Religions of “Mama Day”


Engl. 4313


A conflict facing many black Americans is the loss of African roots and legacy in the present civilization that does not support cultural identity but chokes it instead. Gloria Naylor’s novel Mama Day brings the all-black population of the island of Willow Springs far closer to Africa than the black folks of mainland America could ever be. Geographically, Willow Springs is set apart from the United States, alienated from the South Carolina/Georgia border by water, and is therefore closer to Africa than the rest of the US. Furthermore, given the island’s position along the US East Coast, it is commonly a victim of hurricanes, through which, according to Naylor, the residents temporarily experience the feelings of Middle Passage, the journey of slaves from Africa to the Sea Islands and other destinations. Lastly, the idea of conjure, coming from, among others, the tradition of the Yoruba and Igbo religions (Yoruba and Igbo being the tribes that were more commonly taken from Africa as slaves), is a general and customary part of life to the people of Willow Springs. (Hurston)


Even though the residents of Willow Springs show to be Christian - they have a church that even the two main conjure women on the island go to - conjure; voodoo, and herbal medicine are a common part of daily life. George, an stranger on his first visit to Willow Springs, watches of a Willow Springs funeral,


"The church, the presence of the minister, were concessions, and obviously the only ones they were going to make to a Christian ritual that should have called for a sermon, music, tears - the belief in an earthly finality for a child’s life." (Naylor, 269)


The funeral is obviously is not about the idea in an earthly conclusiveness for Little Caesar, and is closer to African than American. An additional instance of the Christian/Voodoo blend is a little dialogue between Mama Day (the island’s most authoritative conjure woman) and her sister Abigail, a noticeably Christian woman.


Miranda stops at the base of the porch. "Somebody sure don’t want me and my cakes in their house today if they sweeping straight toward me." "Not you I don’t want, it’s this here dust." Abigail laughs. "And I ain’t sweeping salt, am I?" (Naylor 44) This discussion is filled with voodoo imagery; salt is a main element of voodoo spells, and the porch is blessed ground according to voodoo tradition. (Hurston) Throughout the novel, the residents talk about Ruby, the other local conjure woman. "That them roots she’s working may have got Junior Lee to the altar..." (Naylor 134) Her voodoo persuaded bond with Junior Lee makes for quite a bit of gossip and worry in Willow Springs. In the process of exploring this novel, I found over 200 suggestions to things of a non-Christian religious or spiritual nature, hence lending support to the claim that conjure is an ordinary element of life in Willow Springs.


The most significant night of the year for the people of Willow Springs is Candle Walk night, which takes place on the night of the midwinter solstice every year. As the people walk up and down the main road hauling some form of a light; they trade gifts and food, and they tell each other "Lead on with light." Lindsey Tucker says, "Candle Walk which, although half-forgotten and misunderstood, still carries on the Willow Springs text of creation" (Tucker 185).


In Miranda’s younger days, they would walk to the east end of the island with their candles, where Sapphira, the maker, the famous woman who broke her owner’s heart, gave him seven sons, and got him to free the slaves and then deed the island to them, finally "left in a ball of fire to journey back home east over the ocean" to Africa (Naylor 111). Moreover, the midwinter solstice is the longest, darkest day of the year, and from this point on, the light will grow on a daily basis. Lastly, the reader later sees that light of Candle Walk is in addition for the men that have loved the Day women too much, "the light that burned in a man’s heart" (Tucker 185). The creation legend for Willow Springs is also vital because the allusion