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Dissections logo scissors body by Deena Warner


Dissections logo pterodactyl by Deena Warner





De-Commodifying the Gothic:
The Strange Case of the Two-Faced Kadaitcha
Katrin Althans

In their definition of the exotic as “a stimulating or exciting difference, something with which the domestic could be (safely) spiced” (87), Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin draw a parallel between the exotic, economy, and colonialism, as spices are some of the oldest commodities in the world and the trade in spices was a driving force behind the colonial project. Read as the colonial Other, the exotic of this definition invites yet another parallel reading, that between the exotic and the Gothic: the domestic does not become too spicy and thus threatening, but the foreign becomes domesticated so as to provide a taste which can be enjoyed from a safe distance. A similar obsession with the exotic Other can be found in colonial Gothic texts, whose exoticism, as Hughes and Smith summarize, distances the reader, who is comfortably situated in the colonial centre, from the “horrors beyond” (1). Just as material artefacts from foreign places put on display for pecuniary motives never fail to attract the Western eye (and purse), the cultural Other on display in the pages of a Gothic story almost always guarantees commercial success. Through the exotic, the Gothic is intricately linked to the economic, and foreign cultures are Gothicly perverted and used as commodities for marketing purposes in what can be termed “Gothic exoticism”.

Following along the lines of a brief history of the ideas concerning the commodification of culture, I will in this essay explore postcolonial strategies of countering colonial discourses of the commodified Gothic Other. I will turn to the theories of postcolonial commodities as developed by Graham Huggan and Sarah Brouillette in order to show how Aboriginal author Sam Watson in his novel The Kadaitcha Sung uses the figure of the Kadaitcha in a twofold way and thus creates a janus-faced Kadaitcha: on the one hand, he reiterates notions of an Aboriginal culture which has been commodified for the purpose of selling its traditions and beliefs as dark and exotic magic; on the other hand, he re-turns this commodified magic to its cultural origins, thus strengthening Murri culture and identity. This form of doubling then both confirms and deconstructs colonial and Gothic dichotomies in a highly uncanny mirroring of the Other as commodity in the guise of the two-faced Kadaitcha.

The idea of a commodification of culture harks back to neo-Marxist arguments brought forward by Horkheimer and Adorno in their Dialectic of Enlightenment (1947), especially their essay “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, and Adorno’s solo piece “Culture Industry Reconsidered” (1963), which can be read as a comment on the earlier essay. Here, Horkheimer and Adorno describe the culture industry as producing “standard products” for consumption not unlike the goods of industrial production processes (95) as opposed to works of autonomous art. As such, cultural products become commodities which are only valued in terms of profit, “no longer also commodities, [but] commodities through and through” (Adorno 13). The idea that autonomous works of art are displaced by standardized cultural products, as Dant sums up Horkheimer and Adorno’s thesis (129), however, takes on a rather Gothic shape in Hannah Arendt’s essay “The Crisis in Culture”, in which she attacks mass entertainment as “feeding on the cultural objects of the world” (211). This vampiric touch pervades the whole of her argumentation against mass society and its consumption of culture in the form of mass entertainment when she writes of the way in which mass society devours and thus destroys cultural objects:

     The entertainment industry is confronted with gargantuan appetites, and since its wares disappear      in consumption, it must constantly offer new commodities. In this predicament those who      produce for the mass media ransack the entire range of past and present culture in the hope of      finding suitable material. This material, moreover, cannot be offered as it is; it must be altered in      order to become entertaining, it must be prepared to be easily consumed. (207)

Even though the easy way is to read Horkheimer and Adorno’s as well as Arendt’s theses as rants about mass culture, such a reading necessarily misses the point when it comes to a discussion of the exploitation of foreign cultures for entertainment purposes. Instead, I find Arendt’s Gothic parallels particularly useful for a transposition of her argument into the postcolonial situation in order to emphasize my point of a commodification of the exotic in Gothic fiction as a mining of cultural artefacts for selling entertainment products.

In his recent study on The Gothic, Postcolonialism and Otherness, Tabish Khair mentions the fascination the figure of the racial Other holds for Gothic fiction as a source of terror (26) and writes of the lure of those “ghosts from the colonies” in Victorian literature (32). Similarly, Noël Carroll refers to a certain “geography of horrors” when he locates the origin of the monster in foreign regions outside the known world, which include lost continents and outer space as well as marginal and abandoned sites (34-5). The marketability, and thus saleability, of the exotic Other as a source of horror and terror can be traced to Romantic literature and its obsession with the Orient, of which William Beckford’s Vathek, sometimes entitled Vathek, an Arabian Tale, of 1782 and Johann Ludwig Tieck’s Abdallah of 1795, are cases in point. For Abdallah, a contemporary reviewer writes that the piece presents black magic in an oriental costume and creates a sable and melancholic outlook (478), thus clearly aiming at the preferences of his audience.

For the past 200+ years, the sites of such a commodification of culture have spatially and temporally been diverse, ranging from the Pacific region to the Caribbean and from ancient Egypt to contemporary New Orleans. Be it French exoticist writer Pierre Loti, who found the source for his “gothic vision of Tahiti” in Polynesian culture and myth (Jolly 31), or the various mummies of film history, foreign cultures are being exploited for the sake of Western entertainment appetites. The monstrosity of the racial Other serves as a catalyst for the rest of the story, very much in line with what Khair has observed: “It is when the Other enters [...] that the action of most Gothic narratives really commences” (6). And while in the 18th and 19th century the oriental Other fuelled the Gothic imagination, the 20th century abounds with stories of zombies and voodoo/vodoun.1 It seems to hold a frightening fascination for a Western audience, a fascination not only producers of Gothic fiction take advantage of. As an article by Charles McCoy in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “Black Magic Casts a Deepening Spell over Troubled Haiti”, shows, the triad Haiti-Voodoo-Gothic is forever burned into the Western psyche. Despite being one of the lead stories of 20 October 1988 and being concerned with Haiti’s unstable political situation of the late 1980s, the article is full of references to cannibals, mysticism, and possession in order to attract its readers’ attention. At the same time, McCoy’s choice of words and images keeps Haiti fixed in a discourse of barbarism, as Joan Dayan argues (14), and Vodoun is once more relegated to nothing more than “a refreshing dose of exoticism” (Dayan 13).

The very same “ideology of Haiti as the land of ‘Voodoo’”, as Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert terms it (“Women Possessed” 43), is also central to the commodification of Vodoun in countless Hollywood movies. Particularly movies of the 1930s and 40s in their theatrical trailers make ample use of the classic dichotomy of white and black, self and racial Other, of the colonial Gothic, which is even more emphasized by their being shot in black and white. Pictures of black people, zombified by an evil white Creole master, and innocent white women are accompanied by voice-overs explaining the same old spine-chilling story of witchcraft and sorcery. Well-known examples such as White Zombie by Victor and Edward Halperin of 1932 and I Walked with a Zombie by Jacques Tourneur of 1943 sparked a never-ending torrent of voodoo and zombie movies up to the present day. The punch lines of their trailers read “[f]rom Haiti, land of the Voodoo, comes the most infamous cult of all. Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre [...] Master of the undead damned. The sinister power behind the White Zombie” (0:01-0:28) and “[t]hese are the Living Dead... And out of their West Indian island comes a tale of terror and voodoo, of witchcraft and zombies, and all the weird black magic that the white man seldom sees” (0:00-0:14), respectively. Interestingly enough, though, the trailer of White Zombie, despite its exploiting Vodoun for the sake of Voodoo, in passing also reveals the revolutionary potential of Vodoun when the voice-over refers to Murder Legendre as the “soul-killer [who] takes men from their graves to be his slaves” (0:44-0:51).

In postcolonial Gothic discourse, as Paravisini-Gebert has repeatedly shown, it is exactly this understanding of the zombie as a slave which has been appropriated and reinvented by the colonized (“Women Possessed” 13; “Postcolonial Gothic” 255). Here, postcolonial Gothic establishes a counter-discourse which subverts both the Gothic and the exoticist gaze of a Western audience: whereas voodoo is a source of horror for Western productions, vodoun is a source of revolution against the colonizer (“Women Possessed” 39, 49; “Postcolonial Gothic” 243), and especially the way indigenous culture is used in both Western and native discourses of the Gothic displays the very same schizophrenic quality on the fine line of submission to the marketplace vs subversion.

A case in point of the misrepresentation of indigenous cultures for profit is the trope of the “Indian burial ground” in Western Gothic fiction. As a common example of indigenous cultures being exploited for the sake of cheap thrills, the Indian burial ground of Gothic fiction is probably best-known from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary of 1983, a novel whose back cover advertises the novel first in familiar American Gothic fashion, only to associate the true horror with what is not part of a white nuclear-family world, i.e., the indigenous Other:

     When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true:      physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son – and now an idyllic      home. As a family, they've got it all... right down to the friendly cat.
     But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth – more terrifying than death itself... and      hideously more powerful.

In the case of another oft-cited example, the movie Poltergeist (1982), on the other hand, this topos is but an urban legend, as in one scene one of the characters explicitly states that it is not an Indian burial ground but rather a Christian cemetery that the Cuesta Verde settlement is built upon. The fact that numerous parodies of the movie reduce Poltergeist to the desecrated Indian burial ground, however, has helped this topos to flower and to become a stock motif in North-American Gothic fiction. Indigenous culture, it seems, all too readily lends itself to an exoticist Gothic flair which in turn, as Gesa Mackenthun has observed, is transformed “into signatures of cultural survival” by native American artists (452), and the figure of the Kadaitcha is an example of this in Australian literature and film.

The Oxford English Dictionary, in which Kadaitcha is lemmatized as kurdaitcha, refers for its definition to the entry in the Century Dictionary of 1909, but not without adding its own distinctly Gothic component: “Also, a malignant supernatural being”. The definition given by the Century Dictionary then features all the ingredients well-known of an exoticist Gothic discourse:

1. Among the tribes of central Australia, a man chosen to avenge the death of one who has died, every death being supposed to be due to the magic influence of some enemy.

2. A kind of shoe, made of emu-feathers matted together with human blood, worn by the kurdaitcha when on his errand.

Not only the choice of words, but also the fact that the definition chosen by the OED dates back to the first decade of the twentieth century indicates the colonial Gothic heritage of Western understandings of the Kadaitcha. On yet another level, this also reveals much about Western discourses of knowledge in general, as “the definitive record of the English language” (OED website), and as such a printed authority, maintains the exoticist ideology of 1909. Sam Watson, on the other hand, in an orally conducted interview says the following about the Kadaitcha: “I wanted to base the book on a foundation of black strength and black power, and the most powerful figure within traditional Aboriginal society was the tribal Kadaitcha. The Kadaitcha man is the tribal executioner, tribal sheriff, tribal bounty hunter, who would take up your cause for you and pay back, visit revenge upon your enemies” (“I say this to you” 590). Here, the two faces of the Kadaitcha show themselves for the first time.

As far as the Kadaitcha in Australian Gothic fiction is concerned, it had its most horrific appearance in the movie Kadaicha [sic] of 1988. Using the figure of the Kadaitcha as lead, the movie tells the story of a vengeful Aboriginal ghost murdering teenagers whose parents have built an apartment block on top of a sacred burial ground. Here, the ubiquitous motif of the desecrated indigenous burial ground is combined with the local flavour of a mystic black Australia. But as Alan McKee has observed with regard to the representation of Aboriginal people in Australian horror films, this mystic black Australia is an essentially white concept of Aboriginal cosmology which stems from a “eurocentric [sic] understanding of the term ‘dreaming’” (201). And indeed, the very first scenes of Kadaicha show a dream, or rather nightmare, sequence which could not be farther from Aboriginal concepts of “Dreaming” – except for the word itself. Here, the Gothic exoticism of the Kadaitcha is introduced when the greyish concrete sewage tunnel in which a young white girl wanders about aimlessly transforms into a natural cavern lit by a yellow-ochre fire. The inside of the cavern is filled with smoke, and the rear-view figure of a painted black man who dances around the fire becomes gradually visible. The low hum of what sounds like a didgeridoo intrudes the eerie score as soon as the man appears on screen, so as to clearly mark him out as Aboriginal. In good horror movie tradition, the girl then approaches the man and the camera cuts to the girl’s point of view and zooms in on the man’s back – until he suddenly turns his head with a cracking sound and reveals the grisly lit skull he has for a face seconds before the girl wakes in fright. By putting the audience in the position of the white girl and directing its gaze to the disclosure of the monster, Kadaicha is a striking example of what Fatimah Tobing Rony means when she writes of “the desire for proof by observation” as the link between ethnographic and horror films (170). The figure of the avenging Kadaitcha is hence introduced as the source of supernatural horror in almost anthropological terms in this movie. In its playtime of roughly 90 minutes, many more instances of horror and the Gothic are associated with this dark undercurrent of what cultural foreigners may think represents Aboriginal culture.

Even before Kadaicha, Australia’s Channel Nine aired an episode of the TV series The Evil Touch, entitled “Kadaitcha Country”, in 1974. As usual with The Evil Touch, host Anthony Quayle, after a short prologue of the week’s episode, appears in dark studio surroundings, engulfed by bluish smoke and in “Kadaitcha Country” appropriately accompanied by a score of clap-sticks. This score changes, as soon as the Kadaitcha is mentioned, into a soft and uncanny trumpet melody. With an ominous voice, Quayle tells of hallucinations “in the far North of Australia, above the Simpson Desert” and of

     the ancient rites of a stone-age people. A people who still believe in the power of the man-thing      they call the kadaitcha. In the form of a man, the kadaitcha is capable, they say, of many      supernatural deeds. He can climb the invisible ropes from earth to sky, can travel through all      dimensions without the passage of time, can control life and death by the mere pointing of a      bone.... (4:02-4:38)

before the screen fades into the opening titles of The Evil Touch. To create suspense, Quayle lowers his voice when he starts to talk of life and death and adds an appropriate pause before he almost purrs the last words. The Gothic thrill of this episode thus rests almost entirely on the supernatural powers and black magic of the Kadaitcha and the apparently savage bone pointing ritual. Again, the figure of the Kadaitcha is the being from which all horrors in exoticist fashion emanate.

A somewhat ambiguous approach to the Kadaitcha can be found in the detective novels centring on mixed race police inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte by Arthur W. Upfield. First published between 1929 and 1966, his 29 mystery stories, the series title reads An Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte Mystery, frequently feature supernatural elements of Aboriginal culture as a means to illustrate both indigenous fears of the supernatural in terms of superstitious beliefs and an alleged wisdom of the bush. One finds the “dreaded bunyip”, the “dreaded Mindye, that bush spirit ever on the watch to take blackfellows who wandered at night”, and the “dreaded Kurdaitcha: the Thing Who walked the earth and left no tracks because It soaked Its feet in the blood of men and to the blood glued the feathers of eagles: the Thing having something like the face of a man, the teeth of a dingo, and the nose of a mopoke: the Thing from which there is no escape for the aborigine It catches away from his camp at night” (Winds of Evil 116; The Bone is Pointed 73; Venom House 241). Despite this rather sinister image of the Kadaitcha, it is in No Footprints in the Bush (the US title of Bushranger of the Skies), stripped of any power and described instead in terms of a nuisance: “His [the Kurdaitcha man’s] evil is not very potent, but his presence is annoying and often has to be chased away” (137). At the same time, the Kadaitcha shoes, as useful tools of investigation, as in Murder Must Wait and Bushranger of the Skies, stand for the Aboriginal part of Bony’s mixed-race heritage, which is the key to his career and success in detection. The combination of an analytical mind with a natural intuition is a central theme in the whole series, and it is this colonial dichotomy which fuels the exoticist appeal of any Napoleon Bonaparte story. Referred to as “his uncanny intuition” (Wings above the Diamantina 158), the Aboriginal part of Bony’s character is furthermore Gothicized throughout the series, and it is precisely this Gothicized version of Murri culture and how it is used as a marketing tool which Sam Watson takes up in The Kadaitcha Sung. By at once conforming to tried and tested strategies of Gothic exoticism through his description of the Kadaitcha and re-turning that figure of Aboriginal power to its cultural roots, Sam Watson employs a two-faced Kadaitcha to strengthen Murri identity and culture.

The first face of this janus-faced Kadaitcha, the one abiding by the rules set up by Gothic exoticism and its position in the market place, can best be illustrated in terms of Sarah Brouillette’s “authorial self-consciousness” (e.g., 3, 7, 75). For Brouillette, the postcolonial author functions as an accomplice to the postcolonial literary marketplace: “The postcolonial author has emerged as a profoundly complicit and compromised figure whose authority rests, however uncomfortably, in the nature of his connection to the specificity of a given political location” (3-4). As such, the postcolonial author is not only faced with but also caters for the demands of the market place, a kind of vicious circle in which the saleability of exotic stereotypes creates an ever increasing desire postcolonial cultural products must fulfil (Kluwick 78). In view of this complicity, Brouillette thus “find[s] it more fruitful to understand [...] general postcolonial authorial self-consciousness [...] as comprised of a set of literary strategies that operate through assumptions shared between the author and the reader [...]” (7). In the case of The Kadaitcha Sung, those assumptions are found on both paratextual and metatextual levels only to culminate in the character of Tommy Gubba, the titular Kadaitcha.

Just as contemporary reviews, entitled “Uneasy Dreaming” (Wilson), “Echoes of Dark Realities” (Davis), or “Mood Musics of the Spiritual” (Daniel), foreground a spiritual Aboriginality with dark underscores, the book’s cover and blurb also work to sell The Kadaitcha Sung as a piece of Gothic exoticism. The novel as presented on the shelf is packaged in a cover design by Arone Raymond Meeks, a Kuku Midigi artist, and the lower half of the front cover is kept in warm sandy colours and shows recognizable Aboriginal patterns of dots and lines as well as Uluru. In the centre, just where the earth meets the sky, an Aboriginal figure reaching down, his body also painted with dots and lines, grabs the hands of a blank white figure, and dots of blue and white radiate from where their hands meet. Together with the unfamiliar word Kadaitcha in the title, the cover of the novel clearly signals a kind of Aboriginality reminiscent of the same sort of New-Age spirituality which Marlo Morgan’s infamous Mutant Message Down Under of the same year cashed in on. The Gothic is also already present on the cover in the form of a subtitle: “A seductive tale of sorcery, eroticism and corruption.” The cover thus draws attention to the novel, and once the potential buyer is interested, s/he turns to the back and reads, first, a quotation from the novel: “‘The desert winds danced along the soft, dark highways of the night. The world below was still... The time of the Kadaitcha was nigh. Soon the payback would begin.’” Then, a description of the plot follows which might as well have come straight from the Century Dictionary:

     In his twentieth year, mixed-blood Aborigine Tommy Gubba is initiated in the eternal flames into      an ancient clan of sorcerers – the Kadaitcha. Accompanied by lesser spirits, he is sent into the      mortal world to take revenge on the fair-skinned race, the invaders of the South Land who have      plundered its wealth and laid waste to the chosen people. His fate has been ordained, and      Tommy must race against time to confront a savage, evil foe.

What the reader now expects is a tale of mystical revenge and black magic which remains faithful to the well-worn patterns of a commodification of cultural elements for the sake of advancing a Gothic plot. And indeed, the story itself also reiterates such notions of an exoticized and, most importantly, Gothicized Aboriginal culture. There is, for example, Booka Roth, clearly singled out as the Gothic villain. He occupies the body of a white man but is in truth a renegade Kadaitcha and is responsible for some of the most horrible incidents in The Kadaitcha Sung; he is “the Prince of Darkness. Old Satan himself!” (12). The “savage, evil foe” mentioned on the back cover, Booka Roth, fits the description of any Gothic monster of European descent, but there is also Tommy Gubba, the newly initiated Kadaitcha who is sent to take revenge. The close connection of Tommy to the classic Gothic of European origin shows itself in a cemetery:

     There was still no moon and in the cemetery the stars gave only a dull, almost anaemic light to      the terraced rows of tombstones.

     Mary led Tommy in through a side gate that was hidden in the dark folds of a hedge. The rusted      hinges groaned tiredly and the dead noted their trespass but allowed them passage. For they      now knew of the blood that flowed through the veins of the black youth. [...]

     The winds sought them out, discovered who he was, and then pulled back. A deep power was      building and even the spirits of the air were cowed. [...]

     For some reason beyond his understanding, Tommy always felt quite comfortable in the      cemetery [...]. (161)

Even though the cemetery is described in familiar Gothic terms, Tommy is by no means intimidated by the sinister atmosphere. Quite the contrary, as “his psyche [is] being appeased by the symbolism of the graveyard” (161). Yet Tommy not only feels comfortable in a Gothic surrounding, he, in his capacity as Kadaitcha, also rivals Booka Roth as Gothic villain par excellence. This then culminates in the ritual punishment of Tea-Pot/Bunda, an intimate minion of Booka’s, and lets the nightmarish vision so vividly painted in Kadaicha and The Evil Touch come true: “Tommy waved his fingers underneath his jaw and a red glow lit his face. [...] Tommy’s voice was dead, lacking all human quality. His eyes were black scars, empty of life” (117). What then ensues is the immediate prologue to the gruesome death of Tea-Pot at the hands of the extinct Gullilee people:

     Black night was all around him [Bunda] and he was alone. The warehouse had gone and there      was only the green and brown of a small [Bora] ring. Beyond the boundary of the circle there      was nothing. The stones that made up the sacred circle stood out like teeth. A dreadful keening      reached up from deep below and smacked at his eardrums. There was chanting all around him      and he was hammered to the ground by a swirling mass of spirits. The phantom horde swooped      upon him, flailing at him with skeletal hands that tore at his hair and his eyes. (119-20)

The scene thus established by Tommy maintains its Gothic overtones and shows more and more traits of the kind of Aboriginal culture used in Western discourses of the Gothic: “From beneath, a pair of clap-sticks began to beat out a ghastly dire. The spectres began to chant the judgment song of the Gullilee people and Bunda was clothed in terror” (122-3). Here, all temporal, spatial, and psychic dimensions are conflated into one instance of Gothic exoticism – or is it? To a readership well-versed in Gothic fiction, this is deeply unsettling, as the text seems to be replete with Gothic villains but to lack a knight in shining white armour, and the assumptions Sarah Brouillette claims to be shared between author and reader are not at work here. Rather, the expectations of generic security raised by the Gothicized Aboriginality inherent in The Kadaitcha Sung are thoroughly spoilt and leave no room for Brouillette’s idea of complicity but instead show the second face of the two-faced Kadaitcha.

Just like its exoticist doppelganger, the other form of the Kadaitcha also has an equivalent in terms of critical concepts, as it can be understood along the lines of Graham Huggan’s “‘strategic exoticism’: the means by which postcolonial writers/thinkers, working from within exoticist codes of representation, either manage to subvert those codes [...], or succeed in redeploying them for the purposes of uncovering differential relations of power” (32). In his study The Postcolonial Exotic: Marketing the Margins, Huggan introduces an economic aspect to what Claudia Gualtieri refers to as “[t]he deconstruction of the exotic” (47). He does not, however, deny all complicity of the postcolonial artist with exoticist aesthetics, yet he, and in that he differs considerably from Sarah Brouillette’s point of view, argues that this complicity is used as a means of manipulation (32). By drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, Huggan adds the aspect of a “hypercommodified status” of postcolonial writers, works, and labels to the textual approach performed by Gualtieri and states that “exoticism has shifted [...] from a more or less privileged mode of aesthetic perception to an increasingly global mode of mass-market consumption” (19, 15). This notion of exoticism echoes Arendt’s understanding of the entertainment industry and the “gargantuan appetites” it seeks to satisfy by “ransack[ing] the entire range of past and present culture” (207) – the kind of exoticism which is the result of the desire to profit by the figure of a Gothicized Kadaitcha as argued above. The conception of a strategic exoticism as put forward by Huggan, however, allows the very same instance, the ritual punishment of Tea-Pot, to be read as a subversive means “to wrest the figure of the Kadaitcha from the commodifying grip of Western horror movies” and of the entertainment industry in general (Althans 185).

What follows after we left a terrified Bunda in the Bora ring is a hearing presided over by Tommy in his role as Kadaitcha, the avenger of those massacred. Repeated references to procedural correctness (121, 125) paint the picture of a court of justice in which Bunda is tried. Although Tommy is seemingly acting the Gothic villain throughout the trial, he is also the authority delivering Murri justice: he insists on hearing Bunda out, acknowledges Bunda’s feeble though nevertheless true excuse for breaking a sacred law, and waits until Bunda of his own accord confesses to the crimes he committed before pronouncing a sentence (121, 124, 126). The whole scene is a shining example of the legal conception of Aboriginal customary law and thus identity and by no means a horrifying nightmare of the European Gothic kind. Similarly, the titular ritual of singing lends itself to the same ambiguity of the two-faced Kadaitcha as does the trial scene. Although clearly reminiscent of dark magic, the cultural tradition and importance of this ceremony is focused on:

     The young Kadaitcha had summoned a legion of elements to hear his demands for vengeance.      But Jonjurrie stayed silent – he was not a Kadaitcha – and he knew the sorcerers to be swift and      deadly. He squatted and watched.

     Tommy began a low sing-song, his voice paying tribute to the old gods and the old ways. As      his voice became harder, the names of Booka Roth and Sambo Bottle were uttered more and      more. Before him, in the bark bowl, there were two separate piles of pubic hair and other      scrapings.

     Jonjurrie nodded his head savagely. The time for payback was upon them. (54, emphasis      added)

The same holds true for the moogi stone, according to A.P. Elkin, together with other objects “sources of power not of death”, two characteristics again combined in The Kadaitcha Sung:

     A blood-red pebble appeared before his [Tommy’s] eyes and an unseen hand pushed it into the      centre of his wound. As he watched, the jagged cut closed up completely. He now had a ridge      of darker-brown flesh in its place and he was flushed with triumph. He now had his own moogi      eye, or death stone, the basic tool of the Kadaitcha, and the focus for enormous energy drawn      from the universe and the ages. (36)

On the one hand an obvious allusion to the movie Kadaicha, which was billed in the US as Stones of Death, this episode also marks the final stage of Tommy’s initiation rite, a rite which plays an important role in traditional Murri culture as establishing identity. In the text, the moogi stone is clearly invested with invigorating effects resulting from its sacred nature: “[…] Tommy drew on the sacred strengths of the moogi stone without reservation. New blood surged aggressively through his body and he was refreshed” (151). Instead of being a signifier for a savage and bloodthirsty people, the moogi stone stands for the vitalizing power of cultural identity.

In its ambiguity, the figure of the Kadaitcha is a highly uncanny representative of the commodification of culture. It is deeply rooted in Murri cultural traditions and as such certainly part of what Pierre Bourdieu classifies as “embodied capital [which] cannot be transmitted instantaneously [...] by gift, or bequest, purchase or exchange” (244-45). Nevertheless, it has been appropriated by the entertainment industries as a means of satisfying their audiences’ hunger for a Gothic exoticism. Yet the spectre of the Kadaitcha as presented in this exoticized Gothic discourse, a controversial infringement of copyright and dubious token of authenticity, is both de-exoticized and de-Gothicized in Sam Watson’s The Kadaitcha Sung by means of a two-faced Kadaitcha. On the one hand, there is the exoticist side of Watson’s Kadaitcha, which gives the reader a false sense of generic security and betrays Watson as an accomplice of the “privileged metropolitan markets” in the sense of Brouillette (4). The very same mechanisms which support an exoticist reading of the Kadaitcha, however, also serve as a means to manipulate and subvert the dominant discourse in terms of Huggan’s strategic exoticism. Thus, the Gothic exoticism and the commodification of the cultural Other are in the figure of the Kadaitcha deconstructed – and thus de-commodified – and transformed into a powerful example of Murri cultural traditions and identity.

1 I use the term “voodoo” here as it is lemmatized in the OED and to cover all religions of African origin practised in the West Indies. At the same time, this allows me to distinguish between the exoticist term “voodoo” and the religious tradition of “vodou(n)”.

Works Cited
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