20 December 2009

Vampires in uniform

If a vampire were to choose a profession, what should it be? Fiction has offered many options: vampires adopt the roles of skilled artists, nightclub owners, and medical doctors. Only one of these professions has viable roots.

Vampires in colonial Africa were nearly indistinguishable from witches. And, the witch could be a revered medium or a "cannibal who consumes the life-force of victims". It often occurs that "accusations of witchcraft arise from incidents of sickness and death" (Stewart 81).

In colonial Africa, "rumors tended to fix on allegations that the European colonists used indigenous minions to collect blood from Africans, which they then consumed to augment their own life-force. Europeans in this image were therefore seen as similar to vampires. The clusters of rumors that formed around this theme fall under the category of urban legends. A central feature in these legends is that firemen in Nairobi, who traveled in red trucks, were ordered by their superiors to catch victims and bring them to fire stations where they were suspended over pits and drained of their blood." This practice created "the terrifying image of draining blood from people as if they were carcasses of meat" (Stewart 81).

Researchers suggest that these rumors originated from a linguistic confusion. The term for 'fireman' existed in Swahili before the institution of the fire brigades. Bestowed upon the health department personnel "in charge of yellow fever control", the term wazimamoto carried with it a "connotation of blood-extractor or vampire". According to researcher Luise White, these rumors serve as a "fairly obvious metaphor for state-sponsored extraction" (White 18). In this way, it is easy to see how vampires became associated with European immigrants and health professionals. "The image of the vampire...straddles the connection between medicine and violence and between indigenous ideas of the supernatural and introduced kinds of scientific technology such as dealing with public health and hospital procedures of taking blood donations" (Stewart 81).

"Vampire rumors purported to unmask the true malevolent intent behind colonial public services" (Stewart 81). It should be mentioned that the term 'vampire' was used loosely, and that neither "Europeans nor their supposed minions were thought directly to suck blood or other bodily fluids, hence the emphasis on the professionalized image of the wazimamoto, as vampires in uniform" (Stewart 81).

What career should a vampire choose? It's a question that even after all these years I cannot answer for myself. If I were to mold myself into a folkloric vampire, I would be forced to walk in the fictive footsteps of Stephenie Meyer's Doctor Cullen. But, we all know that's not going to happen. So, I am left torn between two positions: that of an elf in Santa's workshop (he's a vampire, you know) and that of a totalitarian dictator. Which is more discrete?


Stewart, Pamela. Et al. Witchery, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip.
White, Luise. Rumor and History in Colonial Africa.

07 December 2009

Mistaken Identity

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race... (Byron)

"Eight decades before anyone had heard of Dracula, the vampire Lord Ruthven" was unleashed "the world in the first vampire short story, 'The Vampyre,' published in 1819." Initially attributed to Lord Byron, 'The Vampyre' "was an immediate popular success" (Polidori vii). The true author, John Polidori had "accompanied Byron on a continental journey" and modeled his story after that sojourn. Lord Byron became Lord Ruthven, "a mysterious stranger who entered London society" and was eventually revealed to be a vampire.

Described as "the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre", 'The Vampyre' "took the crude entity of European folklore and transformed it into a complex and interesting character, the first vampire in English fiction" (Frayling, Melton 589). The story "exploited the gothic horror predilections of the public" and helped establish a literary fascination that would last centuries (Polidori vii).

In 'The Vampyre', the creature exploded from the folkloric mold. "No longer was the vampire simply a mindless demonic force unleashed on humankind, but a real person--albeit a resurrected one--capable of moving unnoticed in human society and picking and choosing victims. He was not an impersonal evil entity, but a moral degenerate dominated by evil motives, and a subject about whom negative moral judgments were proper" (Melton 589).

In his story, Polidori transforms Lord Byron, the poet, into Lord Ruthven, the vampire, and he transposes the vampiric being from the scapegoat for natural and moral ills to the embodiment of evil. In this case of Polidori's tale, who is the victim of the greatest misidentification? Is it Polidori himself, whose initial glory was usurped by the name of Byron? Is it the romantic poet who was equated with a devilish creature? Or, is it the vampire who was forever transformed into Evil incarnate?

So long,

Byron, George Gordon. "The Giaour."
Frayling, Christopher. Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula.
Melton, J Gordon. The Vampire Book.
Polidori, John. 'The Vampyre'.