One of the most complicated and original characters to appear in African American literature is N’Gana Frimbo, the conjure-man. Frimbo’s complexity is revealed through the details offered by the author. Frimbo’s mysterious nature is emphasized initially. He is very dark and tall, and he wears long, flowing, silk dressing gowns. When he sees his clients, he usually has his head in a turban. His mysterious qualities are punctuated by his absolute coolness. He never gets emotionally wrought over anything, including the fact that someone tried to kill him. Although he dabbles in the occult and the unseen, he does so with the exactness of any modern scientist. In his character, therefore, Fisher melds modern Western ways of knowing the world with Frimbo’s African perceptions.
That Frimbo embodies both Western ideas and traditional African ones is made clear when he and John Archer spend a quiet evening together. Archer is trying to ascertain information about Frimbo that will help him solve the murder mystery, and Frimbo sees in Archer something of a kindred spirit. Like Archer, Frimbo is in his thirties, and he is also a man of science, psychology, and philosophy. Frimbo reveals to Archer something of his African background. Frimbo was king, or chief, of Buwongo, a tiny nation northeast of Liberia, before coming to the United States. As a child, he attended American missionary schools. That early educational experience is the reason he later decided to attend Harvard University. He shares several traditional African rituals with Archer, some of them potentially life threatening and painful, involving, for example, castration and beheading. As he tells this fragment from his life, there is pride in his voice and a longing for home. Archer observes a gentle and compassionate quality to Frimbo and wonders to himself if Frimbo could in fact be capable of murder.
Archer also notes that...
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