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Research Case studies

Jamaican Folklore

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall
Dr Zobel Marshall’s research centres around postcolonial and migrant literatures and cultural forms in Africa and the African Diaspora. Her research spans a broad range of concerns, including examinations of constructions of identity, race and racial politics.

In her current role, Dr Zobel Marshall teaches on the BA (Hons) English Literature and MA Contemporary Literatures courses.

A central theme of Dr Zobel Marshall’s work is the role of storytelling, oral narratives and the trickster figure in African and Caribbean culture, literature and history. Through this interest, in 2012, she became the first person to write a book tracing the journey of Jamaican folk hero, Anansi the trickster spider.

The book, ‘Anansi's Journey: A Story of Jamaican Cultural Resistance’, delves into the long international history of Anansi, who was transported by West African slaves to the Caribbean.

Along with folk heroes, such as Brer Rabbit who is popular in America, trickster slave folktales adapted over time and became resources of survival and resistance for the enslaved. They focused on the underdog, the small spider or rabbit, turning the tables on his adversaries using his brains rather than his brawn. From these tales slaves adopted strategies of survival and learned ways to test the power structures of the plantation regime.

Speaking about her book, Dr Zobel Marshall said: “I spent three months in Jamaica on a field trip collecting and researching Anansi stories. When I mentioned my research most people would launch into their favourite Anansi story, whether we were at a bar, in a taxi or in the street. One of my interviewees was so enthused by the project that he recorded and transcribed Anansi stories told by people in his neighbourhood and presented me with a handwritten collection of around a dozen tales. All this was testimony to the fact that the tradition is still very much alive in the Caribbean.”

Anansi stories, in which the small spider turns the tables on his powerful enemies through cunning and trickery, are now told and published worldwide.

Dr Zobel Marshall has followed Anansi's journey from Ghana to Jamaica, where he is celebrated as a national folk hero and created the first book dedicated to Anansi stories and how he provides resistance against oppression.

Dr Emily Zobel Marshall is the granddaughter of Caribbean author, Joseph Zobel, about whom Emily and her mother, Jenny, published an article in the literary magazine, Wasafari, in 2011. The article, ‘Lorsque je vais dans mon village’ (When I return to my village), explores the work of the Martinican novelist and poet, who was inspired by the island of his birth, whilst pondering why he may have left Martinique in 1946 and stayed away for sixty years.

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