Mumbo Jumbo (novel)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Mumbo Jumbo is a 1972 novel by African-American author Ishmael Reed. Set in 1920s New York City, the novel takes its plot from the struggles of "The Wallflower Order," an international conspiracy dedicated to monotheism and control, to contain the "Jes Grew" virus, a personification of ragtime, jazz, polytheism, and freedom. The Wallflower Order is said to work in concert with the Knights Templar Order to prevent people from dancing, and their current goal is to put an end to the dance crazes which are spreading among black people (who are referred to in the novel as "Jes Grew Carriers" or "J.G.C.s").

Historical, social, and political events mingle freely with fictional inventions. The United States occupation of Haiti, attempts by whites to suppress jazz music, and the widespread belief that the United States president Warren Harding had black ancestry are mingled with a plot in which the novel's hero, an elderly Harlem houngan named PaPa LaBas, searches for a mysterious book that has disappeared with black militant Abdul Sufi Hamid (whose name reflects that of the Harlem streetcorner radical preacher Sufi Abdul Hamid, a.k.a Eugene Brown, an early black convert to Islam), as a group of radicals plans to return museum treasures looted from ancient Egypt to Africa, and the Atonists within the Wallflower Order are trying to locate and train the perfect "Talking Android," a black man who will renounce African American culture in favour of European American culture. One of the supporting characters, and an ally of Papa La Bas, is Black Herman (Bejamin Rucker, 1892-1934), an actual African American stage magician and root doctor. Another touch of realism is the inclusion of a mysterious ocean liner that is part of the Black Star Line, a shipping line incorporated by Marcus Garvey, who organized the UNIA (United Negro Improvement Association). Portions of the action take place at the "Villa Lewaro" mansion built by Madame C. J. Walker overlooking the Hudson River and at the Harlem townhouse of her daughter A'Lelia Walker, known as "The Dark Tower", located at 136th Street near Lenox Avenue. Other famous people who appear in the novel include the dance intructor Irene Castle, and the Harlem renaissance authors James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Wallace Thurman, and Countee Cullen.

Mumbo Jumbo draws freely on conspiracy theory, hoodoo, and voodoo traditions, as well as the Afrocentric theories of Garvey and the occult author Henri Gamache, especially Gamache's theory that the Jewish prophet Moses was black. The book's title is said to derive from the Mandingo ma-ma-gyo-mbo "magician who makes the troubled spirits of ancestors go away."

The format and typography of Mumbo Jumbo are unique and make allusion to several typographic and stylistic conventions not normally associated with novels. The text begins and ends as if it were a movie script, with credits, a fade-in, and a freeze-frame. This is followed by a closing section that mimics a scholarly book on social history or folk magic by citing a lengthy bibliography. In addition, the entire story is heavily illustrated throughout with drawings, photographs, and collages, some of which relate to the text, some of which look like illustrations from a social-studies book on African American history, and some of which seem to be included as a cryptic protest against the then-current Vietnam War.

Literary critic Harold Bloom has cited the novel as one of the 500 most important books in the Western canon.

The ZBS Foundation dramatized the novel for a 1980 radio drama of the same name directed by Thomas Lopez.

Parliament-Funkadelic musician George Clinton has cited Mumbo Jumbo as a primary source of inspiration for his P-Funk mythology.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mumbo Jumbo (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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