Travels with Tooy:
History, Memory, and the African American Imagination
by Richard Price
Winner of the
2008 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing
2009 Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Memorial Award for Caribbean Scholarship
2009 Clifford Geertz Prize in the Anthropology of Religion
Thirty-five years into his research with Saramakas (descendants of rebel slaves in the South American rainforest), award-winning anthropologist Richard Price meets Tooy, a priest-philosopher-healer who soon takes him through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole.
Tooy is a time-traveler who crosses boundaries between centuries and continents, between the worlds of the living and the dead, between the visible and the invisible, and between villages on land and under the sea. Whoosh! we're in the 18th century, talking about enslaved African arrivants who are as familiar as our friends and neighbors. Whoosh! we're talking about battles against colonial armies and double-agents and femme-fatale forest spirits. Whoosh, we're speaking with the comely sea-gods who control the world's money supply.
Moving between the canefields of Martinique, where slave-era spirits haunt a hardware emporium, to the criminal court of Cayenne, where a rape trial is underway, and on to the ritual sacrifice of cocks and goats, the book carries readers into that hallucinatory realm located somewhere between Castañeda's Teachings of Don Juan and Taussig's My Cocaine Museum.
Melding scholarship with storytelling, Price draws on long-term ethnography and archival research—-but above all on Tooy's teachings, songs, stories, and secret languages-—to explore how Africans in the Americas have gone about creating marvellous new worlds of the imagination.
“Richard Price has had a long and torrential romance with the Saramaka Maroons of Suriname, exploring them and himself through a harvest of mythologies which dissolve all boundaries of time and geographical location. With Tooy as guide and mentor, across three centuries of African exile and resettlement in the Americas, we revisit the recent or forgotten spaces of Price’s near 40 years of patient, scholarly research. It is an astonishing performance, rendering these treasures of anthropological materials in a narrative style as lucid and cordial as the best contemporary fiction.”
--George Lamming, author of The Pleasures of Exile
“An exemplary and loving account of the resilience of an African American cosmological system in a cosmopolitan world.”
--J. Lorand Matory, Harvard University, and author of Black Atlantic Religion
“A fascinating meeting of minds. A must-read for all Afro-Americanists.”
--Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University, and author of Slave Counterpoint
“The ethnography is incredibly rich and nuanced; the historical narratives are precise and eye-opening; and the portrait of Tooy is fine-grained and moving. This is scholarship at its very best.”
--Paul Stoller, author of Money Has No Smell
“Travels with Tooy is true ethnographic magic—-a compelling portrait of the co-production of anthropological memories and Maroon histories by a North American anthropologist and a Saramaka intellectual. Beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated, it is a model of politically engaged historical ethnography and sustained transcultural dialogue.”
--John Collins, City University of New York, and author of Revolt of the Saints
"Anthropologists wait a lifetime for an informant like Tooy who possesses much knowledge and is willing to share it. This work constitutes Price''s most complete synthesis of Saramaka worldview to date, and serves as an enduring testament to over 30 years of painstaking, diligent, and innovative research. . . . This is a great book!"