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||Fall, 1989, June 2001
The Fablesinger is a classic myth of good and evil which although cosmic in its implications, is focused on one island in the Caribbean. The Story begins with a creation myth which introduces the world of The Fablesinger. Then, in the first chapters we are introduced to the old Fablesinger, a wise and powerful shaman and healer. It is the Fablesinger's duty to protect the people in her care both spiritually and physically. Her most important duty is to train an apprentice to succeed her. However, the present Fablesinger has failed to do so and now in the twilight of her life, her village and world are threatened by the evil Obeah man a wielder of dark magic and follower of the Sasambonsam or Lord Of Darkness.
The only hope for the Fablesinger and her world lies in the hands of the untrained girl the spirits have chosen to be the Fablesinger's new apprentice.
THEH OF ACCOMPONG AND THE ORIGIN OF THE FABLESINGER
In the beginning there was Accompong, a being of infinite goodness. But there was only Accompong alone in all the vastness of time and space. In its loneliness the Great Being sorrowed, and out of its sorrow sprang a Great Shadow. Now there was another, and Accompong was no longer alone. Accompong welcomed the Shadow as a twin and strove to share with it and teach it all things, but the Shadow was not as Accompong. It was a copy, a reflection, alike yet unlike. Accompong's thoughts were of high and noble things; the Shadow's of mean and ignoble concerns. This flaw in the shadow disturbed Accompong, and the Great Being's sorrow was greater than ever.
In its search for companions, the Great Being created humankind, but these beings could not exist in the vastness of time and space. Therefore Accompong created a lush, green world and gave it to the humans to be their domain. Into the hands of the Great Shadow was given the making of lesser life the beasts that crawl upon the ground and those that dig beneath the earth.
The humans were less in power than both Accompong and the Great Shadow, but they were gentle and noble beings who strove always toward perfection. Accompong loved the humans with a great love, calling them "my children." The Great Shadow, who in its own imperfect way had vied for Accompong's love, became consumed with jealousy of the humans and with hatred for Accompong. Out of spite toward the God, the Shadow breathed on some of the humans, tainting their souls. Their souls stunted, their thoughts and desires corrupted, these humans became the first disciples of the Shadow, whom they called the Sasambonsam, or Lord of Darkness.
As time passed, the Shadow grew great in evil and arrogance and, deeming itself superior to Accompong, challenged the God. The Great Being accepted the challenge, and a mighty battle took place in the vastness of time and space. On earth a battle also ensued between the followers of Accompong and those of the Shadow. The battle lasted countless years, and when it ended, the Shadow was diminished and its followers driven from the land. The disciples of Accompong were taken by the God to a place apart to protect them.
Among the holy people sprang up the Okomofu, or Mayal, the priests and priestesses of Accompong, who kept alive the name of the Great Being. The Mayal, who were skilled in the arts of healing and foreseeing, kept watch over the people, for the Shadow was not far, and its followers, the Obi, hid even among the people.
For a time all was well with the people, and they lived in a land of perpetual summer and continuous bounty. Then came the time of upheaval, when to the place of the people came other humans who knew not the true name of Accompong or even of the Shadow. And the people were captured and taken off across vast seas to a strange land.
In this new land there was no room for the religion of Accompong, a God of infinite love and compassion. The hearts of the now enslaved people were filled with hate. They wanted not mercy and compassion for the murderers of their children, but lingering death. In their sorrow and despair, the people turned to the Obi, who preached revenge and death against the oppressors. The religion of the Sasambonsam, or Shadow, grew until its followers were no longer mere Obi but Obayifu, witch priests and priestesses. To ensure their continued domination over the people, the Obayifu led massive manhunts against the Mayals, whom they declared to be traitors to the people and lackeys to the oppressors. The Mayals were hunted down and killed. The few who were able to escape fled persecution, never to return to the people but to die in exile.
Long before Accompong's people had been brought to the new land or their captors had conquered it, the land had belonged to an ancient people. These people had fled to the dense forests that covered the mountains of the land and had hidden themselves when their land had been captured. They were farmers living together in large family or clan units. Although they had no official leaders, the one adhered to most was the shaman, or wise woman. The shamans were always women who showed great skill in the magic arts. They could communicate with animals, especially birds, and each shaman possessed a totem bird, usually an owl. Not only could the shaman link mentally at all times with her bird, but in times of great need woman and bird could merge to become a larger and more formidable entity.
As the shamans grew in wisdom and power, they developed the talent of Fablesinging. A fable is a story told in song, following strict guidelines. It is not, however, a simple ballad; each story follows a certain magical pattern that is woven into the tale. The rhythm to which the fable is sung induces a trance like state in the listener. In this state the listeners or clients become susceptible to the power of the fable and experience it as a dream in which they are the chief participants. Sight, touch, and smell persist as they are woven tighter and tighter into the tapestry of the fable.
There are four major types of fables: the healing fable, the testing or teaching fable, the birth fable, and the death fable. In the healing fable the clients or patients enter a dream in which they experience themselves getting better. They see the disease, affliction, or injury healing before their eyes, and they begin to feel stronger and healthier. On coming out of the trance, these people often found them-selves cured or on the way to being so. The birth fable was used in cases of difficult births. The one who experienced this fable was not, as in the other fables, the client (in this case the pregnant woman) but the unborn child in the womb. The unborn child, the shamans believed, was a thinking entity, aware of its own existence and that of its mother. The child's fear of the unknown was often the cause of difficult births; the birth fable eased that fear. It built up in the mind of the unborn child a secure, safe, and pleasant environment to be born into. The death fable was the only fable that the shaman could not change to suit the needs of her client. This fable contained signposts to the spirit world that could be recognized only by the dying. The teaching and testing fables were used by the shamans in the training of apprentices.
The last of the Mayals fleeing persecution found and settled with the last remnant of these ancient people. From this union a new order of power was born. The ancient people, who had lost their god and religion to time and frequent conquest, embraced the religion of Accompong. The Mayal religion, along with its arts of foreseeing and herbal healing, merged with the folklore and magic of these people. The new shaman that emerged was always a woman, and although she was called Fablesinger after the shaman art, at the highest level of her profession she also assumed the title of Okomofu, or Mayal.
One of these Fablesingers had returned and settled among the captive people some twenty years before the end of their enslavement. She followed them at the end of their captivity, living in the most rural of their villages and choosing her successor from among them.
THE OLD woman lay in bed, the sheets pulled up to her neck and wrapped tightly around her. She always went to sleep swaddled in this fashion, even on the hottest nights. When she was young and had lovers, they complained that there was no room for them under the covers. They wanted to know if she did not desire the warmth of their bodies next to hers. She never explained that any closeness after the sexual desire had been satisfied would intensify her self-imposed loneliness even more. Instead she laughingly replied that if she died in her sleep, there would be no need to prepare her body for burial, as she was already swaddled; all they would have to do would be to pick her up and place her in her coffin.
She now lay remembering those lovers with a certain amount of regret. Sunlight streamed through the window, mocking her regret. Thrusting her chin forward, she mocked back at it, envying its beauty. Memory flooded her mind with pictures of long, slender hands and warm lips caressing a firm, smooth body. Once again she experienced the passion that had been hers then. "Old fool," she murmured, as she felt her body move in rhythm to the remembered ecstasy. With a sigh she pulled herself upright against the pillows, the sheets still wound tight around her. She looked at the dark, wrinkled old hands on her sheet, thinking of all the years of her loneliness. Now this loneliness was about to come to an end, and she was reluctant to give it up. It had become like an old cloak, worn yet comfortable. In all her years of solitude, she had never sought to share her life with anyone, but the forces that she served had now seen fit to ordain otherwise.
Publisher's Weekly Review First Ed.
In this fine debut, Jamaican-born Colombo artfully narrates a powerful Caribbean myth...Colombo's sensuous, melodic voice...conjuring haunting 'visions of strange, beautiful slopes with lush green grass, purple orchids, and quaint wooden villages nestled on their shoulders', where 'large majestic...birds with amber eyes' lead dreamers 'over unfamiliar terrain and through strange obstacles'."
- Publishers Weekly
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Paperback: 131 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.38 x 7.98 x 5.10
Publisher: Backinprint.com; (June 1, 2001)
Other Editions: Hardcover | All Editions
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From Publishers Weekly
In this fine debut, Jamaican-born Columbo artfully narrates a powerful Caribbean myth in which a village shaman (the Fablesinger) and her apprentice use powers of "foreseeing and herbal healing" to overcome the fear and hate unleashed by the vengeful Obeah man who serves the Sasambonsam, the King of Evil. The author develops her characters sensitively, particularly the aging, fragile Fablesinger who reluctantly relinquishes her power to a much younger woman, and her pupil, Marcia, an insecure and lonely "spirit-touched" girl mourning the death of her tormented mother. The struggle between good and evil is convincingly illustrated by descriptions of prophetic dreams. In one, Marcia is hit on the head by one of her severed fingers as it falls from a tree, while the Obeah man watches, laughing and grasping a bloodied hatchet. Though a heavy dose of symbolism and abstract language occasionally breaks the story's flow, Columbo's sensuous, melodic voice re-establishes it, conjuring haunting "visions of strange, beautiful slopes with lush green grass, purple orchids, and quaint wooden villages nestled on their shoulders," where "large, majestic . . . birdss with amber eyes" lead dreamers "over unfamiliar terrain and through strange obstacles."
Move over Nalo Hopkinson!
Move over Nalo Hopkinson! Another great Caribbean-flavored work of fantastic fiction arrives on the scene! Kingston, Jamaica-born Judith Woolcock Colombo ……uses her place of upbringing to provide the background for 'The Fablesinger', her excellent first novel. Employing the style and structure of a folktale, the story essentially follows the maturation and spiritual growth of a young woman from a wealthy family. The setting, located on an un-named West Indian island, (no doubt inspired by Jamaica), serves to represent the cultural zeitgeist of the entire region. ...
(Read the entire review in Linear Reflections )
engages the reader with its primitive power and conviction. Hypnotic as a fairy tale, this story conveys much of the power of a classical myth...the voice is strong and sure."
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