Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
Extending southwest from Savannah over a widely scattered area is a section known locally as Tatemville. This settlement is inhabited largely by Negroes, some of whom are survivals of ante-bellum days.
It is interesting to note that a number of these old people in speaking of their fellow-slaves frequently prefix "Golla" to the given name. 1
H. H. Miller, 2 an educated old man of this community, who has acquired considerable wealth, stated, "I knew many of the 'Golla' tribesmen who were brought to this country, when I was a boy. I think some can be found aroun these pahts now."
A palsied old man, William Newkirk, 3 who said he was born on the Newkirk place, obligingly replied to questions concerning root doctors and conjure, "Well, duh root doctuh wuz all we needed. Dey wuz bettuh dan duh doctuhs now-a-days. Deah wuzn all uh dis yuh cuttin an wen yuh sick, duh root doctuh would make some tea an gib yuh aw sumpm tuh rub wid an das all. Den fo yuh know it, yuh wuz all right. 48a He would fix tings fuh yuh ef somebody done put sumpm down fuh yuh. Deah wuz many ways tuh wuk it. Sometime he would gib yuh sumpm tuh weah wid yuh aw sumpm tuh take." 6
Spirits are a reality to Esther Jones, 4 obviously a woman
of schooling as evinced by her diction. She is a devout member of the Adventist Church, her day of worship coming on Saturday instead of the customary Sunday, a day observed and anticipated by the average Negro.
"Silvia Higgins," Esther testified, "wuz a medium. She talked with spirits all huh life. 56a, 56b She used the rapping signal. I myself have seen the work and acts of spirits. I've I seen cheahs and tables move about a room. And I've seen a woman and a boy come intuh my yahd and then disappeah, and I know that the woman wuz dead. The boy wuz not dead but wuz not anywheah in this vicinity. Silvia Higgins wuz my mothuh. She has been dead thirty-two yeahs."
One of the most interesting Negroes in this settlement is Tonie Houston, 1 an old preacher, extremely gracious of manner and eager to be of help.
"I bin yuh in dis town fo dey wuz no big buildings an duh streets wuz all dut an deah wuz no pavement."
"Do you remember any of the people brought over from Africa?" we asked.
"Yas, I know heaps ub um. Deah wuz 'Golla' John Wiley, 'Golla' Jim Bayfield--he wuz bought by Mahse Chahles Lamar, and he sole im to Mr. McMullen. Den deah wuz 'Golla' Jack, 'Golla' Tom, 'Golla' Silvie, 'Golla' Chahles Carr, 'Golla' Bob, Chahlotte, Cain, an Jeanette, an 'Golla' Alice. Dey wuz all bought by Mr. McMullen."
When asked the meaning of so many "Gollas," he replied, "All duh people wut come frum Africa aw obuhseas wuz call 'Golla,' and dey talk wuz call 'Golla' talk." His knowledge of their language, gained by association with the Africans, was scant. Among the words he remembered were musungo tobacco, mulafo whiskey, and sisure chicken. A cow was called gombay 25g and a hog gulluh.
To questions regarding the utensils, such as buckets, tubs, dishes, and tools, of these people, he answered, "Dey would make any ting dey needed. Dey made spoons, trays, buckets. Dey made piggins an mawtuh an pestle from a lawg ub wood. Dey would make wooden cuttuhs fuh meat an vegetubble an would dress some uh dem. wid pretty figyuhs." 70b
For their meetings, he said "Golla" Tom or another would beat the drum signalling them to gather; then all would sing and dance in a circle to the accompaniment of the drum. 23 The drums of death would also sound, summoning to the "settin-up" or wake. 26 "Dey would have some hot drinks," recounted Tonie Houston, "sech as coffee an tea. 37 Den at duh time fuh buryin, duh drum would beat an all would lay flat on duh groun on dey faces befo duh body wuz placed in duh grave. Den all would rise and dance roun duh grave. Wen duh body wuz buried, duh drum would give signal wen all wuz tuh rise aw fall aw tuh dance aw sing." 18
As to the magic of conjure, he had been well acquainted with a "cunjuh man" who, he said, was a native of Africa and could disappear at will. However, this man, Dick Hamilton, had died three years previously.
There had also been living in Tatemville "Golla" Jones Davis, an African, who, as affirmed by his relative, Solomon Davis, has not been heard of since his departure for his native land, some five or six years ago.
Richard Wright, 1 bent with age and rheumatism, talked at length about his childhood on the plantation, where he was one of seventy-five children owned by his "Boss." He attested to the skill exhibited in that day by the men in wood carving and the making of farm implements 70d and by the women in making cloth.
He was staunch in his belief in signs as he declared, "Deah's many tings wut's bad luck. Ef we come in duh house wid our hat on we hab tuh go back an den pull it off an den come in. Wen yuh clean duh house in duh day an duh flo, git duhty agen by duh night time an yuh sweep duh flo, Yuh musn sweep duh dut out duh house, but yuh hab tuh sweep it behine duh doe till mawnin.
"'Tis bad luck fuh girls tuh wistle. It will suttnly lead tuh misfawchun. Yuh should nevuh put noo bodes on a ole house but yuh should git a ole bode das good tuh men duh place dat yuh hab tuh fix. An nevuh put anudduh ruhm on a house das already buil. It sho mean bad luck, eeduh sickness aw det tuh some uh yuh fambly aw close friens, wen
yuh heah duh owl holluh by yuh house. 44 Now yuh kin watch it. I ain see it fail yet.'
The custom of spitting on money is a very old one, it seems. This, he explained, will cause it to "stick tuh yuh aw it will draw mo tuh yuh."
Strolling down the sandy road with an ax across his shoulder and a dog at his heels, Jack Waldburg 1 hastily removed his hat at the sight of us. He is of medium height and slightly bent; his hair and beard are quite gray but his sprightly appearance belies the eighty years he aims.
He greeted us cordially, listened attentively to what we had to say, and answered without hesitation.
"Yes, missis, I bawn an raise in dis paht uh duh country, down at Cherry Hill in Bryan County. But I bin libin roun yuh bout tutty yeahs. Muh gran wuz a African. Das weah he come frum an be name wuz Buck Waldburg. He dahk in culluh an medium high wid strong buil. He hab long haiah. But granmudduh, she from deah, too, an she feah. She duh one wut lun me tuh make medicine frum root. 48b She a midwife an tell me duh kine tuh use. I dohn make it no mo cuz I ain got a license."
We asked if conjure were practiced by root men.
"No'm, I dohn know nuttn bout cunjuh. Some folks say dey kin wuk it but it bad an I dohn fool wid um.
"Now spirits is diffunt. Deah is good un an bad un. 56a I caahn see um but uh feels um. Sometime wen folks is comin tuh me I kin tell dey comin fo I see um, an wen yuh die yuh head tun backwud. 57 Soon's yuh die it tun roun.
"Duh folks frum Africa could see um. Dey natchul bawn in dat way. An wite dogs! 4c Dey alluz kin see spirit. Muh brudduh Simon he bawn wid a caul an he see um an play wid um. 4 Dey would climb trees an he climb attuh um so muh mudduh give um some tea made frum caul uh women an bline um tuh um."
We endeavored to gain some information as to the ingredients of this tea but the only explanation was that the concoction was more effective when made from cauls of women.
He could remember nothing as to the use of drums at funerals or other gatherings but his eyes twinkled when we turned the conversation to a culinary line.
"Ma would make ash cake," he recalled. "She would mix duh cawnmeal, den open duh oak ashes an spread in some hickory leaves, den put duh cawnmeal on duh leabes an cubbuh wid mo leabes, den put duh hot ashes an coals on duh top. Wen it done, she take duh bread frum duh ashes an rub it wid a rough clawt aw brush an it would be pretty an brown. Dis," he concluded smacking his lips, "wuz bery fine wid fat meat aw surup."
Justine Singleton 1 believed firmly in the existence of spirits as verified by her statement. "Yes, wen I wuz sick muh sistuh das dead come tuh me an I knowd dat it wuz huh an she done talk tuh me. She tole me tuh git some weepin willuh an bile it an make a wash fuh muh feet." This, she explained is an excellent remedy for foot ailments. "I done talk tuh duh spirits many times. Sometime I gib em sumpm. I caahn tell yuh no mo now cuz I caahn git muh mine tuhgedduh."
In this locality stands a small one-room structure occupied by an old man and his dog, between whom there is a touching devotion. in addition to other means of livelihood, he follows the profession of root doctor. "I kin cuo any kine uh sickness das put on yuh. An," he added, "I kin tell wut a man want. Soon's uh see im his spirit come tuh me. I lay down an sleep an know wen somebody want me. Deah spirit come an wake me. Many times uh go an fine em lookin fuh me."
This man, whose name is Allen Parker 2 is unusually adept with his hands, as shown by his skill in mending clocks, watches, and firearms, in making chairs, baskets, piggins, bread trays, spoons and forks, 70d and in carving figures of such animals as snakes, lizards, frogs, dogs, alligators and rabbits. 50b
In reference to native Africans, he declared that he had known many of them but that few were left in this vicinity although he thought some might be found around Darien.
It was with difficulty that Rosanna Williams 1 was persuaded to talk. She was suspicious and reticent and lived behind tightly locked doors in a house that to all appearance was deserted. After much coaxing she cast aside some of her mistrust and grudgingly responded to our friendly gestures.
"Muh name is Rosanna Williams. Muh pa wuz Lonnon Dennerson. He frum duh ole country. Muh granpa wuz 'Golla' Dennerson, King uh his tribe. Wen muh pa wuz a lill boy, him an muh granpa wuz fool away wid a red hankuhchuh. Dey wuz sole tuh Chahls Grant on one uh duh iluns roun Brunswick. Muh pa wuz six foot tall an on is furud wuz a scah bout dis big." 14 She indicated the end of her forefinger.
We questioned her more closely regarding this mark which from her description seemed to have been a small scar, oval in shape and slightly raised.
We had been told by her neighbors that she, too, bore a mark, although none of them had seen it.
"Did he mark you too, Rosanna?"
She gave us a piercing look, ignored the question, and continued along another vein. "He eat funny kine uh food. Roas wile locus an mushrubm an tanyan root. It lak elephanteah an tase like Irish potatuh. He plant mosly benne an rice. I plant a lill benne ebry yeah too. He use tuh beat benne seed in mawtuh an pestle, sometime wid a lill shuguh an sometime wid a lill salt an make a pase. He eat it on bread aw he eat it jis so."
We broached the subject of drums.
"Yes'm, dey use tuh dance tuh drums an dey beat um fuh fewnuls too.
"I wuz too lill tuh membuh anyting wut wuz; said bout muh granpa, but muh pa wuk on duh fahm fuh is 'boss.' He make lot uh duh tings dey use. I ain got nuttn wut he had but dis." She brought forth a curious looking tool resembling a can opener with a hook in the end, which, she said, her father had used for extracting teeth. He had also been familiar with various roots and weeds, which he used in the
preparation of medicines administered to the sick on the plantation. 48b
We returned to the subject of the mark, at the mention of which her eyes suddenly narrowed.
"Wut yuh doin? Is yuh gonuh sen me back tuh Liberia?"
When we assured her that we had no such intention she became complacent and even voluble.
"Yes'm, he mahk me," she admitted, "on muh ches."
"What did he do it with? What sort of an instrument did he use?" we asked, vainly trying to conceal our interest.
"I dohn membuh. I wuz too lill."
"But did he tell you why he marked you?" we persisted.
"No'm, he ain say wy. He jis tell me he done it wen Ise lill. I dohn known wut he do it wid an Ise mos grown fo uh know wut it is an Ise duh onlies one he mahk. I duh tomboy uh duh fambly an folluh im roun askin wut duh ole country like."
"Rosanna," we ventured, "would you let us see the scar?"
She hesitated, then cautiously raised her hand to the fastening at the neck of her dress and, baring her chest, allowed us a glimpse of the scar. It appeared to be an irregular circle the size of a fifty-cent piece with faint lines which seemed to run toward the center. 14 Time, however, had obliterated any design or pattern which it might once have had.
61:1 See Introduction.
61:2 H. H. Miller, 461h and Pearl Streets.
61:3 William Newkirk Tatemville.
61:4 Esther Jones, 308 West 46th Street.
62:1 Tonie Houston, Tatemville.
63:1 Richard Wright, Tatemville.
64:1 Jack Waldburg, Tatemville.
65:1 Justine Singleton, Tatemville.
65:2 Allen Parker, Tatemville.
66:1 Rosanna Williams, Tatemville.