Drums and Shadows, by Georgia Writer's Project, , at sacred-texts.com
The Negroes of the Darien section, many of whom live in small scattered communities outside the town, are proud of their Darien ancestry. When the younger people migrate to larger communities, it is a common thing to hear them say proudly, "My people come frum Darien."
One of the most typical settlements is opposite the Todd Grant Negro School. A few houses are clustered about the knoll facing the school building, and more dilapidated board shacks are scattered over the little hill. At the top is Aunty Jane Lewis' cabin, surrounded by small sheds and fenced patches of ground where chickens and a goat are kept from wandering too far. At the north a few cypress trees straggle off to the wood. A sturdy bush provides the sunny drying ground for the gourds that later will be used as water dippers.
Aunty Jane 1 claims that she is one hundred and fifteen years old, and to see the small bent woman with the deeply lined black skin and filmy eyes is to believe her claim. Her voice is high pitched, with the thin timbre of extreme age, but she still moves with sudden agile gestures. During our conversation she hopped up from the steps and began to do the Buzzard Lope 17 to illustrate her story.
"I belong tuh Robert Toodle wut lib in Nawt Calina an he sole me down yuh wen Ise twenty-one. I ain membuh much bout Nawt Calina but uh membuhs plenty bout duh ole days yuh, cuz I bin yuh neah bout a hunnud yeahs. I belongs
tuh Huger Barrett an Ise one uh duh bes fiel hans on Picayune Plantation."
We interrupted the old woman's reminiscences about plantation days to question her about funeral customs.
"We didn alluz hab too much time fuh big fewnul in dem days cuz deah wuz wuk tuh be done an ef yuh ain do yuh wuk, yuh git whipped. Lots uh time dey jis dig a hole in duh groun in put duh body in it, but wenebuh we kin, we hab a settin-up."
We asked Aunty Jane if they used to provide plenty of food for the mourners.
"Yes'm, dey sho did hab regluh feastes in dem days, but tuhday, at mos settin-ups, yuh dohn git nuttn but coffee an bread. 37b, 37c Den dey would cook a regluh meal an dey would kill a chicken in front uh duh doe, wring he neck an cook um fuh duh feas. 35c Den wen we all finish, we take wut victuals lef an put it in a dish by duh chimley an das fuh duh sperrit tuh hab a las good meal. 58 We cubbuh up duh dish an deah's many a time Ise heah dat sperrit lif um. We ain preach duh suhmon wen we bury um but we waits a wile so's all duh relations kin come."
"Is it bad luck to steal from a grave?" we wanted to know.
"Bad luck?" repeated Aunty Jane. "Sho it bad luck. Dem dishes an bottles wut put on duh grabe is fuh duh sperrit an it ain fuh nobody tuh tech um. 64 Das fuh duh sperrit tuh feel at home. 47 Wen he die fah off, we bring um home tuh bury um, dohn leh no strainjuh be bury wid um. Yuh gib people wut ain belong tuh yuh anudduh piece uh groun tuh be bury in. 3 We alluz hab two fewnul fuh duh pusson. We hab duh regluh fewnul wen yuh die. Den once a yeah we hab one big preachin fuh ebrybody wut die dat yeah." 42
Aunty Jane looked up slyly when we asked her if she believed in conjure.
"I ain belieb in um muhsef but deah's plenty wut do. Ise had Ellen Hammond libin wid me. She die las yeah. She sho wuz alluz fixin cunjuh. 15 She tie up ebryting in sacks. She git a lill foot track dus, 7 a lill haiah combins, an nail parin, 10 an she tie um up wid a lill rag. Cose, I dohn belieb in dis an wen she die, I bun um. Ef yuh hab any trouble wid snakes, 50
yuh ketch um an bun um wid duh trash. Den all duh whole kingdom uh snakes will leab yuh lone." 50
We next questioned Aunty Jane about signs.
"Yes'm, I knows plenty uh signs but my head so full uhrum I dohn know wich tuh tell yuh. Some ub um I beliebs an some ub um I ain belieb. Wen yuh go on a journey an yuh hattuh tun back, yuh make a cross mahk on duh dut an spit on it, an it sho bad luck tuh bring a hoe in duh house."
The subject of drums was then brought up.
"I ain heah um beat duh drums in my chuch," Aunty Jane said. "But I sho is heah plenty uh drum beat. We use tuh alluz dance tuh duh drums. We dance roun in a succle an we hab drum an we hab goad rattle an we beat tin pan tuhgedduh. 23 Some time dey hab sto-bought drum, but Alex Harris, he muh son, he make um. He lib up duh ribbuh."
Aunty Jane gave us a description of how the drums were made.
"Yuh kill a coon an yuh skin um an yuh tack duh skin up side duh house tuh dry an yuh stretch um good till um tight an smood. Den yuh stretch um obuh duh en ub a holluh tree trunk. 25 Sometime dey is big drum wut stan as high as dis." She raised her hand about three feet from the ground.
We asked Aunty Jane what trees they used. Did they use oak?
"No, ma'am, it ain good tuh use oak ef yuh kin hep it. It too hahd. Yuh take a good cypress aw ceduh wut eat out on duh inside an yuh take um an scoop um out an stretch duh skin obuh duh ens. Sometime yuh kin fine a holly wut'll do. Alex, he make drum up tuh two yeah ago an we sho hab big time doin duh dances wile dey beat duh drums. Wenebuh we happy aw wannuh celebrate, we dance." At this Point Aunty Jane rose to give us an exhibition of two dances, the Buzzard Lope and the Snake Hip. 17
Across the highway from Aunty Jane's settlement, about one mile north of Darien, back of a turpentine still, is an irregular settlement of small houses, most of which are enclosed by high dilapidated paling fences. Here Wallace Quarterman 1 occupied a cabin with his daughter, Abby Gibson.
[paragraph continues] Wallace was old but with a clear mind, and he enjoyed a high standing in his community. We felt that he would know about the old beliefs and customs.
We left the highway on a narrow dirt road, little more than a path through the bush, and after much winding in and out we came upon a street of Negro cabins with their enclosed yards, vegetable patches, and tumbled down sheds. Wallace was sitting on the porch of Abby's house. Lizzie Sanders volunteered to be our guide and paid a visit to Wallace along with us.
We asked him how old he was and where he was born.
"Ise bawn July 14, 1844. Now figguh dat out fuh yuhsef, missus. Ise bawn at Sout Hampton, Libuty County, an I belong tuh Roswell King, but he done die long bout sometime in duh fifties an Ise sole fuh debt tuh Cunl Fred Waring on Skidaway Ilun. Ise bin bout fifteen wen I sen tuh Skidaway."
For a long time we had wanted to establish some connection with Skidaway Island that reached back before the War between the States. We questioned Wallace about the church on Skidaway.
"We sho did hab big time goin tuh chuch in doze days. Not many uh deze Nigguhs kin shout tuhday duh way us could den. Yuh needs a drum fuh shoutin."
We asked if they shouted to a drum then.
"We sho did. We beat a drum at duh chuch an we beat a drum on duh way tuh duh grabeyahd tuh bury um. We walks in a long line moanin an we beats duh drum all duh way." 24
We inquired about the making of drums and the kinds of drums.
"We makes drums out uh sheep hide but we gottuh dry um an stretch duh skin obuh. Some makes it out uh holluh lawgs wid skin obuh duh en an some ub um is as long as tree feet." 25
We asked the old man if he remembered any slaves that were real Africans.
"Sho I membuhs lots ub um. Ain I sees plenty ub um? I membuhs one boatload uh seben aw eight wut come down frum Savannah. Dat wuz jis a lill befo duh waw. Robbie McQueen wuz African an Katie an ole man Jacob King,
dey's all African. I membuhs um all. Ole man King he lib till he ole, lib till I hep bury um. But yuh caahn unduhstan much wut deze people say. Dey caahn unduhstan yo talk an you caahn unduhstan dey talk. Dey go 'quack, quack, quack,' jis as fas as a hawse kin run, an muh pa say, 'Ain no good tuh lissen tuh um.' Dey git long all right but yuh know dey wuz a lot ub um wut ain stay down yuh."
Did he mean the Ibos 1 on St. Simons who walked into the water?
"No, ma'am, I ain mean dem. Ain yuh heah bout um? Well, at dat time Mr. Blue he wuz duh obuhseeuh an Mr. Blue put um in duh fiel, but he couldn do nuttn wid um. Dey gabble, gabble, gabble, an nobody couldn unduhstan um an dey didn know how tuh wuk right. Mr. Blue he go down one mawnin wid a long whip fuh tuh whip um good."
"Mr. Blue was a hard overseer?" we asked.
"No, ma'am, he ain hahd, he jis caahn make um unduhstan. Dey's foolish actin. He got tuh whip um, Mr. Blue, he ain hab no choice. Anyways, he whip um good an dey gits tuhgedduh an stick duh hoe in duh fiel an den say 'quack, quack, quack,' an dey riz up in duh sky an tun hesef intuh buzzuds an fly right back tuh Africa." 68b, 69c
At this, we exclaimed and showed our astonishment.
"Wut, you ain heah bout um? Ebrybody know bout um. Dey sho lef duh hoe stannin in duh fiel an dey riz right up an fly right back tuh Africa."
Had Wallace actually seen this happen, we asked.
"No, ma'am, I ain seen um. I bin tuh Skidaway, but I knowd plenty wut did see um, plenty wut wuz right deah in duh fiel wid um. an seen duh hoe wut dey lef stickin up attuh dey done fly way."
This story of the flying Africans seemed to be a familiar one, for it was later repeated to us by William Rogers, 2 who lived about a mile from Darien on the Cowhorn Road. We had been told that he had been a cabinet maker in his
youth and still spent much of his spare time in the carving of a variety of objects. The old man was evidently well known in the vicinity, for upon inquiry neighbors quickly directed us to his house.
Because a short time ago a fire had destroyed Rogers' home and most of his possessions, we found him living in an unfinished cottage which was as yet unpainted except for the bluish-green trimming on all the window facings. In spite of the apparent newness of the house, there was a pleasant homelike atmosphere about it. Proof of Rogers' skill was demonstrated in scroll-work which decorated the porch and in a cupboard and fine square chimney in the dining room which the old man and his wife were building.
Rogers, who was seventy-two years old, was small of stature with copper-colored skin and alert black eyes. His manner was affable and friendly despite the fact that a recently suffered paralytic stroke had partially deprived him of the use of his hands. He told us that his grandmother had been one-quarter Indian. While we were on the subject of Indians, he remembered a rusty part of an old Indian gun which he had found in the vicinity. Displaying this, he explained in detail how the trigger struck a piece of flint, thereby igniting the powder.
We inquired about his wood carving and he showed us some of the wooden figures about which we had been told. One of these, a spoon of cedar, was about a foot in length and had the roughly-sculptured head of a man on its handle. 41 The head was square in shape, the features were only slightly raised, and the eyes were nail heads. 41c Another item was a frog 41i which, with eyes of brass nail heads, crouched on a block of wood. The frog and the stand had been carved from a solid piece of wood 70f, 70h and lightly varnished.
As we left, the old man promised us, "Wen I gits muh hans back intuh use, I hopes tuh cahve a cane wid a gatuh on it lak duh ones I made long ago. Wen I do, I sho sen it tuh yuh."
We had no idea that we would hear from him again, but a few months later he wrote us that he had made a stick especially for us. This proved to be of stout cedar carved
with a large alligator and topped with the bust of a Negro man cut all in one with the body of the stick and painted black to signify his race. The smooth, almost square, protruding skull of the figure, its small, high-set ears, broad mouth, blue bead eyes driven in by minute steel nailheads, and little short arms with four-fingered hands are all note-worthy points. The alligator's eyes are also blue beads driven in by nailheads.
After leaving William Rogers, we retraced our way back over the winding dirt roadway into Darien and from the town we drove eastward through a residential section. The houses here were substantial and attractive, surrounded by trim lawns, and the thoroughfare was shaded by old moss-hung trees. After a distance the road narrowed; for a time there were no houses in sight; then we came to the Low Bluff community. Negro cabins dotted the landscape and the settlement terminated at a grassy bluff where stood the last small house.
We were looking for Priscilla McCullough 1 and the obliging neighbors directed us to her house. It stood to the left of the roadway, a queer haphazard little dwelling place that looked like something out of a fairy tale. It was a tumble-down house, painted white, its roof patched with pieces of loose roofing which overlapped one another and hung down some distance in the front. An irregular fence made alternately of board and wire surrounded it. The tiny porch was crowded with old pieces of furniture and miscellaneous items, including half of a tattered screen which hung at one side. Near the house a second building leaned at such a precarious angle that it could be expected to tumble over momentarily.
We made our way down the little dirt walk and into the house and there in the center of the room sat Priscilla. She was sewing on a mattress which almost filled the small space. Even the bizarre exterior had not prepared us for the appearance of the inside of the house. Here again there was so much crowded together that it took a while before separate articles could be clearly seen. Jumbled closely around
Priscilla was a mass of furniture, each article of which was in turn almost hidden by a burden of clothing, dishes, bottles, pictures, and items too numerous to mention.
Priscilla adjusted her eyeglasses which were tied on with a shoestring and told us something of her early life. She said she had been "bawn tree yeahs to freedom in Sumtuh, Sout Calina." As quite a young woman she had moved to Georgia but still retained many pleasant recollections of the days of her early youth. She had heard of many African customs and went on to tell us some of these.
"I heahd many time bout how in Africa wen a girl dohn ack jis lak dey should, dey drum uh out uh town. Dey Jis beat duh drum, an call uh name on duh drum an duh drum say bout all duh tings she done. 26 Dey drum an mahch long an take duh girl right out uh town.
"Girls hab tuh be keahful den. Dey caahn be so trifflin lak some ub em is now. In Africa dey gits punished. Sometime wen dey bin bad, dey put um on duh banjo. Dat wuz in dis country."
This being "put on duh banjo" was unintelligible to us and we asked for an explanation.
"Wen dey play dat night, dey sing bout dat girl an dey tell all bout uh. Das puttin uh on duh banjo. Den ebrybody know an dat girl sho bettuh change uh ways."
The story of flying Africans was a familiar one to the old woman and she said that her mother had often told her the following incident which was supposed to have taken place on a plantation during slavery times.
"Duh slabes wuz out in duh fiel wukin. All ub a sudden dey git tuhgedduh an staht tuh moob roun in a ring. Roun dey go fastuhnfastuh. Den one by one dey riz up an take wing an fly lak a bud. 68b, 69c Duh obuhseeuh heah duh noise an he come out an he see duh slabes riz up in duh eah an fly back tuh Africa. He run an he ketch duh las one by duh foot jis as he wuz bout tuh fly off. I dohn know ef he wuz neah nuff tuh pull um back down an keep um frum goin off."
As we left, Priscilla accompanied us down the walk to the gateway. She was reluctant to see us go and until the last minute regaled us with a variety of stories.
We had learned that an elderly Negro named Lawrence Baker 1 lived out on the Ridge Road near the Ridgeway Club. We followed the road for about two miles and came finally to a signpost directing us to turn right in order to reach the club. This section in former times had been occupied by extensive plantation holdings. Most of these estates had been deserted for years and now and then we saw a house, once evidently charming but now in a dilapidated and crumbling condition.
Through an old gateway to what had once been a prosperous estate we rode past acres now weed-grown and neglected. At last we came upon a one story white plantation house. Inside blinds were at all of the French windows and the wide floor boards gave indication that the house had probably been standing for about one hundred years.
The man for whom we were looking was plowing in a field at the rear. Baker's rugged build and his keen intellect made it difficult to believe that he was in his late seventies. For years he had acted as caretaker of the club and often lived in the plantation house, as it had been unoccupied for some time.
He had heard of the custom of beating drums to warn people of a recent death. He said, "Dey use tuh alluz beat duh drum aw blow duh hawn wen somebody die. 24 Dey beat two licks on duh. drum, den dey stop, den dey beat tree licks. Wen yuh beat dat, yuh know somebody done die. 24, 26 Lots uh duh drums wuz home-made. Dey wuz made out uh goat skin aw coon skin wut stretch out obuh hoops. 25 Deah wuz tree sizes uh drums. Deah wuz duh big barrel drum. It wuz highuhn it wuz cross. Den deah wuz a lill drum frum twelve tuh fifteen inches wide an bout eighteen inches high. Duh udduh drum wuz duh medium size, kine uh in between duh udduh two. Duh big drum wuz duh one dey beat at duh wake. Dey use drums at dances an meetins, too.
"Wen we hab a fewnul, we all mahch roun duh grabe in a ring. We shout an pray."
We wanted to know if river baptisms were always held during an ebb tide and Lawrence hastened to assure us,
[paragraph continues] "Yes'm, dey alluz hole duh baptism on a high ebb tide. Das so duh tide will carry duh sin out." 63
Had the old man ever known any people who had been named for the days of the week?
"I knowd one man name Fridy, one dat wuz name Satdy an anudduh he name wuz Toosdy. Guess dey name um dataway cuz dey wuz bawn on doze days." 20
Baker told us that many people in the section refused to eat certain foods, believing bad luck would follow if they ate them.
"Deah's lots dataway now," he commented. "Lots uh folks dohn eat some food cuz ef dey did dey say it would bring bad luck on duh parents. Some dohn eat rice, some dohn eat egg, an some dohn eat chicken. 65
"Muh gran, she Rachel Grant, she use tuh tell me bout lot uh deze tings. I membuh she use tuh pray ebry day at sunrise, at middle day and den at sunset. She alluz face duh sun an wen she finish prayin she alluz bow tuh duh sun. She tell me bout duh slabes wut could fly too. Ef dey didn lak it on duh plantation, dey jis take wing an fly right back tuh Africa.
"Muh gran say dey use tuh eat wid oystuh shells. Use um fuh spoons. Wen dey go tuh shoot duh gun, dey ketch duh fyuh wid a rag an flint."
We asked him if he had ever heard of a hoe that worked by itself and he told us that he had often heard this story regarding the hoe 39 and that he had also heard many tales about a magic rail splitting wood without anyone touching it.
Suddenly the quiet of the afternoon was shattered by a high reed-like whistling sound. It continued for quite a time, then stopped as abruptly as it had started. Was it a person or an animal? It was impossible for us to tell.
"Das a spiduh, missus," Baker explained. "It come roun yuh all duh time an wistle jis lak a pusson. I dohn fool wid no spiduh. Dey is bad luck. All duh time dey drop down right out ub a tree.
"I know deah is spirits an ghos cuz I kin see um. 59 Yuh hab tuh be bawn wid a caul tuh be able tuh see duh spirits. 4
"Some uh duh folks is rid so much by witches dat attuh a time dey git tin an po an jis die. 69 Wen a witch come in duh
house, it hang up duh skin behine duh doe an ef yuh put salt on duh skin, duh witch caahn put it on agen. Benne seed is bad fuh duh witch too an keep um way.
"Witches take all kine uh shape. Sometime dey lak animal, sometime lak bud. 68 In Harris Neck deah wuz a big buzzud wut use tuh light on duh fence ebry time dey would be milkin duh cows. Wen duh buzzud would fly off, one uh duh milk buckets would alluz be dry. 69c Dis happen ebry day. Dey would shoot at duh bud but nobody could ebuh hit it. One man he take a dime an he quawtuh it; den he put it in duh gun. Duh nex day wen duh buzzud light, he shoot at it an he hit it in duh wing. It fly off an go down a chimbley ub a house. Wen duh men go in duh house, dey fine a ole uhmun wid uh ahm broke. Dey know den she wuz a witch. I know deah wuz some talk bout bunnin uh up, but I dohn tink dey do it.
"Ebry night I sit on dis poach heah." He pointed to the back porch of the white house. "I kin see duh spirits goin by. Deah is a whole crowd uh lill wite tings. Dey is goin obuh deah tuh duh spring. Some is lak chillun; some is lak grown folks. Dey jis go cross duh fiel tuh duh mahble steps uh duh ole gahden an down duh steps tuh duh fountn. I ain nebuh bodduh um an dey ain nebuh do me no hahm."
139:1 Jane Lewis, Darien.
141:1 Wallace Quarterman, Darien. Deceased autumn, 1938.
143:1 A group of slaves from the Ibo tribe refused to submit to slavery. Led by their chief and singing tribal songs, they walked into the water and were drowned at a point on Dunbar Creek later named Ebo (Ibo) Landing.
143:2 William Rogers, Cowhorn Road, Darien.
145:1 Priscilla McCullough, near Darien.
147:1 Lawrence Baker, the Ridge Road, near Darien.