Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
Sandfly, about nine miles southeast of Savannah, is a scattered Negro community spreading through the hot pine barrens to the Isle of Hope. There is nothing unusual or outstanding about the sleepy little settlement; its three hundred inhabitants appear to lead a placid, uneventful existence.
Many of the houses are situated on a side road which leads to the Isle of Hope. Modern conveniences are lacking, but the nondescript dwellings are brightened by flower gardens in the front yards, while small truck gardens occupy the space to the rear and sides. The more substantial houses of the more prosperous citizens are set deep in the wooded sections and are reached by means of narrow winding paths bordered with giant moss-hung oak trees.
Usually life in Sandfly flows along pleasantly and without serious interruption. Even in the morning men and women sit around on porches or in yards, sometimes talking, sometimes dozing in the sun. The more industrious are at work in the gardens or may be seen through doors busily occupied in washing or ironing clothes. Many of the men are employed as fishermen or day laborers, and the women who work out are generally engaged as house servants in homes at near-by Isle of Hope.
At first residents of the community were reluctant to talk about their superstitions and beliefs and their knowledge of conjure. Their customary response when first approached was a laconic, "No, ma'am, I ain got no fait in sech tings as cunjuh." When pressed for details, however, and when assured
that the interviewers' interest was a friendly one, their attitude frequently changed and they talked volubly of queer happenings in the vicinity.
"They jis don't think bout nuthin but cunjuh," said one woman, a newcomer in the neighborhood. 1 "Yuh heah all the time of folks havin spells put on em an findin cunjuh bags buried in the yahd. All the times some folks are fixin othuhs. 15
"A woman that lived in Homestead Park jis couldn't seem to have nothin but bad luck. She thought maybe an enemy had conjuhed uh, so she looked in the yahd an sho nough theah wuz a cunjuh bag. It wuz a queah lookin bundle with a lot of brown clay in it. She destroyed the bag an the bad luck stopped an the evil spirits didn't bothuh uh none."
A small child complained to his parents that he felt snakes moving about in his head. 5, 50 A local doctor diagnosed the illness as ringworm, but this explanation failed to satisfy the parents for the child's own theory of snakes seemed to them much more convincing. One morning, soon after, the mother discovered a large snake crawling about in front of the house. She killed the snake and the next day the inflamed places on the boy's head began to heal. In a few days he was completely cured. 2
Professional witch doctors and root doctors 48 ply an active trade and are employed in the more extreme cases, but often the people take matters in their own hands and by means of conjure bags and charms seek to alter their own destinies and those of their neighbors. Retribution is brought to bear on an enemy, the favor of a loved one is gained, and luck in business or in games of chance is assured by the possession of some sort of luck charm or powder. 8
In a section of Sandfly known as Baker's Crossing lives Ophelia Baker, better known as Madam Truth, professed fortune teller and clairvoyant. The woman's sober attire and her modern attractive house give little evidence of her profession. When holding a seance, however, her whole appearance
undergoes a change; her body becomes tense and jerks spasmodically; her dark eyes roll wildly. Of her ability in her chosen field the medium says, "I advise on business an love affeahs. I tell good an bad nooz comin tuh yuh. Deah's a remedy fuh ebry trouble and I hab dat remedy, fuh a spirit hab brung it tuh me." 22a, 22e
Madam Truth, a member of the Holy Sanctified Church of Sandfly, said that all members must undergo a sanctifying process in order to be saved. After this has been accomplished members claim to be able to hear, from a great distance, singing, talking, and the sounding of drums. We were told that the beating of the drums has a special significance, but that was all we could learn on the subject; we were told that this was a secret, divulged only to members.
Members of the church are forbidden to eat certain kinds of fish and also cabbage, lettuce, and other green vegetables. The reason they give is that they have received a warning from the spirits that it is unwise to eat these foods. 65
The plump, dark-skinned fortune teller said that she had spent her childhood on Skidaway Island. She remembered hearing the drums beaten to tell the people in the nearby settlements of an approaching dance or festival. Her father had been one of those who beat the drum and thumped out a regular message on it, a message that could be beard for miles and was clearly understood by all those who had heard it. 26
The woman also remembered wakes which had been held on Skidaway. Coffee and sandwiches were served the 37b, 37c mourners, each one of whom poured some of the coffee on the ground for the spirit of the deceased. 58b, 58e
Another native of Skidaway, 1 now living in Sandfly, also remembered drum codes being sent out from Skidaway. 26 A member of the Baptist Church, he has never heard drums beaten in the house of praise, but he described with great pride and earnestness the ceremony of a river baptism.
"We gadduh at duh chuch wid duh candidates who comes all dressed ready fuh baptism in long wite robes. Duh deacons range duh folks in line, two by two. Den duh mahch
tuh duh ribbuh begin, duh pastuh an duh deacons leadin duh way. Dis is a solemn time, an duh candidates an deah friens an relatives all rejoice. As we mahch we sing. Some uh duh songs we sing is I'm Gwine Down tuh duh Ribbuh ub Jawdan an Oh, Who Will Come an Go Wid Me?
"Wen we git tuh duh ribbuh some uh duh folks is so happy an dey scream an jump roun so much dat some uh duh udduhs hab tuh hole em. Duh candidates is led intuh duh watuh, one by one, an baptize. Attuh duh baptizin dey change deah cloze an we all go tuh duh chuch fuh duh communion services."
Here, as in many other sections, a silver coin is frequently worn on the ankle to insure good luck 8 and to give warning by turning black at any effort by an enemy to conjure the wearer. 12a, 12c, 12d In regard to this custom of wearing a coin one woman who is married to a man "wid duh powuh tuh see tings" 22a, 22e said, "Duh folks roun yuh use tuh weah five dolluh gole pieces on deah ankle, but hahd times jis nachly make dem gole pieces jump off." 1
The same woman told that when she and her husband first moved to Sandfly several years ago, a neighbor employed a conjure man to put a spell on them to drive them away.
"I membuh wen deze folks cross duh way wuz conjuhin us, an strikin roun, I went tuh duh sto an change a dolluh bill fuh one of deze silvuh dolluhs. It wuz roun an shiny as yuh please. I carry it in muh pocketbook an duh nex day it tun black an I know fuh sho dey wuz tryin tuh cunjuh us." 15
Repeated efforts were made to conjure the newcomers. At first bottles filled with a queer oily substance were buried around the house. When these failed in effect a more powerful charm was compounded, and a few days later the intended victim discovered buried in her back yard what she described as "a bottle neck down in duh groun. It wuz filled wid some kine of funny lookin oil."
"I know dis wuz a cunjuh," she said. "I call muh huzbun an show it tuh im. He git plenty mad an say he gonuh settle mattuhs once and fuh all wid dis cunjuh man. He wait fuh im by duh lane an wen he come long, he grab im an shake im an tell im he know all bout wut he bin doin. He tell im
he bettuh stop tryin tuh cunjuh us, fuh he know bout cunjuh his ownsef an he tell im all duh tings dat be done. Wen duh cunjuh man heah dis, he fall down on is knees an beg muh huzbun tuh fuhgib im. He tell im bout all sawts uh magic dat he wukd on udduh folks in duh neighbuhood. He promise not tuh do no mo uh dis an muh huzbun let im go."
We were told of another woman who, as a result of conjure, 15 fell mysteriously ill and felt snakes running up and down her left side under the skin. 5, 50 Medical care did not help the case and she is now, according to report, "jis wastin away an no one caahn do nuttn." 1
Graveyard dirt is often employed in the making of conjure bags. 8, 9 if possible this must be taken from the grave of a murdered person and some money must be left in exchange. Not very long ago when a man was arrested for murder, his friends, wishing to save him, went to the grave of the murdered man, secured some dirt, and left three pennies on the grave. A man, lingering in the vicinity, stole the money and shortly thereafter spent it in the neighborhood store. As one neighbor put it "duh ban come widin an inch uh wukin." Although the defendant was not acquitted, he was sentenced to a mere two or three years, and there was some speculation as to whether or not the theft of the money had been what kept him from going entirely free. 2 64
A woman, suspecting that someone was attempting to conjure her daughter, 15 dug up the ground around her house until she found the evil charm. Of this case our informant says, "It wuz two balls of graveyahd dut, 9 all wrapped up in a clawt. Dey tuk it roun an show it tuh ebrybody. It wuz up at duh poolruhm all spread out on duh pool table, an folks stop in all duh time tuh xamine it. Duh girl dat wuz cunjuhed buy a han 6 frum a root man an duh spirits dohn bodduh uh none." 3
People in the community believe that extremely powerful charms can be made from the dust from people's foot tracks. 7 There is a constant dread that someone will secure this dust, and zealous care is taken to prevent this. We were told, "A
ole uhmun who libed heah-a-bouts wuz so sked dat somebody would fix uh dat she alluz carried a rake wid uh. Down duh road she would go, rakin up uh foot-steps in back of uh, so dat nobody could git dat dus an fix uh." 1
Another resident who neglected these precautions said she became very ill, due to the fact that someone had manufactured a charm from the dust left by her foot tracks. As her condition became more aggravated she at length consulted a root doctor. He sold her a counter charm 6 and soon the mysterious illness disappeared. 2
Death, especially if violent or unexpected, is attributed to witchcraft or conjure. 15 One woman voiced the sentiment of many of the community when she said, "Theah ain't supposed tuh be no sech thing as nachul death yuh in Sandfly. Wen a pusson dies some one have fix im sho. Bout a yeah go ole woman went fuh a walk right down this road yuh. She went up on a hill cross frum yuh weah she live an the nex mawnin she wuz foun dead theah. Mos folks said she wuz cunjuhed that night, though theah wuz some wut did say she have haht trouble. Jis a week aw so ago the brothuh of a neighbuh die right sudden an folks said he wuz cunjuhed too." 3 15
In regard to death we found a rigid observance of customs that were prevalent also in the other communities. For example, one Negro's body had been shipped back from New York City in order that it might be buried in Sandfly. Otherwise, we were told, the spirit of the deceased would have found no rest, but instead would have roamed the countryside. 1 Here, too, was observed the practice of placing broken bits of pottery and possessions last used by the dead person on the grave for the purpose of supplying the needs of the spirit. 47
In Sandfly there is a ready market for love powders and charms. 4 This field has been highly commercialized and representatives of different corporations frequently visit Sandfly selling such articles as Adam and Eve Root,
[paragraph continues] Lucky Mojo Love Drops, Black Cat Ashes, and Courting Powder. 8 Apparently the women resort to the use of the love charms more frequently than the men, and their reason for doing so was described by one woman as being "so dat dey kin rule duh men." 1
Old and young entertain a firm belief in the existence of witches and spirits. The witches may come in a variety of shapes, appearing as a person either male or female, an animal, or sometimes as an insect. 68 When questioned regarding the apparitions, one person said, "A witch ride muh sistuh mos every night. 69 He come singin a lill song. I heah uh movin bout an moanin an in duh mawnin she is jis bout wone out an uh haiah is all tangled. Sometime she wake up an drive him away, but some nights he come back two aw three times an ride uh. In duh mawnin she jis too tied tuh go tuh wuk. 2
"Deah wuz a ole woman in Savannah dat dey say wuz a witch. One night a ole man wake up an foun dis witch ridin im. 69 He say it look lak a bug. 68 He ketch it an break off duh leg at duh joint. Duh nex mawnin he go an see duh ole woman an sho nuff she have uh ban all tie up wid a bandage. Dey tell me bout uh an I go see uh. Uh finguh wuz right off at duh joint."
Spirits of the dead often wander along the dark roadways, 56, 59 and frequently some belated stroller runs screaming in terror, declaring that he is being pursued. 3 The spirits may appear as misshapen men or women, as sheep, dogs, and cats. 54, 55 A spirit need not always assume the same appearance but may change form entirely each time. 4
The following story was told by a woman in the community:
"I sho believe in spirits. I have seen em wid muh own eyes. One evenin jis as it wuz gittn dusty I wuz goin in tuh town tuh see duh dressmakuh. I walk tuh duh cah tracks an deah sittin on a rail wuz a lill tiny man, bout long as dis. I nevuh seen sech a lill man. 54b, 55 He wuz so lill he ain good
fuh nuthin. I look at im hahd. On his head wuz a lill tin lamp wut gleamed in duh dahk. He wuz kine of an Indian culluh. He wuz a grown man fuh sho fuh he hab a lill mustache. I holluh fuh a man tuh come out an see wut I foun, but wen he git deah duh lill man hab disappeah. Jis den duh cah blowed an I hab tuh leab.
"Wen I gits home dat night, it wuz real dahk. I ain goin tuh walk dat dahk road by mysef an I holluh fuh every man I knowd dat live neahby. I make em all walk home wid me, but deah wuzn no signs of duh lill man.
"Attuh dat lots of folks say dey see im. Wen duh moon is noo an deah is a drizzle, he come walkin along wid his lill lamp. He take all kine uh shapes. Sometime he's a man an sometime he's a animal. 54 Dey say he's comin roun cuz deah's buried treasure neah yuh." 1 61
Here in this little Negro community there seem to be few phases of life left untouched by superstitious fears. As one woman aptly expressed it--"Everything that happen is cause by cunjuh an magic. They jis dohn leave nuthin tuh Gawd." 2
84:1 Lizzie Jenkins, Sandfly.
That this informant came from another section of Georgia was reflected in her speech.
84:2 Ophelia Baker, Baker's Crossing.
85:1 John Bivens, Baker's Crossing.
86:1 Lee Baynes, Sandfly.
87:1 Lee Baynes, Sandfly.
88:1 Ellie Davis, Sandfly.
88:2 Lizzie Jenkins, Sandfly.
89:1 Lee Baynes, Sandfly.
90:1 Lee Baynes, Sandfly.
90:2 Lizzie Jenkins, Sandfly.