Anthropology Friday: The Slave Narrative Collection (pt 2/4)

Eastman Johnson's painting, The Young Sweep
Eastman Johnson’s painting, The Young Sweep

Welcome back to Anthropology Friday. Today we are continuing with Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States. (available on Amazon.)

I’ve been selecting excerpts that I personally find interesting. I’m not trying to paint the big picture of slavery nor highlighting awful things like whippings (there are many other places you can find those accounts.) Just because they’re not here doesn’t mean I’m pretending they aren’t in the accounts–I just assume you already know about them.

Frances Andrews, 83: The Skeleton

“It is said that the old brick house where the Wallaces lived was built by a Eichleberger, but Dr. John Simpson lived there and sold it to Mr. Wallace. In the attic was an old skeleton which the children thought bewitched the house. None of them would go upstairs by themselves. I suppose old Dr. Simpson left it there. Sometimes later, it was taken out
and buried.”

EvX: ??? Who keeps a (presumably real) skeleton in their attic? Did someone die up there and no one bothered to remove the body until it had completely decayed? Or was it a medical skeleton? That is seriously creepy.

Josephine Bacchus, about 75-80 years old: Earthquake and Folk Medicine

“Yes, mam, dey was glad to have a heap of colored people bout dem cause white folks couldn’ work den no more den dey can work dese days like de colored people can. Reckon dey love to have dey niggers back yonder just like dey loves to have dem dese days to do what dey ain’ been cut out to do.” …

“Lord, I sho remembers dat earth shake good as anything. When it come on me, I was settin down wid my foots in a tub of water. Yes, my Lord, I been had a age on me in de shake. I remember, dere been such a shakin dat evenin, it made all de people feel mighty queer like. It just come in a tremble en first thing I know, I felt de difference in de crack of de house. I run to my sister Jessie cause she had been live in New York en she was well acquainted wid dat kind of gwine on. She say, ‘Josie, dis ain’ nothin but dem shake I been tellin you bout, but dis de first time it come here en you better be a prayin.’ En, honey, everything white en colored was emptied out of doors dat night. Lord, dey was scared. Great Jeruseleum! De people was scared everywhe’. Didn’ nobody know what to make of it. I tellin you, I betcha I was 30 years old in de shake.”

Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake
Charleston, South Carolina, post-earthquake

EvX: Given that this narrative was collected in South Carolina, and… *adds up the years* I assume this was the 1886 Charleston Earthquake:

The 1886 Charleston earthquake occurred about 9:50 p.m. August 31 with an estimated moment magnitude of 7.0 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of X (Extreme). The intraplate earthquake caused 60 deaths and between $5 million and $6 million in damage to 2,000 buildings in the Southeastern United States. It is one of the most powerful and damaging earthquakes to hit the East Coast of the United States. …

It was felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, to the north, Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to the northwest, as far as New Orleans, Louisiana, to the west, as far as Cuba to the south, and as far as Bermuda to the east.[4] It was so severe that outside the immediate area, there was speculation that the Florida peninsula had broken away from North America.[3]

Continuing on:

“Oh, de people never didn’ put much faith to de doctors in dem days. Mostly, dey would use de herbs in de fields for dey medicine. Dere two herbs, I hear talk of. Dey was black snake root en Sampson snake root. Say, if a person never had a good appetite, dey would boil some of dat stuff en mix it wid a little whiskey en rock candy en dat would sho give dem a sharp appetite. See, it natural cause if you take a tablespoon of dat bitter medicine three times a day like a person tell you, it bound to swell your appetite. Yes, mam, I know dat a mighty good mixture.”

EvX: It turns out that Black Snakeroot is a real plant, more commonly known as black cohosh. According to Wikipedia:

Native Americans used black cohosh to treat gynecological and other disorders, including sore throats, kidney problems, and depression.[3] Following the arrival of European settlers in the U.S. who continued the medicinal usage of black cohosh, the plant appeared in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1830 under the name “black snakeroot”. In 1844 A. racemosa gained popularity when John King, an eclectic physician, used it to treat rheumatism and nervous disorders. Other eclectic physicians of the mid-nineteenth century used black cohosh for a variety of maladies, including endometritis, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, sterility, severe after-birth pains, and for increased breast milk production.[6] …

Black cohosh is used today mainly as a dietary supplement marketed to women as remedies for the symptoms of premenstrual tension, menopause and other gynecological problems.[3] Recent meta-analysis of contemporary evidence supports these claims,[1] although the Cochrane Collaboration has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support its use for menopausal symptoms.[7] Study design and dosage of black cohosh preparations play a role in clinical outcome,[8] and recent investigations with pure compounds found in black cohosh have identified some beneficial effects of these compounds on physiological pathways underlying age-related disorders like osteoporosis.[9]

However, you should note:

No studies exist on long-term safety of black cohosh use in humans.[13] In a transgenic mouse model of cancer, black cohosh did not increase incidence of primary breast cancer, but increased metastasis of pre-existing breast cancer to the lungs.[14]

Eastman Johnson's A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves
Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty: the Fugitive Slaves

Please don’t just go eating plants from a random field or ordered off some website without being absolutely sure they’re actually safe.

Sampson snake root is also a real plant, otherwise known as Orbexilum pedunculatum. According to the internet, which I am sure would never lie to me:

Sampson snakeroot will help to…

  • Relieve from snakebites.

  • Retrieve of attract gay lovers among men.

(By the way, the internet lies all the time.) Continuing on:

“Oh, my Lord, child, de people was sho wiser in olden times den what dey be now. Dey been have all kind of signs to forecast de times wid en dey been mighty true to de word, too. Say, when you hear a cow low en cry so mournful like, it ain’ gwine be long fore you hear tell of a death.”

“Den dere one bout de rain. Say, sometimes de old rain crow stays in de air en hollers en if you don’ look right sharp, it gwine rain soon. Call him de rain crow. He hollers mostly like dis, ‘Goo-oop, goo-oop.’ Like dat.”

“De people used to have a bird for cold weather, too. Folks say, ‘Don’ you hear dat cold bird? Look out, it gwine be cold tomorrow.’ De cold bird, he a brown bird. If you can see him, he a fine lookin bird, too. Yes’um, right large en strong lookin, but don’ nobody hardly ever see
him dese days.”

“En I reckon you hear talk bout dis one. Say, not to wash on de first day of de New Year cause if you do, you will wash some of your family out de pot. Say, somebody will sho die. Dat right, too. Den if possible, must boil some old peas on de first day of de New Year en must cook some hog jowl in de pot wid dem. Must eat some of it, but don’ be obliged to eat it all.”

Black-eyed peas, for the New Year
Black-eyed peas, for the New Year

EvX: Eating black-eyed peas was a New Year’s Day tradition when I was a kid, too (it probably still is.) But why? According to Why we Eat Black Eyed Peas on New Years Day:

Most Southerners will tell you that it dates back to the Civil War. Black-eyed peas were considered animal food (like purple hull peas).

The peas were not worthy of General Sherman’s Union troops. When Union soldiers raided the Confederates food supplies, legend says they took everything except the peas and salted pork. The Confederates considered themselves lucky to be left with those meager supplies, and survived the winter. Peas became symbolic of luck. …

(“Most” here is probably an exaggeration.)

One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on the first day of January, 1863. What were they celebrating? That was the day when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. …

The oldest explanation for this tradition I found is on Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, the tradition dates as far ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs, it was believed that eating a meager food like black-eyed peas showed humility before the gods, and you would be blessed. According to Wikipedia, the Babylonian Talmud, which dates to 339 CE, instructs the faithful Jews to eat black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashana.

Well, since it is still January, if you haven’t had your black-eyed peas yet, perhaps there’s still time to cook up a pot and enjoy what might be a very old tradition.

 

Anthropology Friday: Aboriginal Folklore

Today I have an excerpt from Aborigine Myths and Legends, by William Ramsay Smith, c. 1930. (As usual, I am dispensing with block quotes for the sake of readability. I have added pictures.)

Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)
Waddies made by the Aranda people (wikipedia)

What some Aboriginal carvings mean

At Manly, about six miles from Sydney, there are to be seen aboriginal carvings cut into the flat surface of the rock. Among them there is a figure of a male aboriginal with both arms outstretched and holding in one hand a waddy. Another human and a form represents a shark. In another group, there are four male figures, with a boomerang above the head of one and a fish between the legs of another. And, again, there are two figures, almost oval in shape, and one of the ovals has small circles cut out around the edge. All these, as well as the carvings, have a meaning. Each of the objects, whether an animal, bird, reptile, or fish, represents the totem of a tribe.

 

 

Aboriginal engraving, Manly, Australia, courtesy of Lonely Planet
Aboriginal engraving, Manly, Australia, courtesy of Lonely Planet

Tribe Totems.–As in the case of the Manly figure, where a fish is placed between the legs of a person, he fish is the totem of the tribe living in that locality. Before a tribe can occupy a hunting-ground it must select a totem—a fish, animal, bird, or reptile–anything, in fact, that has an existence. It may be sun, moon, wind, lightning, or thunder. Thus, in some instance, one may see a figure representing the sun or a half-moon. Sometimes one notices figures of a kangaroo and an emu, or two other forms. The kangaroo might be the totem of the tribe of the chief, and the emu might be the totem of his wife’s tribe.

This totemism plays an important part in the social life of the aboriginals. If, for example, a person has committed an offense, or has broken tribal law, he becomes a fugitive. He may travel to some distant part of the country. … He creeps along stealthily, listening intently for any sound, peering through the dense foliage in every bay or cove to see whether his path is clear, noticing every footprint on the way, reading every mark on the tree-trunks and on the surface of rocks, and scanning every mark to see whether there is hope of protection and friendship. To be seen would mean death to him. By and by the keen eye of the fugitive catches sight of the figure of his mother’s totem. Casting aside all fear, he walks boldly along the beaten track that leads to the camp, and presents himself to the chief. He produces a string of kangaroo teeth, made in bead fashion, and a bunch of emu feathers… . This is a sign that he belongs to the Kangaroo totem tribe, and that his mother belongs to the Emu totem tribe. He is received into either of these tribes, and becomes one with them, and participates in all their privileges.

Nulla-nulla, with thanks to
Nulla-nulla created by and for sale from Jagalingu.

At Manly one may notice two figures: a wallaby footprint and a kangaroo, a man figure and a weapon–it may be a boomerang or a nulla-nulla. This means that the Wallaby totem tribe occupied that country, and the Kangaroo totem tribe came and did battle with the Wallaby totem tribe and drove them away and took possession. … From the different figures carved on the surface of one rock one may infer that tribes of different totems shown in the figures occupied that locality.

There are other figures hewn in the rock. The oval with the small circles, referred to above, may represent the sun in its course; in other words, it may show that the aboriginals had knowledge of the earth’s motion. There are old men in each tribe who study the heavens at night; and at certain times of the year every night at intervals they will give a call, “The earth has already turned.” [Footnote: The aboriginals appear to have believed that the earth went round, because there is a saying which means, “The earth has turned itself about.”] This may be done with the idea of teaching the younger generation something about astronomy.

[EvX comments: while interesting, the earth-centric model of the universe is so immediately obvious and the heliocentric so difficult to prove that I am skeptical of such claims.]

Black reactions to white people tanning

As I promised yesterday, I found the reactions on this post: Darkness Matters, to the phenomenon of white people using Melanotan II to, well, tan rather interesting. Her are a few quotes:

“Dr. Bey explained why whites have so much aggression, anger and hatred towards us and how they are planning to wipe us clean off the map. What I’m about to say is going to shock you. In the words of Booker T. Coleman, “Don’t believe anything I say. Do your own research. I could be lying to you.” Whites are kidnapping us, melting down our organs, cutting open our skulls and eating our pineal gland in order to become “powerful” and injecting our melanin into themselves.”

You know, I had not even considered cannibalism as a possible method for getting a tan. Also, I think she missed the part where it’s a fake hormone made in a lab that isn’t even identical to the real one in your body (and technically, it’s not fake melanin, but fake a-MSH.)

Some of the comments on the post are equally interesting:

“Not to forget mentioning the Rhesus Negative Blood type. Having learnt a lot about it (my mother is this blood type and I’m sure a lot of you know that it is the oldest blood type on this planet), it is no surprise to me that this, besides the melanin, could be why Caucasian ‘celebs’ are snatching up Black babies QUICK. It’s the cure. Even if the Caucasians are calling it the ‘Anunnaki blood type’.
They are trying to graft themselves back in because – and this could not be stressed enough, they’re fully aware that their time is up. …”

Actually, blacks tend to be Rh positive, like virtually everyone else on the planet. Rh negative blood is only found in >10% of people in Europeans. So, no, Europeans aren’t stealing black babies to get Rh negative blood. That’d be like stealing blacks to get blond hair.

Anunnaki? Or you can delve into the truly crazy shit.

Okay, I just want to pause here and issue a PSA on behalf of all whites, everywhere: No, we aren’t eating your brains. We don’t want to eat your brains. Or your skin. That’s disgusting. Also, this Anunnaki bullshit is pure crazypants. 99.99% of whites do not believe this. For goodness sakes.

Back to the comments.

“the blood bank won’t stop calling me and always trying to tell me that there is a blood shortage. They ask if, you could like to have your blood go to sicklwe [sic] cell children. I have found that they put a little mark on it so it is used for particular people.
They also run genetic test on your blood when you donate it and they have you sign away rights kind of alla Henretta Lacks. I’ve had one of them say that my blood helped people get well faster and that I should donate as much as possible. This has freaked me out and I haven’t been back since. I’m thinking of changing my phone number as I know they can track you through your cell phone using GPS. I don’t plan on being snatched.” (my bold)

“… I always told my family that whenever you see missing black kids that are posted on the news or on the board at Walmart, they are in underground slave camps and will be used for experiments. They are preying on the weak.”

“Do you think that maybe the babies are their own insurance policies to keep them alive if, the need a pigment fix. Do you think they would have their children drained of their blackness for such a thing?”

“And those abandoned warehouses, university hospitals that are Khazar funded, like NYU, LONG island Jewish, Columbia, Etc…are where they conduct experiments.”

Who are the Khazars, you’re wondering? “The Khazar theory” is a now-disproven theory of Ashkenazi Jewish origins favored principally by anti-Semites, Neo-Nazis, and people who don’t know any better. (We know it’s been disproven because we have genetic testing, and it turns out that the Askenazim are half Italian, half Middle Eastern, with no Khazar blood.) The one bit of truth to the idea is the fact that there was once a Jewish Khazar state, but it later converted to Islam, and thus it became rather lacking in Jews.

“Whites have always lusted after melanin, which explains their obsession with black sexuality. Whitewomen allowing random blackmen to impregnate them with a half-black baby with the consent of their white boyfriends and husbands. White female celebrities adopting black babies from Haiti and various countries across Africa, and so forth. What are white folks trying to accomplish? They want to mold black and half-black babies into white people under the guise of multiculturalism.”

“I think Dr. Llaila Afrika posited that the study of melanin is the ONLY thing they are doing in science nowadays & I believe he is right.”

“I notice they push the interracial agenda.Just look at paula paton and robin thicke.She is biracial but says she’s black and their child looks white he has blonde hair and blue eyes.This is what they are trying to do breed out the black race and replace it with a more fertile and tanner lookin white race.”

“Victoria Rowell is another mixed blackwoman that birthed a white daughter with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she had the nerve to say her daughter is black by extension because she’s a black female…Insanity! Halle Berry is another stupid mixed blackwoman playing games with our bloodlines. Stacey Dash is half-black and half-mexican…all of her children have white fathers. Yet, she wants to portray herself as a black female. All of these women want blackmen to support their careers, and ignore the “Elephant In The Room.” They have white babies. Our race gains nothing by the likes of Tamera Mowry birthing white babies with whitemen…Nothing!”

” I’ve always known that something was amiss but couldn’t out my finger on it. You know when I “woke up”? When 9/11 hit. A friend of mine gave me The Protocols in school and while I did read it, It didn’t really register. When 9/11 happened, something clicked for me. Then I began to feel different. TV became a nuisance and my mind wasn’t clouded with football and music videos and clothes and shopping. I wanted more but couldn’t place what that was. When someone introduced me to some radio stations that talked about blacks and our sad state of affairs, I wept. At last!!! I’m not crazy after all.”

Honestly, I think combining Melanin Theory and Nazi propaganda is kind of weird.

(According to melanin theorist Wade Nobles, “That in the evolution of the species, in what some people call the Ontogenetic evolution of humankind, that in the evolution of the species the human family separated in a sense that one branch of the family stopped its evolutionary path and simply depended upon the central nervous system as the total machinery for understanding reality. Whereas, the root of the family continued its path and not only evolved a central nervous system but developed what I called at that time an essential melanic system. And that I even went so far as to try to develop a little formula and suggested that CNS + EMS = HB. CNS (Central Nervous System) + EMS (Essential Melanic System) = HB (Human Being). That the central nervous system combined with the essential melanic system is what makes you human. That, in fact, to be human is to be Black. To be human is to be Black.” From the Wikipedia.)

The whole post and comments are kind of like the Precious Bodily Fluids scene in Dr. Strangelove:

There was also a reference in the thread to the Night Doctors, so I looked them up on Wikipedia:

“Night Doctors, also known as night riders, night witches, Ku Klux doctors, and student doctors are bogeymen of African American folklore who emerged from the realities of grave robbing, medical experimentation, and intimidation rumors spread by Southern whites to prevent workers from leaving for the North. …In order to further emphasize the rumors, white owners would dress in white sheets to represent kidnappers. They wandered the African American communities to make them believe that they would be abducted, taken to medical facilities and killed.”

“In New Orleans there was an interesting variation on the night doctors called the “needle men”. Thought to be medical students from Charity Hospital (now the Medical Center of Louisiana at New Orleans), the needle men would poke an unsuspecting individual in the arm, resulting in death.”

“I sure don’t go out much at this time of year. You takes a chance just walkin’ on the streets. Them Needle Mens is everywhere. They always comes ’round in the fall, and they’s ’round to about March. You see, them Needle Mens is medical students from the Charity Hospital tryin’ to git your body to work on. That’s ’cause stiffs is very scarce at this time of the year”.

“Johns Hopkins Hospital was believed to be a source of “needle men” and the “black bottle men.” They were thought to kidnap African Americans right off the street. A woman from the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks states that “You’d be surprised how many people disappeared in East Baltimore when I was a girl. I’m telling you, I lived here in the fifties when they got Henrietta, and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere near Hopkins. When it got dark and we were young, we had to be on the steps, or Hopkins might get us.””

On a related note, Michiko Kakutani gives us a quick view into mainstream writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book:

““Between the World and Me”… offers an abbreviated portrait of the author’s life at home, focusing mainly on the fear he felt growing up. Fear of the police, who he tells his son “have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body,” … The “need to be always on guard” was exhausting, “the slow siphoning of essence,” Mr. Coates writes. He “feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give police a reason.” … They were not human to me. Black, white, or whatever, they were menaces of nature; they were the fire, the comet, the storm, which could — with no justification — shatter my body.” (bold mine.)

Germans

So I was reading a fairytale to the younguns, “…’Spin me all this,’ said the Queen, ‘and when it is finished, you shall have my eldest son for your husband. Your poverty is a matter of no consequence to me, for I consider that your unremitting industry is an all sufficient dowry.”

I paused and said to my husband, “This is a German fairytale.”

We both started laughing.

 

There is something about German seriousness and industriousness that I find amusing; I suppose that makes Germans one of the few ethnic groups I find funny. It’s always with such little self-awareness that my German friends seem to comment about how they just don’t know why they work so hard and are such perfectionists.

Asian friends, similarly, complain about how they just can’t stop themselves from working hard and paying attention to tiny details, even when they’re quite sick or actually want to stop hyper-focusing on a particular project.

At any rate, I stand by my initial assessment of Rumpelstiltskin.

 

Meanwhile, have you seen the lovely new pictures of Pluto?

You don't know how happy this makes me.
Isn’t this fucking amazing?

 

Just look at that equator!
Charon, Pluto’s biggest moon.

 

Pluto: the dwarf planet with a best friend.
Two to Tango

 

What is that blue thing?
Oh, wait, those are Jupiter and Io. Well, I like them, too.