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Travels with Tooy

History, Memory, and the African American Imagination

Travels with Tooy

History, Memory, and the African American Imagination

Thirty-five years into his research among the descendants of rebel slaves living in the South American rain forest, anthropologist Richard Price encountered Tooy, a priest, philosopher, and healer living in a rough shantytown on the outskirts of Cayenne, French Guiana. Tooy is a time traveler who crosses boundaries between centuries, continents, the worlds of the living and the dead, and the visible and invisible. With an innovative blend of storytelling and scholarship, Travels with Tooy recounts the mutually enlightening and mind-expanding journeys of these two intellectuals.

Included on the itinerary for this hallucinatory expedition: forays into the eighteenth century to talk with slaves newly arrived from Africa; leaps into the midst of battles against colonial armies; close encounters with double agents and femme fatale forest spirits; and trips underwater to speak to the comely sea gods who control the world’s money supply. This enchanting book draws on Price’s long-term ethnographic and archival research, but above all on Tooy’s teachings, songs, stories, and secret languages to explore how Africans in the Americas have created marvelous new worlds of the imagination.

Sound files to accompany the book.

448 pages | 62 halftones, 1 map, 2 figures | 6 x 9 | © 2007

African Studies

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Black Studies

History: Latin American History


“Richard Price has had a long and torrential romance with the Saramaka Maroons of Suriname, exploring them and himself through a harvest of mythologies that 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 forty 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

“A tour de force—a tightly argued, incisive contribution to the newly rekindled debate about the role of Africa in the history and social imaginary of African American societies. A major achievement.”

Stephan Palmie, University of Chicago, author of Wizards and Scientists

“True ethnographic magic. Beautifully written and theoretically sophisticated, it is a model of politically engaged historical ethnography and sustained transcultural dialogue.”

John Collins, Queens College, CUNY

"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! Persistent readers will be amply rewarded."


"It’s not the bony skeleton of an anthropology-of-religion text I seek, but the well-muscled and all-enveloping immersion of an ethnography. One of the best is Richard Price’s Travels with Tooy. . . . The book glows with knowledge."

Barbara J. King | Bookslut

"Yet again we benefit from Richard Price’s patient and passionate commitment to the Maroons in general and the Saramak tribe in particular. Price’s anthropological imaginaire and his extraordinary eloquence have woven the field notes and transcripts from differing geographic and temporal contexts into an absorbing travelogue."

Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism

Table of Contents

Prelude ix

The Soldier’s Charm
Sea Gods
The Beach at Cock’s Crow
Night of the Cats
End of the Road
Tooy Possessed
Mother Africa
New World Beginnings
The Pink House
Gweyúnga, the Rain Priest
Antamá at War
The Soldier’s Tale
Thunder Axes
Master of the House
Storm Clouds
Sex, Magic, and Murder
Sángono mi tóala!
The Namesake
Frenchwoman’s Revenge
Antamá the Óbia-Man
My First-Time Museum
The Trial
Grounds for Appeal?
The Prison
The Wetlands at Kaw
Tembái’s Village
Fleeing Trumps Standing
Tooy Teaching I—Mostly Luángu and Púmbu
Tooy Teaching II—Mostly Papá
Tooy Teaching III—Komantí, Wénti, and More
Dúnuyángi Takes Over
Knocking the Stone
Reflections from the Verandah

Coda: Esoteric Language
Dramatis Personae
Illustration Credits


Society for the Anthropology of Religion: Clifford Geertz Prize

Caribbean Studies Association: Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Memorial Award

Society for Humanistic Anthropology: Victor Turner Prize for Ethnographic Writing

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