Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
The Negroes of St. Marys live scattered about the town and its outskirts. In the past few years many of the very old people have died and there remain only a few who are past eighty years old. We went to see Hettie Campbell, 1 who was only seventy-two. Her mother had belonged to Dr. Wright of St. Marys and all her ante-bellum knowledge had been imparted to her by her mother and her stepfather, Andrew King. When we drove up she was sitting on the porch of her small house. The front garden was a packed dirt yard with formal plantings of flowers and shrubbery. During most of our talk Hettie's son, Horace, 2 stood in the doorway, half interested in and half amused by the conversation.
We asked Hettie to tell us about the old times.
"I remembuh Uncle Patty an Ahnt Rachel. They wuz frum. Africa. Aftuh the waw wen they move from the plantation, they lived in a house on the watuhfront an they use tuh talk funny tuh each othuh so none of us chilluns couldn unduhstan em. I dohn remembuh so much bout em cuz uh wuz mighty lill then, but Henry Williams he remembuhs all right. Henry's eighty-seven yeahs ole.
"I do remembuh the big times we use tuh have wen I wuz young. We does plenty uh dances in those days. Dance roan in a ring. We has a big time long bout wen crops come in an evrybody bring sumpm tuh eat wut they makes an we all gives praise fuh the good crop an then we shouts an sings
all night. 38An wen the sun rise, we stahts tuh dance. It ain so long since they stop that back in the woods but these young people they does new kines uh dances."
Horace interjected here, "I seen em do those dances back in the woods but not yuh."
We asked what sort of music they had for the dances.
"They mosly have guitah now," said Hettie, "an we use tuh use guitah too, but we makes em frum goad an we beats drums too. We makes em frum coon hide stretched ovuh hoops. 25 Muh step-fathuh, Andrew King, who lived down the Satilla Rivuh, use tuh tell me how it wuz in the ole days. He tell me they bring a boatload of them Africans ovuh frum a ilun tuh theah plantation. That wuz jis befo the waw an they wuz running frum the Yankees."
We asked if she had known any families who refused to eat certain kinds of food.
"Thas a hahd un, ma'am. Mos people eat wut they kin git but I knowd Chahlotte Froman who wouldn tech chicken. They all say that chicken wuz a duhty animal an they ain gonuh eat em. 65 They keeps chicken cuz frizzle chicken is a wise chicken. it sho kin fine wut you caahn fine." 13a
We asked about conjure.
Horace laughed and said, "I tell yuh, ma'am, they's mo doin of cunjuh up roun Savannah than theah is in these pahts. I jis bin up theah an I ain nevuh heahd so much talk of it in muh life. Theah's a lot of ole customs still roun an we've all heahd bout em an knows bout em but theah ain nobody much wut's ole nuff tuh pay much tention tuh em." Horace smiled with the superiority of the younger generation.
Later we visited Henry Williams 1 whose little house sat back in a clump of tall, overgrown brush that grew close to the dilapidated paling fence. Henry, who sat on his sunny porch, was strong and healthy looking for his eighty-seven years. The shabbiness of his clothes contrasted with the splendor of the naval cap on his head. Two little neighbors, Enoch and Artie Jones, were playing in the yard.
When we told Henry that we wanted to know about old times, he launched into eager conversation.
"I belong tuh William Cole Wut live at Oakland Plantation but it wunt long befo the waw an then I wuz free an come tuh town. Wen I wuz bout twelve, I hep Daddy Patty in his tannin yahd ovuh theah on the watuh by the cimiterry. Patty wuz a shoemakuh too an use tuh make all kines uh things out uh hides an skins."
We asked him to tell us all he could remember about Uncle Patty and his wife.
"Well, they's both frum Africa an as I remumbuh they's Ibos. They wuz bout middle height an heavy buil. I ain suttn bout Ahnt Rachel but Daddy Patty belong tuh ole man Arnow an I think he bought im at a sale an bring im down yuh. They use tuh talk tuh each othuh in a language wut we couldn unduhstan an Patty use tuh alluz be singin a song, 'a-shou-tu-goula.'
"Daddy Patty, he use tuh talk tuh the mens in the tannin yahd bout weah he come frum. He ain talk tuh me but I heah im. He say they ain hadduh plant but once a yeah cuz evrything grows wile. They buns gumbo fuh wood. He say they live in 'boo-boo-no' made out uh sticks an straw thas plastuhed with mud. Fus they digs a big flat celluh bout a foot deep an packs the earth down smooth an tight. Thas the flo. Then they leans the sticks tuh the centuh an they puts the straw an the mud on em an it come out lak a beehive an thas weah they lib.
"They buil a big 'boo-boo-no' fuh the chief. Patty he wuz the chief son an he have three straight mahks slantin down on he right cheek an that wuz a bran tuh show who he wuz. 14 He wuz the waw chief son and doze mahks tell whut tribe he belong tuh. Wen I knowd im, he stay down in a lill house on the alley neah the ribbuh. I sho heahd im talk a lot. Ise hole duh bide fuh im wen he scrapes em with a scrapuh. Patty say all the people suppote the king by plantin cassaba an givin the king some uh the cassaba."
We asked Uncle Henry about the dances and the customs of long ago.
"I sho, see dances wut give thanks fuh the crop 38 an we prays in the night an dance wen the sun rise. I know the Buzzud Lope too. 17 I seen em do that an they use tuh have big Satdy night doins. Roun Christmas we git three days'
holiday an theah's plenty uh dances an shoutin then. We I goes tuh the ownuh an gits a ticket an we all gathuhs at the same place an we shouts an kick up with each othuh, but wen yuh ticket out, ef yuh dohn come back, the patrol will git yuh an then yuh gits whipped."
We asked him about witch doctors and taboos.
"I tell yuh, missus, they ain many wut knows bout roots yuh tuhday. Some does come tuh sell hans an chahms 8 all they's a heap uh signs fuh the bad an good luck ef I have time tuh study bout em. Now the Jordan family, ole man Jordan, he dohn let none uh his family eat rabbit. Theah's the ole man an Ahnt Tillah an theah chillun, Sally an Austin. He use tuh tell the boy, 'Dohn yuh go shoot no rabbits roun yuh; we dohn none of us eats rabbit. Thas bad luck fuh us.' He sho wuz strick bout it." 65
We questioned the old man further about his recollections of the beliefs and practices of his ancestors. It appeared, however, that for the present, his discourse had come to a close.
After a moment's hesitation he answered us with, "I ain think bout doze ole days so much lately, miss, but wen ub gits tuh studyin bout em, lots uh things comes back tuh me."
We went by to talk with Charity Lucas, a fine looking upstanding, middle-aged Negro woman. She told us she did not know much about her father's people,--they had come from around Carolina,--but her mother and her mother's people had come from around Waycross and she herself had been born in Waycross. She said that the coast Negroes were very different from the interior people. She had heard talk of conjure and spirits around St. Marys but she didn't believe much in it herself; she had not been brought up that way.
Her son Robert, a tall, lithe, powerful young Negro of about twenty-five, was rather taciturn. He had heard of these things but didn't care to speak of them and didn't believe in them much anyway.
Charity advised us to go to see old Jim Myers. "Now theah's one that's ole an'll be able tuh tell yuh plenty. He's neahly ninety and sho likes tuh talk."
We asked if his memory were good. "Yes'm, it's as good as mine. I guess it's bettuh."
We asked for directions and she told us how to go, ten miles deep into the woods off from the St. Marys-Kingsland highway.
Our road and what later turned out to be a pine needle wagon track carried us through Marianna, John Houstoun McIntosh's plantation, through Sweeetwater Hammock and on through other settlements to Mush Bluff Island where old Jim Myers lived. The last mile we had to walk, owing to some swampy patches in the wagon track. A Negro boy of about eleven sauntered around a bush, and his eyes popped open in frightened surprise at strangers appearing so suddenly in the woods.
"Does Jim Myers live near here?" we asked.
"Right theah roun the cawnuh of the path," he said, and we came suddenly upon the house, a three room unpainted, board cabin sitting about two feet off the ground on large, sturdy oak stumps. The front steps were three oak logs of increasing diameter that made a massive if difficult tread to the door. The house was in a large grove of oak trees and the usual plows, iron pots, and implements were scattered about the hard packed, sand yard. Jim Myers owned a good deal of land and there was a well-to-do feeling about the whole place, though it was old-fashioned and isolated in the extreme.
Uncle Jim 1 came down the log steps to greet us. His bare feet manipulated the round treads easily. He was a big man, slightly bent from rheumatism, very black with a white fringe of a beard. His eyes were rheumy with age. Around his ankles were two brass wires, which helped to take the pain out of his legs. 12b
"Uncle Jim," we said, "tell us about the times when you were a boy."
Uncle Jim laughed in condescending good humor. "Lawd, missus, thas so long ago I ain thought bout them days in a long time and theah ain much tuh tell. Ise bawn jis twenny mile from yuh on Mr. John Tompkins' plantation and I lived
roun yuh all muh life. I bin heah on Mush Bluff Ilun a long time."
We asked him if he had known any Africans when he was a young man.
"Yes'm, I sho knowd plenty of em. Theah wuz a lawg house that belonged to Mr. Hallowes wich use tuh set right ovuh theah in them woods until about ten yeahs ago. That was the house that they kep the wile Africans in. It had big ion rings in the flo. They chained them wile Africans theah till they wuz tame. They'd take em out one by one and they'd give em a stick an put em in the fiel with people wut knowd how tuh wuk and that way they lun how too. They sked to give em a hoe. It's shahp and they might frail roun with it."
We asked Uncle Jim if he could see spirits. "No'm, I ain nevuh seen em. I wuzn bawn with a caul 4 an I caahn see em. Now, muh brothuh he kin see em cuz he wuz bawn with a caul. He see em all the time. Spirits is alluz roun in time of fewnuls an wen a pusson die, we have a settin-up and then we leave sumpm wut we got tuh eat in a dish by him to eat 54--that is, we use tuh do that--an we put salt on em in the ole days an we go up to em an we put our hands on theah chest to bid em feahwell." 31
We asked Uncle Jim if they used to have night funerals in the old days. "No'm, we alluz have our fewnuls in the day time but my great granmothuh, now, she say in Africa they have night fewnuls."
We asked him to tell us more of his African great grandmother.
"Muh great gran, hub name wuz Bina; thas all we know ub, by. She brought up muh mothuh cuz muh gran got bun up in uh house wen muh mothuh wuz two days ole."
We asked him if he remembered her well. "Yes'm, I wuz a big boy about fifteen wen she die an they all say she wuz a hundud an thutty yeahs ole at that time. She sho ole, I know dat, but she remembuh plenty. She tell us chillun so much I caahn remembuh all them things."
We asked again about night funerals. "She jis say they have em at night but she didn say wy. She did say they alluz kill a wite chicken at the time they go to bury em an they take the blood an feathuhs an they do sumpm special with
em but I ain unduhstood how it is. 35a, 35b I tell you wut she tell me, how she get heah on a big boat an she Ian down theah on Cumberland Ilun on a big dock in the time of Mr. Nightingale an she say they put em in a lill pick house to keep em safe an the chimbly of that same lill house is standin about two hundud yahds out in the rivuh off Cumberland tuhday."
We asked if she had told him how they lived in Africa and what kind of house they lived in. "She ain speak of wut kine uh house but she do speak of monkeys. They have monkeys all roun em and they dohn have tuh do no plantin cuz evrything is wile and they pick it off the trees."
We asked him if he could remember any African words be had heard his grandmother use. "They wuz funny wuds," be laughed, "I ought tuh be able to remembuh em but I caahn. She use tuh sing songs with African wuds. Ef I could study about em, I might remembuh some but now you ask me I jis caahn git em tuh mine. She did sing a chuch song wat have wuds we could unduhstand, an then in the middle of it she say 'yeribum, yeribum, yeribum, by,' and looked like wen she come to the en of each stanza, she sing 'yeribum, yeribum, yeribum, by.' It sho is a long time ago, them-days."
Later we followed a deeply rutted sand road which led westward in the direction of Folkston. Few cars traveled this way and once during our trip we encountered an old fashioned two-wheeled ox cart whose driver guided his oxen deftly to one side in order to let us pass.
About three or four miles out on the road we turned in a gate and drove to the side of Shadwick Rudolph's 1 house. The old man greeted us smilingly. At first glance be did not appear to be the eighty-six years he claimed, but on closer observation we noticed that his eyes were dimmed from age. He talked with us for some time, telling us among other things, "I belong tuh Mr. Dave Bailey. He own Woodbine Plantation. Muh granfathuh, his name wuz Jim. He come ovuh tuh this country frum Africa. He tell me that ovuh theah they have houses made of palmettuh.
"Then, ole Nanny Mammy, she live at the plantation too, and she come frum Africa. She alluz set down tuh wuk; no mattuh wut kine uh wuk, she set down tuh do it. Nanny
[paragraph continues] Mammy use tuh set down in the middle of the flo of ub. house wen she go tuh eat an she alluz cat out of a wooden bowl. Sometimes she use a spoon, but mos of the time she jis eat with uh finguhs. Muh granfathuh use tuh set with uh an talk. They talk a lot an speak the African wuds an souns. I ain know wut they talk bout, mosly bout the times in Africa I think. One soun aw wud I membuh they say wuz 'cupla' but wut it mean I sho dohn know.
"Fuh the longes time I have a wooden bowl 70 bout lak the one Nanny Mammy have. It wuz holluhed out jis as smooth, an it wuz made of some kine uh dahk wood. Not long ago muh wife say she ain see da bowl in monuh yeah. She think mebbe one uh the chillun, muh grans I mean, mustuh misplace it someway.
"Theah's a lot uh things I membuh at the plantation. Muh grandmothuh, Sally, she make the bes rice cakes. She make em with brown shuguh. She ain mix em up with honey. I seed em make home-made drums theah too. They stretch a sheep-hide ovuh a roun bucket. 25 Then they beats the drum in the fewnul cession wen they mahches tuh the buryin groun. 24 Long then wen a pusson die they have a settin-up 37a an have a suppuh too. 37b, 37c Theah wuz an still is pussons wut put a dish uh food out on the poach fuh the spirit, but some of em take cooked food tuh the grave an leave it theah fuh the spirit. 58 They say, too, that a frizzle chicken kin dig up any kine uh cunjuh. 13 Theah's a lot uh talk bout cunjuh these days mung the young folks, even mo than in the ole days." 15
A short while later, our interview concluded, we thanked the old man for the information and took our leave. Looking back we saw him sitting on the steps of his house, his gray head bent, to all appearances lost in a reverie of the past.
177:1 Hettie Campbell, St. Marys. Deceased autumn, 1939.
177:2 Horace Campbell, St. Marys.
178:1 Henry Williams, St. Marys.
181:1 Jim Myers, Mush Bluff Island.
183:1 Shadwick Rudolph, Folkston Road, near Woodbine.