Mumbo Jumbo


Reclaiming history

Throughout the novel, Reed seeks to deconstruct the fundamental foundations upon which white, western civilization rests. This is exemplified by the Mu'tafika, an organization whose sole purpose is to steal historical artifacts from Western museums and return them to their place of origin. Additionally, the primary manifestation of this occurs in Papa LaBas' 30-page story of The Work (the original practice emanating from the text from which Jes Grew came) and its Egyptian roots. Reed uses this history to explicitly undermine the legitimacy of the monotheistic religions on which Western civilization rest. More important, though, is the fact that it does not matter whether or not the reader believes the tale to be true; what matters instead, for Reed, is the fact that an entire population was denied the right to hear his history and the right to choose to believe it. With the framework of Jes Grew already established as a real phenomenon in the novel, Reed's 30-page history imagines a powerful origin and meaning that has, in the course of the African-American slavery experience, been strategically precluded.

Jes Grew

In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed speaks of the creation of an intrinsically "black text", which is manifested in "Jes Grew". "Jes Grew", Reed's "virus", alludes to the dissemination of uniquely African-American culture in the 1920s that "traversed the land in search of its Text: the lost liturgy seeking its litany".[10] The "Jes Grew" virus influences people to listen to music, dance, and be happy. In many ways Jes Grew is like the funk. The infectious virus ultimately gets suppressed at the end of the plot of the novel. However, at the end of the novel, when Papa Labas is speaking to a college classroom in the 1970s, he talks about how the '70s are like the '20s again.[11] He believes this is the time for Jes Grew to rise. In this instance Papa Labas taps into a similarity between the styles of music that Jes Grew needs to grow; '20s jazz and '70s funk share an aesthetic that calls people to dance. Jes Grew needs the physical expression of music to grow.

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