11/06/2019 12:14 pm
Lilas Desquiron’s Reflections of Loko Miwa centers on two women, marasa (spiritual twin sisters) in Haiti born to separate families of opposite social classes. Violaine is a light-skinned girl from an upper class family, while Cocotte’s family is dark-skinned and lower-class. These two were said to be destined as “twins” based on their Vodou faith. As a child, Cocotte is sent to live with Violaine’s family essentially as a live-in playmate for Violaine. As they get to know one another and grow older, their personalities are shown through the narration. Cocotte describes herself and Violaine to be “fire and water”. Violaine is an independent, stubborn, and feisty young woman who goes against her parents’ wishes often to embrace who she truly is. Cocotte narrates this story for the most part, but she herself is not delved into nearly as often as Violaine. Cocotte is more soft-spoken and seems to focus her life and her story on her twin rather than herself. From childhood, Violaine is betrothed by her mother to a light-skinned upper class young man named Phillippe Edouard. Phillippe is an intense person who is obsessive over Violaine, watching her from afar often and making her uncomfortable. Violaine eventually falls for Phillippe’s friend Alexandre, a dark-skinned young man who has been involved in Haiti’s turbulent political climate and said to bring bad fortune everywhere he goes. Violaine secretly sleeps with Alexandre and soon finds that she is pregnant. She visits a Vodou priestess, as she has been leading a secret life involved in Vodou and her African roots that her parents refuse to admit, who gives her a concoction to force her miscarriage. Violaine’s mother, however, is willing to do anything to maintain her reputation which would be ruined if Violaine gave birth to a dark-skinned man’s child. She consults members of the Vodou faith and kills Violaine by sprinkling poison powder in her dancing slippers. Violaine is then transformed into a zombi, a controlled and lifeless shell of the woman she once was. Phillippe takes advantage of her lifeless state and sexually assaults her while she is zombified. She is eventually separated from her family, most importantly her mourning sister Cocotte. Alexandre is imprisoned for his political activism against dictator Duvalier, as well. Some time later, Cocotte and zombi Violaine end up in the same area at the same time and are reunited once again.
The usage of animal and animal characteristics as descriptive terms is often used in Reflections of Loko Miwa. On page 15, Cocotte states that she “senses the rebellious presence of a cat” in reference to Violaine. This is the first of many times that Violaine is described with terms relating to felines – a wildcat, her hair as unruly as a lion’s mane, and her “tiger-yellow eyes” (15). Cats and catlike characteristics are usually portrayed as feminine, wild, and sexual, as is Violaine. Violaine’s character wishes to stay close to her African roots, embarrassing her family and fiancé by partaking in Vodou tradition and ritualistic dancing. Much to her mother and nanny’s dismay, she prefers her natural hair. Phillippe describes Violaine’s hair as “your jungle hair, your mane sticks out” (140), alluding once again to her cat-like characteristics. At one point, Alexandre refers to another character as having a “sensual face … like a tomcat” (72), further showing the sexuality-based meaning that these feline descriptions bring. Animal-based descriptive phrases do not end with cats, however. Several references to horses are made in the book as well. Page 85 states that “the spirit mounts and begins to ride his horse” – the lwa has begun to work his Vodou magic. Violaine in her school uniform is also described by Cocotte as a “thoroughbred that has just been saddled for the first time” (22). This description serves as a reminder that Violaine is wild at heart and in personality, but has been forced for the first time (aside from her upper-class household) into a world of structure and rules. These descriptions mainly show and remind the reader the wild tendencies of Violaine’s personality. They can also, however, dehumanize her and some of her actions by those who wish to tame her. In comparing her to a wild animal, they are placing the emphasis on her refusal to be tamed as nearly everyone else wishes she could be – until of course, she is “tamed” by the zombi curse placed upon her.
Race and social class intertwine in this story often. On page 63, Violaine states that she was “born feeling as if I have been torn in two, my African soul suffers in a body that’s too pale for it”. Nounou, Violaine’s nanny, brushes her natural hair often in attempts to tame it and states that “it’s high time you look like a real little girl”, showing that natural African hair is not “real little girl” beauty in the Delavigne household. Violaine’s mother, Madame Delavigne, purposefully married the lightest skin man she could find. She protects her hair and skin from the sun and uses lime juice to maintain her pale skin color (20). Madame Delavigne is shown to care more about her skin color and social status than anything else, to the point of controlling her daughter and being willing to end her life over becoming pregnant with a dark-skinned man’s child. Race heavily intertwines with class in this book – light skin associates with higher class, darker skin with lower class and is often villainized. At one point in the story, Violaine discovers photos and therefore the story of Chimene – a dark-skinned African ancestor of Violaine’s. Violaine wishes to associate heavily with her African ancestry, which embarrasses her family and Phillippe. These two constructs intertwine yet again with religion as well. Violaine’s family, like other upper-class families in Jeremie, practice Catholicism in public while partaking in Vodou traditions privately. Violaine identifies closely with her Vodou roots, and is proud of her mother when she allows herself to practice Vodou rituals and ceremonies. This portrayal of both dark and light-skinned mixed race individuals both fetishizes and demonizes each of them based on the point of view. Light-skinned “mulatto” women were often fetishized and objectified at this time, while also villainizing darker-skinned individuals to the point of Violaine’s mother being willing to kill her daughter for becoming pregnant with a dark-skinned man’s child. This portrayal of race and social class between two separate social “worlds” delved into the racial and social climate that dominated Haiti.
While this text contained many references to romantic relationships related to Violaine, it ended in a way that showed the bond of sisterhood being the most important. Violaine, while zombified, was still able to reunite with her marasa twin in the end. This is reminiscent of more modern fairytale adaptations like Frozen, in which sisterly love is what is needed to break the spell. While the control of women is very prominent in Reflections of Loko Miwa, this ending and the bond that Violaine and Cocotte share throughout is somewhat empowering. In comparison to other zombie portrayals in the media, Haitian zombi are feared in that citizens fear losing their agency by turning into one. Most Western zombie tales are feared due to the fact that zombies will attack and kill the living, which strays from the Haitian portrayal. This may reference back to Haiti’s history of slavery and the fear that their people will be controlled once again to mindlessly work without end. This text, while a fictional story with many supernatural elements, may be relatable in its portrayals of race, gender, and social class. The control of women, demonization and repression of dark-skinned people of color, and political and everyday gaps in social/economic class are still very real issues that many individuals experience.
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