Special Guest Friday: Tamar Myers

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Tamar Myers is the author of two ongoing mystery series. One is set in Pennsylvania and features Magdalena Yoder, an Amish-Mennonite sleuth who runs a bed and breakfast in the mythical town of Hernia. The other is set in the Carolinas and centers around the adventures of Abigail Timberlake, the proud owner of a Charlotte (and later Charleston) antique store, the Den of Antiquity. Her most recent book, The Witch Doctor’s Wife, is an enthralling tale of duty, greed, danger, and miracles in equatorial Africa, a world that is as magical and mysterious to most Americans as any fantasy kingdom. We are thrilled to welcome Tamar to the blog today!

MAGIC OF THE NIGHT

Hello everyone. My name is Tamar Myers. I am the author of 35 comedic mysteries set in the United States, but I have just begun a new series of books set in Africa—in fact, a lot of this series will be set in a remote area of the Congo, which is smack dab in the middle of Africa. So what makes me any kind of an authority on the Congo? How, and when, did I do my research?

Well, you see, my parents were missionaries to a tribe of headhunters in the then Belgian Congo. I was born there, grew up fluent in the local trade language, and did not leave permanently until I was almost sixteen. My books take place in the late 1950s, which is the period that I remember the best.

Although the country is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is anything by democratic, nor is it Belgian anymore, so for the purposes of this blog, I shall call it simply the Congo. In the Congo, magic was serious business; it governed peoples’ lives. Usually the purveyor of magic was the village witchdoctor. The witchdoctor, by the way, was also the most powerful person in the village—not the chief. In “my” tribe, the Bashilele, the chief was actually a slave, captured from another tribe (more on that later, if anyone is interested).

At any rate, the witchdoctor had the power to put life-threatening curses on people. I have before me a book written by a missionary (a friend of my parents) who recounts the story of a young girl, Ngalula, who was given a pet goat by her uncle. The girl’s mother coveted the goat, but the Ngalula would not part with the goat. So the mother—with the aid of a witchdoctor—put a curse on the girl and she began to decline. She was later taken to mission hospital and everything was done to save her, but she died anyway. At her funeral—which was conducted by this missionary—a goat burst through the crowd, gave a frightened series of “baas,” and then dropped dead on Ngalula’s grave.

When Faith Hunter asked me to contribute to this BLOG I turned to my wall of bookcases, not expecting to find this very old book. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I still had it. But my eye was immediately drawn to it, and when I took it out of the bookcase it fell open to this very page and my thumb was on this passage. Having grown up around witchcraft, I wasn’t at all surprised, and don’t think that this was a coincidence. Instead, I submit to you the possibility that it was the magic of this long dead witchdoctor still wanting to live on. And now you have it. Oops—good luck!

Now where was I? Oh yes, everything was governed by magic: magic spells, magic powders, magic amulets—all these things were used to ensure healthy childbirth and to ward off sickness and wild beasts. Since so many babies died in childbirth, this category has by far the most entries. One of the ways of making magic was simply to use words to fool the spirits. Give the unborn baby a name such as Cripple, Died at Birth, or No Account and the bad spirits might leave the baby alone. Don’t ever name your child Blessing, or Beautiful, because then you are really asking for trouble!

Leopard skins and teeth posses special powers. Look at any picture or TV footage of a traditional chief and you will see a leopard skin draped around his shoulders. That is because a leopard skin imparts strength. Just from growing up there I too have this “leopard thing” going on. I have a beautiful necklace which Faith Hunter made for me out of leopard claws. The claws are from a leopard that my father shot (it was killing one of our milk goats). Whenever I wear this necklace I feel a special kind of mojo.

Okay, that about does it for starters. I’ll be happy to answer any questions that I can about my life in the Congo, or about magical practices there. Please remember, however, that magic was never used for “sweet” things like fairies and such.

http://www.tamarmyers.com/

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6 comments to Special Guest Friday: Tamar Myers

  • Tamar, do you have any amulets or magical items from your time in Africa?

    Also, you once told me a story about a witchdoctor who was converted and who burned down his amulet…shed? What did it smell like? What did it sound like as it burned? I might want to use that some day in a novel.

  • In “my” tribe, the Bashilele, the chief was actually a slave, captured from another tribe (more on that later, if anyone is interested).

    Me! I’m interested!

  • Thanks for the very cool post, Tamar. Fascinating stuff. I’d be interested in hearing more about what magic was used for. You mention a curse that was used against a rival. You mention protection spells for childbirth and to ward off illness. What else can you tell us?

  • I wasn’t present at the burning of the witchdoctor’s amulet hut; my sister was. But from her description, you could cut the air with a knife, there was so much fear. And I suspect the odor, besides the normal smell of burning thatch, was rather pungent, as many of his “medicines” were devised from antelope horn and powders made from various potent tree barks–many of which really did have the power to heal or prevent some diseases, such as certain skin ailments.

    About the chief/slain. The Belgians were noted for their cruelty to their colonial subjects. Sometimes they would punish an entire villahe for its “crime” but often just the chief. By having a slave for a chief, the Bashilele got around the tricky situation of having one of their own punished if they chose to ignore an edict. The slaves were always former members of other tribes who had been captured while crossing through Bashilele territory. The slave who was made chief had certain honors–a bigger house, more wives, a cool leopard skin robe, but he was “thrown to the wolves” whenever the tribe got into trouble. Pretty clever, huh? Of course he didn’t dare rat out to the Belgians about his true situation, or he’d get a knife to his throat.

  • What an intriguing post! Thank you for sharing, Tamar.

    Jen

  • Wow, how cool, Tamar. I look forward to the books!