere between nine and fourteen years old, in 1676. While still achild she was in all likelihood sold in Barbados as a slave and subseguentlybrought to Massachusetts by Samuel Parris.

Further evidence of a South American origin for Tituba is her nameitself, which has a Spanish favor and thus a possible association with thepart of America first explored by the Spaniards. The Spanish verb tostagger or to stammer for instance is "titubear."(34) The name also resemblesthat of an Indian tribe living at the mouth of the Orinoco in thesixteenth century; it was called by the Spanish "Tibetibe" and supposedlyrelated to the ferocious Warou tribe. Sir Walter Raleigh noted agroup of Indians at the mouth of the Orinoco he called Tivitivas; heassumed them to be a branch of the Warous and probably the same groupidentified by the Spaniards.(35) Of even more significance is a branch ofthe Arawaks living in that area of the Amacura River and identified byanthropologists ;as the Tetebetana.(36) The name Tituba is most likely aSpanish derivative of that Arawak name, reasonable grounds for assumingSouth American-Arawak roots for the Indian slave woman laterbrought to Massachusetts.

Arawak names had regular endings to indicate sex and number. Thecollective ending was "na" or sometimes "no." Tetebetana -would havebeen the name of the group itself. The masculine ending was "die" orsometimes "tie"; the feminine was "do" or "to." Thus a male in the tribewould be called Tetebetadie and a female Tetebetado.(37) A Barbadosplanter, hearing this Spanish-sounding name, may well have dropped theending syllable and called a member of the tribe by the name of Tetebe,with its variant spellings including Tituba, Tattuba, and Titeba.(38)

Slaves had little control over names chosen for them although theymay secretly have identified themselves by another name. Personal namesfor slaves usually reflected planner values and interests. They might begiven a "racial tag" such as Joseph Indian or Maria Negro or even atranslation or Anglicized form of an Indian or African name.(39) A "Tetebe"would have have a familiar ring" to a Barbados planter not onlybecause of its Spanish quality but also because it is closely related to thetype of African-Caribbean name that was commonplace in Barbados. Thesuffix "uba," for instance, appears among the inventory lists of femaleslaves as Altuba or Occuba or Arucuba or as Uba alone.(40) The "ba"ending is found in many African feminine names. SD clearly associatedwith an Indian tribe, Tituba's name would not require any other identifyinggeographic or racial nomenclature.(41)

The planter in Barbados may also have been encouraged to call theslave by that shortened form her tribal-family name if the girl hadfollowed Arawak custom and refused to reveal her proper name to him.Such proper names expressed an "identity not only in form but in essence,"and were seldom used by Guiana Indians for fear that the identitycould be lost if the name were revealed to outsiders.(42) Arawak groupsusually addressed each other by relationships using the word for brother,sister, companion, or mother, rather than their given names. Since relationshipswith Europeans were not always definable, Indians acceptedwhatever term was suggested to them by the strangers. Thus it was notunusual to hear Indians dubbed Peter, Jack, John, or Mary.(43) Whateverher proper name W2S, Tituba would have refused to disclose it to herkidnappers, but may have revealed that she was Tetebetado, a female ofthe Tetebetana clan. To call her Tetebe would also nave the convenienceoF identiFying her origin or point of embarkation, making a racial tag orsurname unnecessary. The name Tituba, then, is a probably a shortenedform for one of the clans or families—the Tetebetana—of an Arawak-speakinggroup Located in the Amacura/Orinoco River area, a section ofthe world called by Europeans the Spanish Main.

As an Arawak, Tituba, to use the more conventional spelling, came froma people in South America known For their good humor and generosity,qualities born from an easy subsistence. An unidentified visitor to Guianain 1665 remarked on the abundant food supply of the Amacura area: fishin the lakes and rivers; buffalo, elk, and deer on land; and of the rootvegetables cassava and sweet potatoes. I he local people made very practicaluse of that abundance in a varied diet and took advantage of the leisuretime to enjoy various forms of entertainment. The Indians, he noted, "aregreat lovers of fine Gardens, drinking, Dancing, and divers other pleasures."(44)

Those pleasures included a penchant for running, wrestling, and ballgames as well as regular all-night sessions of energetic dancing, singing,and drinking. The dancers usually included both men and women whosometimes danced together and sometimes separately, in lines facing eachother. In between dances all would drink copious quantities of a fermentedcassava drink until they collapsed from fatigue or drunkenness.Accompanying the dancers were musicians who played on drums, rattles,flutes, and an instrument that resembled castanets. Both men and womenchanted songs that had been learned in childhood, taught by the men ofthe tribe.(45)

Columbus, who had first met a Taino-speaking Arawak group inHispaniola, described them as a more benign and civilized people thanthe fierce Indians he called Caribs because of their cannibalism. Vespuccireinforced this view of the Arawaks as a gentle people who enjoyed lavishmeals, dances, and singing. At the time Arawak villages were large andpermanent, with specialized structures used for ceremonial purposes.Primarily agriculturalists, they seldom instigated warfare with neighboringtribes.(46) Arawaks thus early on had acquired a reputation forbeing easygoing, less threatening than Caribs, familiar with sedentaryliving patterns, and more amenable to European influences.

To Peter Wroth and the Barbados planters who-wanted domesticservants, these gentle and generous people were a convenient source oflabor. The Arawak women in particular were valued for their skill inpreparing food, caring for domestic animals, and weaving cloth, in additionto cultivating root crops. The men were very successful hunters,although that talent would not be appreciated in Barbados. They alsobrought important skills in wearing baskets and fishing.

The Arawak fondness for children may have enhanced their usefulnessfor domestic work in English eyes. Arawak children were treated gentlyand with great affection by both parents. Moreover, child care was not agender-specific task among the Arawaks. Men played important roles inchild care as the teachers of songs, customs, and rites; they encouragedboys to play hunting and fishing games from a very young age. Kindlyand amiable, Arawak men appeared less threatening to the Barbadosplanters than alternative sources of domestic workers from either Europeor Africa.

With brownish skin and black heir, Arawaks resembled other Indiansof Central America and the Caribbean, but were described as shorter instature and lighter in skin color than their immediate neighbors. Theirdress, however, was typical of the area. The men wore only a single pieceof cloth drawn between the legs and held up at front and back by a ropearound the waist. Women wore a strip of cloth hung from a rope belt atthe waist in front, like an apron, and called a queyu. Scarring andmutilation for decorative or identification purposes was not common. Forspecial occasions men and women decorated their bodies with necklacesof animal teeth or seed and paint and men wore feather headdresses(see Fig. :). Arawaks were especially noted for personal cleanliness andmeticulous attention to their appearance. Bathing in rivers or pondsoccurred several times a day, upon awakening as well as after eachmeal. All were notably gold swimmers. Thus Peter Wroth, familiar withArawak customs, expected the women he wanted to capture to attemptto flee by swimming and had prepared his men for the eventuality.

Daily routines for women in Guiana left little time for leisure. Theirindustriousness probably impressed the English who viewed their ownworking class as lazy and undependable.(47) Arawak women seemed to beperpetually at word. After a morning Lath, they cleaned the houses,fetched water and firewood, cooled the food, prepared the fermenteddrink of cassava (called paiwari) or sweet potatoes (called casiri), plantedthe fields, collected the produce, and, when the men prepared to go on ahunt, carried the supplies for them. Women also wove the hammocksused for sleeping and trade. The most frequent occupation was cooking,particularly the making of bread from cassava, which required a complicatedprocess of removing poisons, preparing the flour and baking thecakes in the sun, and the preparation of a stew that is still widelyconsumed in the West Indies called the pepper-pot.(48) The physical staminaand domestic talents of the Arawak v omen were especially attractiveto Barbados planters in need of household slaves.

Arawak religious practices were of less immediate concern to theEnglish. Those captives from South America, however, carried withthem distinctive concepts of the supernatural that would awe and continueto fascinate their English captors. Some aspects of those beliefswould be absorbed by the English in Barbados. Tituba's confession inSalem in 1692, combining as it did elements of those Indian beliefs withthat of English folklore, would heighten the fear of a Satanic conspiracyin Massachusetts.

Most Indians of the Indiana area believed in the existence of a largenumber of spirits of the bush and of the dead.(49) A special feature ofArawakan religion was the worship of effigies that represented personalguardian spirits. The effigy could be given animal or human form butwas most often geometric in shape. Although they were often made ofdifferent materials, the usual was a three-pointed stone carved with elaboratedesigns. The zemis served a variety of purposes and represented ahierarchy of personal spirits associated with the social status of theirhuman proteges. -Each member in the tribe had at least one zemi andindividuals provided offerings using various narcotic and stimulant drugsduring the prescribed rites.

The Arawak world was also inhabited by a variety of malevolentspirits. The spirit of the dead, called opias or hubias, wandered in thebush after dark causing evil. The most feared of all Evil forces, however,were real persons called kenaimas. These beings could constitute a dangerto any lonely wanderer because they were compelled to kill, cause sickness,or bring about other grave misfortune. To the Arawak of Guiana,the kenaima, although human, could appear with "monstrous characteristics;they may be hairy or they may have protruding eyebrows or twoheads; they may hays no articulation at the knees, or they may belinked together like Siamese twins."(50) The spirits of these-monsters couldinhabit the body of any animal and thus change shape at will. Suchenormous power to cause suffering, it was believed by the people ofGuiana, was unique to the kenaima. Ordinary people were also capableof evil but to a lesser extent.

Nonetheless, a kenaima was a real person, albeit one with specialsupernatural power used exclusively for evil purposes. The Indians believedhe could act either on his own or at the behest of another humanagent or of the spirit of a dead person. This malevolence was at suchvariance with Arawak norms of behavior, which abhorred violence withinthe group, that a kenaima was always identified with foreign tribes orunfamiliar animals and plants. Such a view of the evil spirit as an outsidermay have contributed to intertribal warfare but it also helped foster moreamicable relations within the tribe. Arawaks did not expect danger to thegroup from within; they assumed that only a stranger would bring aboutgreat misfortune to an individual. People did not curse members oftheir own village. Thus visitors or unknown shamans were particularlyvulnerable to accusations of sorcery.

The greatest evil to these Indians of the Guiana area emanated fromsources outside the immediate family, clan, or village.(51) This concept ofan outside evil force, when introduced by Tituba, would play havoc withPuritan notions of the Devil and sin in Salem, Massachusetts.

Birds were often suspected of harboring kenaimas and were held ingreat awe. They could communicate with the dead and bring messages tothe conjurers. Bird calls were also omens, foretelling a potential kenaimaappearance. Arawaks paid close attention to tile presence of birds, especiallythose with peculiar or disturbing sounds, fearing most the shriekingsounds of the goatsucker, the nightjar. Their calls inevitably presagedterrible events.(52)

To counter the kenaimas, Indians of Guiana turned to the piaiman,the name given to the shaman in that area. The duty of the piaimen orshaman was to ward off the evil of those malevolent beings. His or hermain power was an ability to "converse with the spirits or depart fromhis own body in deep trances" in order to fight the kenaimas on their ownground.(53) It was believed that the piaiman's supernatural power, unlikethat of the kenaima, was an acquired trait. During his or her long apprenticeship,the piaiman was trained to bellow in a loud voice and learnedvntriloquism in addition to acquiring knowledge of the properties ofherbs and poisons. Much of this knowledge was not exclusive but wasshared by ethers in the tribe, both men and women. But the piaiman'spower, gained through the long period of training, was assumed to bemore effective than that of ordinary people.(54)

Dreams also had special meaning for Arawaks, as for most AmericanIndians. Dreams, particularly nightmares, were not just omens of evilto come, but real adventures and existential occurrences. They wereexperienced not by the physical being but by his or her soul, nonethelessbecoming "part of the history of each man's life." Events envisionedduring sleep and the behavior of people in those dreams were actualevents. So real was this dream content that South American Indiansbelieved that people should be held responsible for the consequences ofactions dreamed by others.(55)

Indian folk of Guiana devised various methods to protect themselvesfrom the evil powers.(56) One method was avoidance of all new and strangefoods and places, or if that were not possible, not calling attention tosome suspect natural topography. An extreme measure of avoidance wastemporary blindness by rubbing their eyes with a hurtful substance suchas hot pepper or merely closing their eyes. Blinded, the individual couldhide from the evil spirit. Red paint was also used as a talisman againstsickness or diseases, a practice derived from an earlier use of blood forritual purposes. A father's blood was believed to cure a child or impartcourage. Some memory of these blood rituals and avoidance practiceswould surface during Tituba's ordeal in 1692.

Tituba's young world was informed by these beliefs, practices, andfears. She brought the mental images of kenaimas, the value of trances,and the reality of dreams with her to Barbados from South America anddid not lose them completely after her arrival in Massachusetts. Elementsof these beliefs would surface later and with great consequence duringher interrogation in Salem in 1692.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“A fascinating theory about the origins of the witch hunt that is sure to influence future historians. . . . a valuable probe of how myths can feed hysteria”
-The Washington Post Book World


“An imaginative reconstruction of what might have been Tituba's past.”
-Times Literary Supplement


“A fine example of readable scholarship.”
-Baltimore Sun

Meet the Author

Elaine G. Breslaw retired as Professor of History from Morgan State University in Baltimore after 29 years and has taught on an adjunct basis at Johns Hopkins University, Goucher College, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is the author of Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies (NYU Press, 1995), Witches of the Atlantic World: An Historical Reader and Primary Sourcebook (NYU Press, 2000), and Dr. Alexander Hamilton and Provincial America: Expanding the Orbit of Scottish Culture. 

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Tituba, Reluctant Witch of Salem: Devilish Indians and Puritan Fantasies 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Until I read this book I was unaware of how short the actual Salem witch trials were and how few people were really involved. The only "facts" one remembers from school is that the people of Salem burned witches at the stake and went totally beserk killing innocent people. This book puts those "facts" into context and reveals the true story behind the trials. The author fully describes the times back then and the how and why of what took place. She explores in detail all of the theories for why these events took place - including debunking a few of her own. It was a fascinating look at a part of our history that one thought one knew