Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
After the muddy ruts through the pine clearing had ended, there was no road, and the car jerked and bounded about among the pine trees. The soft brown needles made better traveling than the boggy wagon tracks that were behind us, but our method of procedure was rather bewildering, for there was no mark by which to retrace our tracks. As we went deeper into the pine woods there was no sign of habitation.
Our driver, 1 who had offered to help us when our car had stuck in the bog, was a six-foot, shiny black Negro, strong necked and lithe, with a twelve-inch hunting knife strapped to his hip. We had never seen him before, nor the smaller Negro beside him on the front seat. In the back seat we were concerned with our feet, which rested precariously among loose cartridge shells. We feared that a sudden jolt from a Pine stamp might make us stamp down on the shells and explode them.
Suddenly we came upon a reed and paling fence higher than the head of a tall man. There was nothing to be seen over the top of it, no sign of occupation. We drove around to the side where, protected by some feathery bushes, a small opening hardly distinguishable from the palings led into an enclosure. Scattered without plan about a smooth sand clearing were three or four small unpainted wooden cabins, two connected by a narrow board walk just above the ground. Other smaller structures, sheds, and work tables were placed
helter-skelter about the enclosure. There was some wire fencing, but dogs, cats, chickens, a litter of very young pup. pies, and an old rooster roamed at will. Sunning themselves against a cabin wall were two old women, and from the windows of another cabin popped the heads of three curious younger women. An open door suddenly gave forth several children, smiling and scantily clad, shining eyes and surprised faces upturned to the strangers.
The two elderly women rose and came forward to greet us. Our guide explained our mission and inquired as to the whereabouts of Uncle Ben Washington, with whom we wished to talk. Aunt Sarah, 1 who was Uncle Ben's wife, explained that her husband had gone to work in the woods early that morning.
A glance at the dense forest surrounding the little clearing convinced us that Uncle Ben would be unlikely to hear the halloos with which our guides were attempting to summon him.
Just as we were about to abandon the venture a unique figure appeared inside the fence and Reuben Taylor, the older of our guides, exclaimed, "Deah's Uncle Ben now." Uncle Ben 2 appeared in a long frock coat and high felt hat, carrying a walking stick. It was difficult to understand how he could have worked in such a costume. He seemed young for the eighty-five years he claimed, for he moved about with considerable agility.
As he drew nearer, Aunt Sarah went forward to greet him and the two old people came toward us together. When we again explained about the information we were seeking Uncle Ben said with grave courtesy that he was glad to have visitors.
Thinking of the precarious journey that lay behind us and wondering how far from the main road this little settlement might be, we asked Uncle Ben how often he went to town. He shook his head slowly. "We dohn nebuh go tuh duh road," he said. "We got ebryting we needs right yuh."
Aunt Sarah nodded her gray head in agreement. "Seems lak we libed yuh fuh mos ub our libes," she stated simply.
"We, built deze houses wen we fus come yuh. All duh chillun wuz raise yuh an we nebuh take up no time wid duh folks on duh outside. Nebuh did set no sto by mixin wid strainjuhs an sech doins."
Incredible as it seemed, they were speaking the truth. For half a century they had lived in this isolated spot, only a few miles from a frequently traversed highway.
Despite their evident liking for solitude the old couple were not averse to answering our questions. "is there much conjure and magic around here, Uncle Ben?" we asked.
"I heah tell ub tings lak dat," he answered and looked up with a sly quizzical smile. "Ise heahd bout bein cunjuhed an I know fuh true deah's sech tings as magic." Uncle Ben chuckled, "Ef yuh ebuh see a cross mahk in duh road, yuh nebuh walk obuh it. Das real magic. Yuh hab tuh go roun it. It's put deah by a enemy an ef yuh walks cross it, duh ebil spell will cause yuh hahm. 15 Duh cross is a magic sign an hab tuh do wid duh spirits."
"Ef dat happens," said Aunt Sarah, "reckon bout duh only ting yuh could do would be tuh see a root doctuh. 48 He gib yuh sumpm, wut cuos yuh." 6
Uncle Ben turned to us. "Lots uh folks carry hans all duh time an dis bring em, luck an keep duh ebil spirits away." 8, 12a, 12c, 12d
The old man seemed unable to describe these good luck charms, but he was more successful in describing the charms used in conjuring an enemy.
"Dey is made mosly frum haiah aw nails an lots uh times duh dus frum yuh foot track," he said. 7
Aunt Sarah's face darkened. "Ain nobody git my haiah," she declared. "I buns it so nobody kin wuk hahm wid it." 10
Young Reuben spoke up. "Ef yuh weahs a silvuh coin, it brings yuh good luck," he stated doggedly. "An ef any body cunjuh yuh aw wuk gense yuh, duh money tun black an yuh know yuh hab tuh do sumpm. bout it fo duh cunjuh wuks." 12a, 12c, 12d
"Did you ever see anyone who was conjured?" we asked. All three nodded solemnly.
Uncle Ben spoke first "Dey's mosly all crippled up an
caahn moob bout. Ef dey dohn do nuttn, duh cunjuh gits wus, an dey dies." 15
"Folks wut is cunjuhed hab snakes in em an sometimes frawgs. 5 Yuh kin see em moobin roun in deah bodies," volunteered Reuben. "Wen dey visit duh root doctuh 48 an he wuks obuh em, den dey's jis as good as noo."
"Some folks roun bout say dey sees spirits," added Uncle Ben. "Dey calls em plat-eye, cuz dey hab jis one big eye hangin out in front. 62 I dohn fool roun wid sech tings fuh dey's sho bad luck."
"In some places the people told us that dead people's spirits returned to earth. Is that true here?" we asked.
Aunt Sarah speculated. She wagged her black-bonneted head until her brass earrings jangled. Finally she offered, "I dohn guess yuh be bodduh much by duh spirits ef yuh gib em a good fewnul 36 an put duh tings wut belong tuh em on top uh duh grave." 47
Uncle Ben helped with this explanation. "Yuh puts all duh tings wut dey use las, lak duh dishes an duh medicine bottle. Duh spirits need deze same as duh man. Den duh spirit res an dohn wanduh bout."
Aunt Sarah said that they went to set-ups and that in the old days, after the mourners had arrived, a chicken was killed. 35, 37b, 37c Neither Aunt Sarah nor Uncle Ben, however, knew the reason for this.
Catching sight of a few crudely made farm implements propped up against one of the buildings, we recalled a belief prevailing in most of the Negro communities already visited.
"Does a hoe possess magic qualities?" we wanted to know.
Uncle Ben and Reuben glanced at each other, then muttered in unison, "Yes'm, duh hoe is magic sho nuff."
From Reuben we received the additional statement, "Ef yuh carry duh hoe tru duh house, it sho mean bad luck."
Uncle Ben's contribution was, "I heah lots uh tings bout duh hoe. I heah tell bout how it jis stan right up in duh fiel by itsef an wuk fuh yuh widout nobody techin it--das ef yuh kin wuk it right." 39
When we asked about the music played at dances and at church services, Uncle Ben explained to us, "Some yeahs back at duh dances dey would alluz beat duh drums an shake'
some kine uh bones wut dey make frum cow's ribs. All duh folks would keep time wid deah hans an feet an dance tuh duh music." 23
Apparently the memory of similar affairs was pleasant to Reuben, the young guide, for his eyes gleamed and his white teeth flashed in a sudden smile. "Fo I wuz married," he said, "I use tuh go tuh dances an picnics all duh time. Dey would hab only duh drums fuh music an dey would beat on em an duh folks would dance roun in a ring tuh duh toon."
As it was growing dark, we were forced to end our visit to this interesting settlement. Reuben led the way back to the car and we plunged again into the pine forest.
Going back over the trail we commiserated with Reuben, who apparently made the trip frequently. "I comes tuh see em mos ebry day. Yuh see, Ise married tuh deah baby girl," he confided.
125:1 Reuben Taylor, Eulonia.
126:1 Sarah Washington, in the pine woods about five miles from Eulonia.
126:2 Ben Washington, in the pine woods about five miles from Eulonia.