Book: The Haunted Tropics: Caribbean Ghost Stories
Editor: Martin Munro
Dr Glenville Ashby, Critic
How vividly we recall childhood tales of bogeymen ever ready to snatch the souls of the living.
We listened with bulging eyes and gaping mouths as we heard of phantoms and other mythical characters bearing names that burrowed into our subconscious only to emerge with the slightest trigger.
These stories terrified, at times serving to quiet our incorrigible, indiscipline nature. That is what they were meant to do. In the age of technology ghost stories are still extant but they have gone through a transformative process, a peeling away of old skin to take on a new look in a substantively different world.
In ‘The Haunted Tropics’, a modern day thrillerý, there is the unmistakable presence of zombies, deceptive spirits, earthbound, souls, and flawed characters that dabble in the occult, but they never wield the same dread as their counterparts of bygone years. The macabre gives way to a joie de vivre, an optimism and excitability. Here, suspense and darkness trail an ever present feeling of rebirth.
A psychological labyrinth weaves through Helen Klonaris’ ‘Ghost Children’, a pulsating, climatic tale of mediumship that challenges religious and social norms.
Here, the unquiet dead call for attention; they too have their story to tell. ýAnd it is through the protagonist that they find a channel. Secrets, hushed desires, collective judgements against individual will are unearthed. And throughout, sexual femininity yearns for expression. Maybe Renoulas’ gift isn’t a curse after all, but a truth serum, a catharsis for the living and dead.
‘Obeah man, Obeahed’ is more about respect for the individual spirit than the necromantic wiles of Carmelien who tempts fate by transforming Bella into a zombie upon her passing. Once spurned, he anticipates a better outcome as his lascivious desires simmer uncontrollably. But his ploy backfires. He too is entombed alive, if only for him to fully register Nature’s retaliation.
“[H]e was wrapped in a fog. He was incapable of making the slightest movement, but he heard everything. Every sound was magnified and amplified: a beetle that had flown into the room by mistake the evening before banged into the walls seeking a way out; a rat or mouse scratched furiously in the corner.”
The lesson is lucid: As tempting as it seems, we cannot force others to surrender to our will. We risk a tragic outcome if we ignore the Law.
Geoffrey Philip shines as a raconteur as his poignantly witty expressions litter ‘Dawn of the Dread’, a spinoff from the movie, ‘Night of the Living Dead’. This time, the scene and culture are all Jamaican. “Before my father died,” he writes, “I used to work [in the shop] but I never liked the smell of mackerel, salt fish and pigtails over my clothes. The kids in school used to tease me and say, “Chinee dread, how come you smell like pork? “…All they see is the colour of my skin and the shape of my eyes…”
But beneath the levity is his uncompromising position on the legalization of cannabis and the banning of genetic modified organisms (GMOs). His herbs, he boasts are cultivated with care and precision, and moreover, with natural fertilizers. And it is his produce that saves many who are transformed into dreadlocked zombies after smoking or inhaling inferior, artificial-laden marijuana. He recalls his daring efforts: “I blessed the fire, prayed to Jah that our sacrifice would be worthy and that the smoke of this herb would rise like burnt offering and perfume the mansions in heaven.”
In Shani Mootoo’s ‘The Bonnaire Silk Cotton Tree’, Nandita Sharma is an aspiring photographer. We rally behind her. She is ýunyielding, confident, determined to buck the trend. But the world is unresponsive. She does not quit; she pushes the envelope making a Faustian deal like no other. Her discourse with a harrowing spirit that resides at the foot of the legendary cotton tree could be her ticket to stardom, but there is a far more compelling message.
This arch-fiend embodies the victims of all the murdered souls that roam the island. Bursting at the seams from this carnage, he too craves an outlet – to be seen – to be heard – to be photographed by only Sharma – a feat made possible by the power of darkness – and what better time than J’Ouvert morning in Trinidad to showcase the evils fomenting through that nation.
The warning from this demon is telling, provocative: “We will make ourselves visible to all and sundry…Every person who got killed on this island since the beginning of the first injustice to the present-day victims of robberies and drug-related and poverty-related, greed-related and envy- and jealously and power-related crimes…You think the dead don’t bleed? Wait! You’ll see!”
It is a mystical arrangement made in hell. And we are moved to ask: Can good come from evil? ý
And in ‘Travelling’, an inscrutable offering by writer Patricia Powell, the indissoluble bond between the living and the dead is spelled out. The ancestors are ever present, guiding, consoling, instructing. They forgive our transgression, serving as a reservoir of psychic and spiritual development. It is an intense journey into consciousness and all its possibilities.
And equally engaging are ‘Anansi’, ‘The Wedding Photograph’, ‘The Voyage of the Centipede’, ‘Fantom’, and in truth, just about every tale that appears in this captivating delivery.
‘The Haunted Tropics’ is demonstrative of collective genius; that rare ability to coalesce different occult fantasies around a definitive worldly theme. Editor Martin Munro is proficient in ensuring that every contribution adds to the contextual framework of this unique undertaking. Straddling the phantasmagoria are enduring, ethical admonitions on the environment, violence, human dignity, and ancestral veneration.
ýTherein is an inviting philosophical menu so eclectic that we return for more long after the final tale is served.
The Haunted Tropics: Caribbean Ghost Stories
Edited by Martin Munro (@) 2015
Publisher: University of the West Indies Press, Jamaica
Available at Amazon
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