Reflections on Jonestown

November 20, 2018 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , South America

AFP photo

 

By

Amanda L. Pugh

 

 

Most people over 40 can remember what happened in a little South American country called Guyana 40 years ago on November 18, 1978. A madman (and that is the only way to describe him in my opinion) somehow convinced over 900 men, women, and children to commit mass suicide in the jungle outside the small village of Port Kaituma, at a place that had become known as Jonestown (after its leader, the Rev. Jim Jones, a man who would become synonymous with evil incarnate in the collective conscious of the world).

 

I was only five when this massive tragedy occurred and way more into Sesame Street and learning to tie my shoes than I was into hearing about some crazy person who called himself a preacher getting people to kill themselves, but I do remember sitting on the floor next to my mother who was in a chair beside me and watching the initial news reports a couple of days later. I looked up and with a child’s innocence asked, “Mama, are those people sleeping?” as we saw the macabre overhead shot of the victims lying around the pavilion in the center of their settlement. “No honey,” she replied and as well as she could (to a five year old child), explained that a bad man had made them lie down like that and that they were not asleep but had died.

 

That image has stuck with me through my entire life.

 

As did the fact that they used grape Flavor-Aid (like Kool-Aid) as a mixing agent.

 

I can’t even smell Kool-Aid now without gagging.

 

As I grew older, I would ever so often read about this event, fascinated with the details of the tragedy. I have watched several good (and not so good) documentaries about it, and a very good dramatization of it in movie form where the late actor Powers Boothe played Jim Jones (he looked so much like him it was downright scary).

 

Some people wonder why I am so interested in an event in which I had no personal stake (thank goodness). It is because I am curious about the mentality of people who would give up their entire lives to follow someone like Jim Jones to a remote place such as Guyana. I find it fascinating from a psychological standpoint to look into the mind of someone such as Jones- the charismatic preacher turned cult leader… how on Earth could he manipulate people like that? I mean, things started out as nothing but good- the People’s Temple (Jones’ organization) had soup kitchens, they helped the needy, they were multicultural in an age where that was unheard of in a church…but it all went so sour so fast. Power can warp the mind, and this heartbreaking event is perfect evidence of it.

 

Reflecting on Jonestown and the over 900 people who lost their lives that day in the jungle, all I have to say is this: find a moment in your week to pause and remember those people who wanted to make the world a little better, and- be very, very careful out there. You may think you are following a dream, but you could very well end up stuck in a nightmare.

 

 

 

 

Amanda L. Pugh

Amanda Pugh is an adjunct professor of communications at Jackson State Community College in Jackson TN. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, both short stories and poetry, and it’s one her favorite things to do besides drink coffee and teach. Her work has appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Tennessee’s Best Emerging Poets, Our Jackson Home, Down in the Dirt, and Spilled Ink (the literary journal of Jackson State Community College).

Contact: alp2003tn@aol.com

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