Grave Dirt, Dried Toads, and the Blood of a Black Cat: How Aldridge Worked His Charms

The paper explores the complex ways in which Ira Aldridge, in the role of Jack, brought together the rich cultural symbols of slaves, tigers, sugar and blood. It begins by tracing the play to its source in Benjamin Moseley's Treatise on Sugar. Against Mosely's treatise, where sugar is seen as a cure to the diseases of Western culture, the paper uncovers the debates on slavery where the slave trade, not sugar, is called a disease. Further, by examining the rituals of "obi," especially death and reanimation, the paper investigates how obi actually mocks the experience of slavery. Since the centerpiece of the practice was the charm, or obi bag, the paper pays particular attention to the bag's contents, which had the ability to evoke both the brokenness and the power of the rebel slave experience. The paper claims that Aldridge, by acting in the play, performed the rituals of obi-death and reanimation, brokenness and power, and made obi a cure to the disease of slavery.