Born in Trinidad, Tracey Baptiste grew up listening to stories about “jumbies”: evil mythological spirits traditionally found in Caribbean folklore.
Tracey realized her children, like many others growing up in the United States, did not have the opportunity to see themselves or their culture described in the stories they read, which predominantly featured white faces and narratives. Wanting to change this, Tracey wrote The Jumbies, a series of books reflecting stories from her heritage.
Through The Jumbies, Tracey wanted to expand the Black community’s access to Caribbean mythology and raise awareness of the fight to preserve Black Indigenous culture. The books explore timely and important themes around combating prejudice and exceptionalism while cultivating interconnectedness, self-reflection, and unity.
The first installment follows the series’ fearless heroine, 11-year-old Corinne La Mer, as she fights to save her island home from wicked spirits. For her second book, Rise of the Jumbies, Tracey set the story deep in the ocean.
In Rise of the Jumbies, Corinne discovers that local children are being mysteriously snatched from the shore and taken out to sea. Prejudice drives the community to blame Corinne, who is half jumbie, for their disappearance. In response, she and her friends journey into the ocean depths to find them, where they encounter Mama D’Leau, a dangerous jumbie who rules the ocean. In exchange for their friends’ freedom, Mama D’Leau demands a gift, which the characters search for with mermaids across the shores of West Africa. The allure and mysticism of the ocean provides an opportunity to learn about history along the way.
For Tracey, the wide range of Black stories—which are all too often left out of the picture—are incredibly important when talking about the ocean:
“We needed to understand how [the ocean] worked—its cycles, its bounty, and its danger—in order to survive. Moving from the African continent to the Americas, that sensibility moved with us. Especially in the Caribbean, where water culture is even more important, Black stories that center water and ocean exploration are natural.”
One difficult yet crucial theme that Tracey references brilliantly through her writing is the transatlantic slave trade. When the characters find an underwater shipwreck during their adventure, the mermaids recall their painful history as slaves, but also how they transformed into beautiful mermaids afterwards. Using her mythological creatures as tools to teach the reader, Tracey explores the history of slavery in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to younger audiences.