11/19/2019 11:31 am
The Life and Love of a Zonbi:
A Blog Post About Reflections of Loko Miwa
By Jessica Brown
The island nation of Haiti is full of dualities. The land was formerly owned by France causing there to be a strong draw towards European culture and appearances while the African origins of a majority of the nation’s people are considered shameful. The religion of Vodou is prevalent along with Catholicism, many people actively practice both. François Duvalier, commonly known as Papa Doc, ruled as a dictator of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. During this time he actively associated himself with Vodou and African culture. He also enforced his rule by controlling a brutal police force. Reflections of Loko Miwa by Lilas Desquiron was first published in the year 1990. The novel is set in Haiti during the rule of Papa Doc. Throughout the book, Haiti’s complex social and cultural constructs are highly evident.
In order to fully understand and appreciate the novel, readers must understand the Vodou concepts of marasa sisters and the zonbi. The concept is explained within the story itself as well as the introduction provided in English copies of the book. Put into a brief description, marasa sisters are sisters not of blood necessarily but rather sisters of soul. They are tied together by fate and other powers beyond humanity’s control. They understand one another in ways no one else can. Their bond together is destined to have impacts that extend beyond just the two of them. What a zonbi is in Vodou is shown in the book as well as further explained in the introductory material. In short, a zonbi is created through a series of Vodou rites resulting in a person’s soul being captured and removed from the body, leaving behind said body to become a zonbi. The zonbi is a mute, obedient husk of a creature. It does not seem to think or desire anything. It cannot eat without aid. Its actions are slow and lifeless.
Throughout Reflections of Loko Miwa the point of view shifts between several characters as well as an omniscient third person narrator allowing multiple sides of the story to be explored. Of the novel’s twenty-six chapters, eleven are told from the perspective Cocotte, seven are from Violaine’s perspective, Alexandre has three chapters from his perspective, Phillipe Eouarde also has three chapters from his perspective, three chapters are written in third person with no known narrator(s), two chapters are from the perspective of Nou-Nou, and one chapter is from the perspective of the gravedigger. Given how much of the story is told by Cocotte, you may expect the action to center around her, however, this is not the case. Violaine is the character at the center of the novel’s main plot. Cocotte has a strong bond with Violaine, as her marasa sister, which allows her to have trustworthy knowledge of key events as well as Violaine’s emotions. The shifting perspectives
Concepts of love are socially constructed, both romantic and platonic. In Reflections of Loko Miwa romantic love is represented with particular focus on devotion and passion. Violaine’s love for Alexandre is remarkably passionate and devoted. She risks her life to be in his arms. Meanwhile, Phillipe-Edouarde’s love for Violaine is also deeply devoted and passionate. He has longed for her for practically their entire lives. Platonic love is also represented as being highly devoted yet there is a greater emphasis on understanding one another’s identities. Violaine and Cocotte are demonstrated to share a close bond with each understanding one another in a manner that can be described as magical. They see each other as their true selves, understanding hidden facets of their identities. They are also devoted to one another (although Cocotte is perhaps more devoted to Violaine than vice versa.) They spend as much time together as they possibly can, watching each other with attentive interest. Alexandre attempts to understand Violaine’s true self but he could never see as much of her as Cocotte does. In the end it is not Alexandre who recovers Violaine and brings her back to herself, it is her marasa sister Cocotte. This reveals an important message to readers, platonic love and its understanding is more important than romantic love and its passion.
These aspects of love—devotion, understanding, and passion—can be further examined through social and cultural lenses. The importance of devotion makes particular sense when considering hierarchies which existed within the setting of the novel. Marriage during 1960’s Haiti meant devotion to the household/family, therefore, it is logical that devotion is such a key aspect in the construction of love within Reflections of Loko Miwa. The focus on understanding true identities makes sense especially when considering how much the characters are supposed to maintain proper representations of themselves for the public’s eyes that are more or less false. Violaine in particular lives an extreme double life. As a young woman of the upper class she is expected to present herself modestly, beautifully, and meekly. She refuses to completely conform to these expectations. She is beautiful, yes, but her beauty is considered to be an undignified kind. She behaves herself immodestly, dancing wildly and desiring to embrace her untamed nature. Her true self is far from meek or mild. Passion as a desirable part of love is explicable when thinking of how rare it can be in a world where marriages are often arranged on social and economic grounds.
Perhaps if readers take Reflections of Loko Miwa’s messages on love to heart they will feel encouraged to seek more understanding within their devoted friendships and romantic relationships. The novel’s representation of Haiti’s culture may stir readers to explore it further with other sources.
Personally, I enjoyed Reflections of Loko Miwa immensely. Its imagery is enthrallingly beautiful and unique. Its plot is full of unexpected twists and turns. Learning about Haiti and haitian culture was an enjoyable and intriguing experience. The novel’s messages were interesting, particularly its portrayals of love. I strongly agree that understanding of identity is a worthwhile thing to seek within love. The novel has reminded me of many things including: Disney movies, tragedies, and epics. The magic and focus on love made me think of Disney princess movies, particularly The Princess and the Frog and Frozen. The ways in which the plot twists and turns caused me to think of tragedies and epics. I was never certain whether things would end happily or not. It also reminds me of the 2013 film Warm Bodies which is a Romeo and Juliet story with a zombie spin. The way Violaine is saved from her living death is somewhat similar to how the zombies in Warm Bodies are cured. I would encourage anyone who is interested to give this book a read. I think the novel’s messages are relatable, after all, who doesn’t wish their true self could be understood and loved?
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