Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
A winding tree-shaded dirt road leads from Darien up the Altamaha to the Negro community of Possum Point. The freshets in the section rise in the rainy season and the road is often flooded. On either side the trees are mirrored in the shallow water which surrounds them. In the spring against the fresh green of the trees and foliage there is the soft color of wild honeysuckle and Cherokee Rose. Through the thickly-massed trees the sun filters dimly; a misty, unreal atmosphere overhangs the entire scene.
Set back from the roadway are occasional small dwelling places, with boards turned dun-colored from age and exposure. Neatly tended vegetable and flower gardens stretch out to the front and sides of the houses. The owners can be found industriously working in the gardens, sitting on the porches, or gathered in little groups along the road. Here and there small bridges span the road, and at each of these a number of persons are often seen leisurely fishing, their long bamboo poles forming graceful arcs from the bank to the water.
We had been told that Alec Anderson was an old man and one who would be able to enlighten us regarding the beliefs prevalent in that section. We stopped a few times to inquire where he lived. After continuing for several miles, the road turned to the right. It swerved again a short distance later and continued in a narrow, uneven pathway through the woods. This section was but sparsely settled and we glimpsed a cabin only now and then.
At length we came upon a neatly kept house enclosed by
a wire fence set back from the road. In the distance we could see a bent and stocky figure trudging toward us along the road and this we thought might be Alec. At one side of the house was a garden; at the other side the sprawling branches of an old oak tree shaded an iron pump and an ancient black iron pot used for boiling clothes. Chickens scuttled about the yard and a small black puppy, dozing in the sun, awoke at our approach.
On the porch a group of Negroes were seated. A plump, elderly woman, a young girl and two small children watched with interest as we approached.
The older woman was Rachel, 1 Alec Anderson's wife. She scarcely appeared to be the seventy-three years she admitted. Her round good-natured face was framed with a number of tight little gray braids on top of which perched a small brown felt hat. Her green blouse and red skirt were worn but clean and her bare brown feet peeped out from under the voluminous skirt. The younger woman was reticent but friendly, and the two children watched the proceedings with wide-eyed concern.
The man we had noticed walking down the road turned in at the gateway, and as we had surmised this was Alec. 2 He was clad in a pair of faded and torn blue overalls and a battered felt hat. Thick-lensed brown glasses did not entirely hide amiable, intelligent eyes. With profound courtesy the old man greeted us and started in to chat in a pleasant, unselfconscious manner.
"Cose yuh do heah bout cunjuh," he told us. "But I nebuh bodduh much wid dat kine uh ting. Deah's plenty uh folks wut does belieb in it an I hab heah uh strange tings happenin tuh some folks wut hab spells put on um." 15
Here Rachel interrupted. "I alluz bun muh haiah combins cuz das wut mos folks make cunjuh outuh. 10 Ef dey git yuh haiah, yuh hab to do any ting dey wahn yuh tuh."
Alec stated solemnly, "Some folks is alluz sayin dat spirits is bodduhin um. 59 Nebuh hab trouble wid um muhsef."
This was explained by Rachel who said that they knew a
horse-shoe was an excellent remedy for "keeping duh hant away'"
"Witches come in at night an ride yuh too," 69 said Alec. "Jis ride duh folks till some ub um gits so po dey jis pass way."
We asked if they had ever heard that a frizzled chicken could dig up conjure laid down for a victim and they both nodded in affirmation.
"Chicken kin sho dig up cunjuh. 13a Alluz hab heah uh dat," they echoed.
Alec told us that he had been born three years before freedom. He dwelt for a time on those long-past days and recollected some of the customs that had been prevalent then.
"Use tuh alluz beat duh drum at fewnuls. Right attuh duh pusson die, dey beat um tuh tell duh udduhs bout duh fewnul. Dey beat a long beat. Den dey stop. Den dey beat anudduh long beat. Ebrybody know dat dis mean somebody die. Dey beat duh drum in duh nex settlement tuh let duh folks in duh nex place heah." 26
We had previously been told of a similar means of communication employed by the people in this section in former years. At various points large metal discs were hung on trees and posts. On these messages had been beaten out and relayed from place to place. in this manner the people were informed of dances, picnics, meetings, wakes, and other such gatherings. 26
The old couple went on to describe what took place at a wake.
"Wen dey fix duh cawpse, dey put pennies on duh eyes an dey put salt on duh stomach tuh keep it frum purgin. Ebrybody put duh hands on um tuh say good-bye. 31
"On duh way tuh duh grabe dey beat duh drum as dey is mahchin long. 24 Wen duh body is put in duh grabe, ebrybody shout roun duh grabe in a succle, singin an prayin. Each one trow a hanful uh dut in duh grabe." 28
The conversation shifted to topics of a more cheerful nature and Rachel told us that in former years at harvest time, they had been in the habit of holding "crop suppuhs." 38
Her face creased itself into a delightful grin and her eyes
shone as she told us, "Dat sho wuz a big time. We hab a big feas. All night we shouts an in duh mawnin right at sunrise we pray an bow low tuh duh sun. Muh great-gran--she name Peggy--I membuh she pray ebry day, at sunrise, at noon, an at sunset. She kneel down wen she pray an at duh en she bow low tree times, facin duh sun."
Alec's thoughts in the meantime had turned to more trivial affairs. He went on to tell us about the various dances that are popular at the present-day social affairs.
"Cose we do duh Buzzud Lope," 17 he began. "Ebrybody knows dat. Den we alluz does anudduh dance. We calls it 'Come Down tuh duh Myuh.' We dance roun an shake duh ban an fiddle duh foot. One ub us kneel down in duh middle uh duh succle. Den we all call out an rise an shout roun, an we all fling duh foot agen."
In answer to our question about river baptisms the old people informed us that they are still held in the section. Alec described these. "We all sing an pray an duh preachuh pray tuh duh Lord. Cose duh candidate caahn be save less he reely want tuh be. Duh preachuh an duh candidates goes down in duh watuh. Den duh preachuh make a prayuh tuh duh ribbuh an duh ribbuh washes duh sin away." 63
It is bad luck to eat certain types of food, Rachel told us. This belief had never influenced Rachel or Alec but they had known of people who were "fuhbid tuh eat eel fish mong udduh tings." 65
Our visit was such a pleasant one that we stayed for a while longer to talk. The household was an unusually contented and peaceful one. The old couple were apparently satisfied with a simple scheme of existence although Alec did venture the usual remark regarding his old-age pension. "Sho would lak tuh hab it, missus. Mebbe yuh kin git dem gubment folks tuh see dat I gits it."
When we were about ready to leave, a middle-aged daughter, who had been lingering at the gateway, came up and joined the group. She confided that she had been married to one man for thirty years, but that he had died and she had recently remarried. This second marriage was evidently not so successful, for she said, "Dis huzbun ain lak duh fus one.
[paragraph continues] He's triflin an ain sech a good providuh. Wen I loss duh fus huzbun, I sho loss ebryting."
At that time Rachel and Alec had been married for fifty-seven years and during all this period there had been few differences or unpleasant happenings. As Alec escorted us to the car he told us of his high regard for his wife, assuring us in conclusion, "I ain nebuh had no trouble wid uh. Ain so much as tech uh wid a pocket hankuhchuh sence I done bin had ub."
A little later we went to visit Susan Maxwell, 1 who was sitting on the porch of her house when we drove up. She was about ninety-two years old and, having been ill recently, was snugly wrapped up in a variety of garments.
The house, she told us, was about one hundred years old. A hall ran from the front to the back part, and from the back porch a passage led to a lean-to kitchen. A barn near the house was about to collapse from age and lack of repair. In the yard a black ox lay chained under a tree and a large hollowed-out log set on legs served as a watering trough for the ox.
Susan told us about the death of her mother, Rachel La Conte, who had come from Liberty County. "She die right in dis house. Dey measure uh wid a string. Dey beat duh drum tuh tell ebrybody bout duh settin-up. 26 We all set up wid duh body. We hab a big wash pot full uh coffee an hab a big sack uh soda crackuh fuh duh folks. 37b, 37c Ebrybody place dey ban bery light on uh eahs an on uh nose an den dey say, 'Dohn call me. I ain ready fuh tuh go yit.' 30, 31
"We bury uh by tawch light attuh dahk. Ebrybody mahch roun duh grabe in a succle. Ebry night attuh duh fewnul I put food on duh poach fuh duh spirit tuh come git it." 56, 58
"In duh ole days dey beat duh drum tuh call duh people tuh duh fewnul. 24 Dey beat it slow-boom-boom-boom. Wen dey wannuh stuhrup duh folks fuh a dance aw frolic, dey beats duh drum fas. Den dey knows it ain fuh no fewnul an dat it's fuh a good time. Duh people neahby, wen dey heahs it, beats deah drum an das how dey sends a message so udduh folks gits it. 26
"I kin membuh two kine uh drum. Deah wuz duh lill kittle drum. Hit wuz bout fifteen inches cross. an tree an a half foot high. Dat wuz duh drum dey beat fuh a settin-up."
Susan, too, gave us a description of the river baptisms.
"Dey baptize in duh watuh down at duh landin. All duh candidates is dressed in wite. Dey all confess deah sins an say dey want tuh be save.
"We all mahch long in a line an sing an pray. Wen we git tuh duh ribbuh bank, we stop an duh preachuh say a long prayuh tuh duh Lawd. Den duh preachuh take duh candidates one by one and dey go down in duh ribbuh. Duh preachuh he say a prayuh tuh duh ribbuh. Dey alluz baptize on duh ebb tide cuz duh ribbuh is spose tuh wash duh sins away. 63 All duh folks sing a song called All Muh Sins Done Wash Away."
There were several white chickens wandering about the yard and Susan told us that her principal reason for keeping them was that they possessed the power to dig up conjure. 13
We asked the old woman if she had ever known any Africans, and she said, "I know one man. He name Primus O'Neal. He come frum Africa an he talk funny talk. He call a pot a 'jam.' I membuh he say, 'Lemme cook sumpm fuh nyam.' He mean sumpm fuh tuh eat."
It later developed that this same Primus O'Neal was the grandfather of Rosa Grant 1 whom we found living in a small gray cottage on the Townsend Road. Rosa was sixty-five years old, with copper-colored skin and rather aquiline features.
We asked about her grandfather and she told us some of the things of which she had heard him speak.
"He tell me dey nebuh hab tuh plant in Africa. Dey gadduh wile okra an palmettah cabbage fuh food frum duh forres. He tell bout a wine call 'figlin watuh' dat dey drink in Africa. But he nebuh say jis how dey make it.
"Muh gran come frum Africa too. Huh name wuz Ryna. I membuh wen I wuz a chile seein muh gran Ryna pray. Ebry mawnin at sun-up she kneel on duh flo in uh ruhm an
bow obuh an tech uh head tuh duh flo tree time. Den she say a prayuh. I dohn membuh jis wut she say, but one wud she say use tuh make us chillun laugh. I membuh it wuz 'ashamnegad.' Wen she finish prayin she say 'Ameen, ameen, ameen.'
"She talk plenty bout cunjuh. 15 Say dat wen a pusson bin made tuh swell up frum a ebil spell, dey got tuh hab somebody tuh pray an drag fuhrum. Ef yuh hab a pain aw a misery in duh leg aw ahm, yuh kill a black chicken an split it open an slap it weah duh pain is an dat will cuo duh pain.
"She tell me dat in Africa she lib in a palmettuh house. She say dey kill animals wid a bow an arruh. Some dey use fuh food an some dey kill fuh skin. All duh people keep deah finguh nail long so dey could grab tings tuh eat off duh trees an bushes. Eben attuh she come tuh dis country, she keep uh nail long fuh a long time. Wen she staht cuttin um, she alluz bun duh pieces an she bun duh combins frum uh haiah too. She say it dangerous tuh let anybody git um. Dey make cunjuh gense yuh. 10 She say in Africa dey plant berries an pumpkin an dey had tuh plant um ebry seben yeahs or dey die.
"Friday wuz duh day she call huh prayuh day. Den she use tuh make bread. Wen she mix it up, she put duh dough in a wet bag an bake it in duh ashes.
"She tell me bout duh hahves time wen duh folks stay up all night an shout. At sun-up dey all sing an pray and say dey live bettuh an be mo tankful duh nex yeah." 38
"Was your 'gran' grown up when she came from Africa?"
"No'm, she wuz jis a leedle ting. She say dat duh way she happen tuh come frum Africa wuz dat dey wuzn use tuh seein anyting red. One day dey see a boat wid a red piece uh clawt flyin on it. Wen dey go up close tuh see it, dey wuz caught. Huh mothuh, Theresa, wuz caught too an dey wuz brought tuh dis country. Attuh dey bin yuh a wile, duh Mothuh git to weah she caahn stan it an she wannuh go back tuh Africa. One day muh gran Ryna wuz; standin wid uh in duh fiel. Theresa tun roun--so--" here Rosa made two quick swings with her skirt. "She stretch uh ahms out--so--an rise right up an fly right back tuh Africa. 69c Muh gran say she
wuz standin right deah wen it happen. She alluz wish dat uh mothuh had teach uh how tuh fly. She try an try doin duh same way but she ain nebuh fly. She say she guess she jis wuzn bawn wid duh powuh."
132:1 Rachel Anderson, Possum Point.
132:2 Alec Anderson, Possum Point.
135:1 Susan Maxwell, Possum Point.
136:1 Rosa Grant, Townsend Road, Possum Point.