Drums And Shadows. Hypnotising Phonetics

On October 24, 2015 by Louis Falasha

South Carolina Slave Story

In the 1930s, a group of workers on the Georgia Writers Project spent time interviewing elderly Negroes, living in the rural and archaic townships scattered around the outskirts of Savannah, Georgia. Most interviewees descended from slaves. The book they produced focuses mainly on the beliefs and superstitions of these people. The phonetic documentation of how the interviewees spoke is hypnotizing; Once the brain wraps itself around the writing, the words become like a voice, tonguing tales of hoodoo, conjure, witches, root doctors, talisman and spirits.

Drumshad 06

It feels like such an honest account and expression of how African occult tradition and religion really began to galvanize with Catholicism, but it still manages to maintain a sense of wholesome innocence. It’s one of those short periods in time when certain facets of religion were still ok.

Georgia Writers Project - Pages

A lot of what’s being said is obviously naïve superstition fed by charlatans to make money over many generations of hardship. But it’s a wonder how their collective beliefs and folklore have such an impact on what they consider reality, dad-to-day.The more they attribute natural phenomena to paranormal superstition, the more rooted in fact it is to them because they have pretty answers for it all. It must make a hard life a bit more fun though.

Here’s a selection of excerpts and pictures of a few towns that The Georgia Writers Project visited and documented with humility and honesty.

Georgia Writers Project - Drums And Shadows

Wen dey git tuh gabbin, yuh couldn unnuhstan a wud dey say, Martha informed us.

‘Did your gran tell you about magic and conjure?’ we asked.

‘Dat he did. I sho wuz sked ub im wen he use tuh talk bout dem ting he people in Africa could do. Some ub em could make yuh disappeah, he say, an some could fly all roun duh elements an make yuh do anyting dey wants yuh tuh do. Wen I growd up, I discobuh dat plenty uh duh tings gran tell me is sho nuff true.’

‘You’ve had personal experiences?’ we queried hopefully.
‘Me an muh sistuh bote. Witches use tuh ride uh regluh till it seem she gwine swivel away an die. One day a man tell uh tuh tro salt on duh bed an no witch would bodduh uh. So dat ebenin muh sistuh sprinkle a heap uh salt on uh cubbuh. Soon attuh we git tuh bed, I seen a cat come right in duh doe an look me in duh eye. I try tuh holluh but uh couldn make a soun. Nex ting I know sistuh wuz poin watuh in muh face.’

‘I dohn take tuh witches,’ said Martha Page. ‘I dohn mine ghos, cuz I caahn see em as I wuzn bawn wid a caul. But I dohn want no mo sperience wid witches. Das wy uh sprinkle salt down ebry night uh muh life.’

A pleasant, intelligent woman of about forty-five chatted with us.

‘Cose, det is duh will ub God, but dey do say jis duh same wen a pusson die, ‘Maybe somebody fix em’ aw ‘I sho know dat uhmun wuz rooted.’ I ain nebuh bought no powduh muhsef but jis day befo yestuhdy a uhmun frum Tatemville wuz right yuh tuh dis house sellin High John duh Conqueruh fuh fifty cent an she sho say it would bring yuh powuhful good luck, but I ain hab fifty cent. Cose, it ain good tuh fool much wid dem tings, but yuh sho hab tuh be keahful not tuh let no enemy git bole uh yuh haiah combins; cuz dey say dey sho could fix yuh den.” She laughed a little uneasily. “Ef yuh dream ub a snake dassa enemy neahby too, but ef yuh weah a snake skin roun yuh wais, it good fuh wut ail yuh. An ef uh enemy come tuh yuh house an yuh dohn wahn im deah no mo, yuh jis take duh bruhm an sweep out quick attuh im. Den sprinkle a lill salt on duh flo weah his foot track bin an sweep em all out duh doe an he sho wohn come back no mo.’

Thomas Smith’s reference to flying Africans caused us to mention this story to Carrie Hamilton, whom we next visited.

‘I hab heah uh dem people,’ said this seventy year old woman, who has the tall, heavy frame of a plantation hoe hand. ‘Muh mudduh use tuh tell me bout em wen we set in duh city mahket sellin vegetubbles an fruit. She say dat deah wuz a man an he wife an dey git fooled abode a slabe ship. Fus ting dey know dey wuz sole tuh a plantuh on St. Helena. So one day wen all duh slabes wuz tuhgedduh, dis man an he wife say, ‘We gwine back home, goodie bye, goodie bye,’ an jis like a bud they flew out uh sight.’

‘Muh mudduh use tuh tell me all kine uh ting cuz I wuz bawn wid a caul 4 an wuz; diffrunt frum duh res. Ebry now an den I see ghos. Dey hab all kine uh shape, sometime no head, sometime no feet, jis floatin by. Dey is duh spirits uh duh dead, but ef yuh dohn meddle in deah business, dey ain gwine meddle in yoze.’

Not only among these older Yamacraw Negroes but among younger residents we found a solid background of ancestral beliefs and practices, for here little of modern progress has touched the dirt streets, pebbly walks, and tumble down houses of another day.

Evans Brown is only fifty years old. To see him going daily about his duties as janitor of the West Broad Street Negro School, no one would suspect unusual powers at work beneath his good-natured exterior. Yet he not only said that he believed absolutely in the supernatural but proudly asserted that he could work magic himself.

‘It come natchul tuh me, duh powuh tuh do suttn ting. Since I wuz lill I could see ghos, sometime two feet off duh groun, sometime walkin. Wen muh haiah rise on en an hot eah pass muh face, I tun roun an deah’s alluz a ghos. Lots uh time it’s duh spirit ub a frien. Many wintuh mawnins wen I go tuh school early tuh make fyuhs, uh heah doze open an shut an den uh see duh ghos dat do it. I didn know I hab powuh tuh do tings till muh mudduh wuz fixed. Yuh know, a man kin fix a dose fuh a suttn pusson an only dat pusson will git caught. Fo women wuz in duh house wid muh mudduh, but duh doe knob wuz dressed fuh huh. All dem women pass out befo she did, all tuhnin duh knob. But wen she come out, a pain strik uh in duh side. We hab doctuhs but nuttn done no good. Uh whole side tun black an she die.’

‘Dat cause me tuh make a special study,” Evans Brown quietly added, “an soon uh realize uh wuz bawn wid duh 48powuh. I ain nebuh use it much, cuz I dohn lak tuh bodduh wid dem ting. But I knowd a man name Doctuh Buzzud wut git yuh out ub any trouble yuh wuz in. He would chahge yuh so much an tell yuh tuh hide duh money in a suttn place. Duh money would disappeah an yuh trouble wid it. Duh poeleece rested a man right yuh in Yamacraw. Dey hab him by duh pants’ wais takin him tuh duh box tuh ring up fuh duh wagon. Wen duh poeleece git tru ringin an tun roun tuh look, dey holdin a ole gray mule an duh man done disappeah.’






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