Saturday, March 31, 2012


Iusaas is the Egyptian Goddess of the female creative principle. She is the feminine counterpart of the male creative principle personified by the God Atum. One name that Iusaas acquired was the Hand of Atum–when Atum first created the world, he masturbated and formed the first Gods with the semen. The story was later changed to add the feminine role in creation. Iusaas is depicted in human form with a scarab beetle on her head, and also wears the sun disk and horns of Hathor, with whom she was later assimilated. Her name, which means “she comes who is great,” is also seen as Jusas and Juesaes.

Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras Indians History and Tradition
"Mardi Gras Indians are secretive because only certain people participated in masking - people with questionable character. In the old day, the Indians were violent; Indians would meet on Mardi Gras, it was a day to settle scores." - Larry Bannock, President, New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council.
Masking Indian Spy, Flag Boy and Big Chiefs Super Sunday Videos Indians Home
Mardi Gras is full of secrets and the Mardi Gras Indians are as much a part of that secret society as any other carnival organization. The Mardi Gras Indians are comprised, in large part, of the African American community of New Orleans' inner cities. They have paraded for well over a century...yet their parade is perhaps the least recognized Mardi Gras tradition.
"Mardi Gras Indians--the parade most white people don't see. The ceremonial procession is loose, the parade is not scheduled for a particular time or route...that is up to the Big Chief." - Larry Bannock

Typical Mardi Gras organizations will form a "krewe." A krewe often names their parade after a particular mythological hero or Greek god. The ranking structure of a Mardi Gras Krewe is a parody of royalty: King, Queen, Dukes, Knights and Captains... or some variation on that theme. Many more established Krewes allowed membership by invitation only.
Few in the ghetto felt they could ever participate in the typical New Orleans parade. Historically, slavery and racism were at the root of this cultural separation. The black neighborhoods in New Orleans gradually developed their own style of celebrating Mardi Gras. Their "Krewes" are named for imaginary Indian tribes according to the streets of their ward or gang.
The Mardi Gras Indians named themselves after native Indians to pay them respect for their assistance in escaping the tyranny of slavery. It was often local Indians who accepted slaves into their society when they made a break for freedom. They have never forgotten this support.
In the past, Mardi Gras was a violent day for many Mardi Gras Indians. It was a day often used to settle scores. The police were often unable to intervene due to the general confusion surrounding Mardi Gras events in the city...where the streets were crowded and everyone was masked. This kept many families away from the "parade," and created much worry and concern for a mother whose child wanted to join the "Indians."

"'I'm gonna mask that morning if it costs me my life!' That morning you pray and ask God to watch over you, cause everybody is bucking for number one." - Larry Bannock
Today when two Mardi Gras Indian tribes pass one another, you will see a living theater of art and culture. Each tribe's style and dress is on a friendly but competitive manner, they compare one another's art and craftsmanship.
The greeting of the Big Chiefs of two different tribes often starts with a song, chant, ceremonial dance, and threatening challenge to "Humba"--the Big Chief's demand that the other bow and pay respect. The retort is a whoop and equally impressive song and war dance with the reply, "Me no Humba, YOU Humba!"
"You know when you've won, you see it in their eyes." - Larry Bannock
Although there was a history of violence, many now choose to keep this celebration friendly. Each Big Chief will eventually stand back and, with a theatrical display of self-confidence, acknowledge the artistry and craftsmanship of the other's suit.
Before the progression can continue, the two Big Chiefs will often comment privately to one another, "Looking good Baby, looking good!"
"After Mardi Gras, you thank GOD that you made it." - Larry Bannock
Mardi Gras is no longer a day to "settle scores" among the Mardi Gras Indians. Violence is a relic of the past. It is now Mardi Gras tradition and practice for the Indians to simply compare their tribal song, dance and dress with other tribes as they meet that day. Each Indian has invested thousands of hours and dollars in the creation of his suit, and is not willing to risk ruining it in a fight. This tradition, rich with folk art and history, is now appreciated by museums and historical societies around the world. It is a remarkable and welcome change from the past.
The history and culture of the Mardi Gras Indians is a significant part of Mardi Gras and New Orleans - yet until now, it has been the least appreciated and least understood. We hope you enjoy reading about it as much as we have enjoyed bringing it to you! We thank the Mardi Gras Indian Council for opening their history books, and sharing their history and traditions with us!
The New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council was formed in 1987 to help preserve and enrich the Indian Culture. In August of 1992, the Big Chiefs of each of the major tribes gathered together for a historic celebration of unity. The event, christened "Glad Yu Kum", was commemorated with a fine art painting by New Orleans artist Mark Andresen. Planet Publishing created the limited edition lithographic poster seen above directly from the original piece. One hundred percent of the proceeds from sales went directly to the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian Council to maintain and preserve this unique culture. These limited edition lithographic posters are no longer available.
"the definitive source of information on all matters bacchanalian." C-Net
If you have any questions, just send us an email!

What is a Krewe?

A krewe (pronounced in the same way as "crew") is an organization that puts on a parade and or a ball for the Carnival season. The term is best known for its association with New Orleans Mardi Gras, but is also used in other Carnival celebrations around the Gulf of Mexico, such as the Gasparilla Pirate Festival in Tampa, Florida, and Springtime Tallahassee as well as in La Crosse, Wisconsin[1] and at the Saint Paul Winter Carnival.
The word is thought to have been coined in the early 19th century by an organization calling themselves Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus, as an archaic affectation; with time it became the most common term for a New Orleans Carnival organization. The Mystick Krewe of Comus itself was inspired by a Mobile mystic society, with annual parades in Mobile, Alabama, called the Cowbellion de Rakin Society that dated from 1830.[2]
Krewe members are assessed fees in order to pay for the parade and/or ball. Fees can range from thousands of dollars a year per person for the most elaborate parades to as little as $20 a year for smaller marching clubs. Criteria for krewe membership varies similarly, ranging from exclusive organizations largely limited to relatives of previous members to other organizations open to anyone able to pay the membership fee. Krewes with low membership fees may also require members to work to help build and decorate the parade floats and make their own costumes; higher priced krewes hire professionals to do this work. Parading krewe members are usually responsible for buying their own throws, the trinkets thrown to parade spectators according to Mobile and New Orleans tradition.
Some krewes also have other events like private dances or parties for members throughout the year. Some also make a point of supporting charities and good causes.
Among the most famous krewes are the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the Krewe of Proteus, Rex, the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, and the Krewe of Momus.

The Krumen

The Krumen (also Kroumen, Kroomen) is an ethnic group living mostly along the coast of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.[1] Their numbers were estimated to be 48,300 in 1993, of which 28,300 were in Côte d’Ivoire.[1] They are a subgroup of the Grebo and speak the Krumen language.
They are also called Kru, and are related to (but distinct from) the Kru people of the Liberian interior.

Word Origin
There has been much scholarly debate on the origin of the term, since there is little evidence of use of the term outside of the maritime environment in which the Krumen served as sailors, and the fact that many Grebo served in this capacity. Hence the belief that it's root was from "crewmen" in English (a pidgin form of which was a lingua franca among them, thanks to their service as on European vessels. One theory, advanced in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica was that it derived from Kraoh, which is the name of one subgroup in their home area.

The coast of eastern Liberia and western Ivory Coast were rarely visited by European vessels until the nineteenth century, and for that reason there are very few written texts that can illuminate its early history or the origin of the Krumen communities there. There has also been very little archaeological work that might illuminate events or societies of the more distant past. For that reason, oral tradition remains the most important key to the origin of the Krumen.
Traditions recorded in the mid nineteenth century by James Connelly relate that the Kru communities that lived along the shore of what is today southern Liberia and the reputed core settlement of the Krumen came down to the coast from the interior "some three generations back--say one hundred to one hundred fifty years..." from an original place he called Claho. Coming down the Poor River they "learned the value of salt" and founded the town of Bassa, the subsequently moved again to Little Kroo, and then were subsequently joined by whole communities from the interior.[2] These events likely occurred in the 1770s and are believed to be connected to more intensive European interest in trade in the region at about this time.[3] The original settlers from the interior eventually established five towns, Little Kroo, Setra Kroo, Kroo-Bar, Nana Kroo and King Will's Town, that came to be regarded as their home district, though soon other offshoots developed along the coast, and particularly in Freetown, Sierra Leone.[4][5]

From the late eighteenth century onward, Krumen began working on European ships. By the 1790s the inhabitants of their original region were being hired as free sailors on European ships engaged in the slave trade.[6] As the so-called "legitimate trade" replaced the slave trade in the nineteenth century and as trade along the West Africa coast increased, many Krumen signed on to the new vessels as seamen. In the process there developed Krumen communities around all the major trading factories of the coast, from Sierra Leone around to the mouth of the Congo River.[7]
Although the earliest Krumen mariners may have come from the five core towns, people from many other places and ethnicities joined the original Krumen, creating a mixed but strongly held identity, not only in their home district, but in the many trading posts and towns where they came to settle, and then people from those places also became effectively Krumen by taking on their identity and behavioral characteristics. Some scholars maintain that in fact the term Krumen and indeed even Kru originated in the maritime branch of the culture alone, being transported back to the homelands from the dispersed communities,[8] but others contend that the process of identity formation was more complex involving both maritime and shore communities.[9]
Krumen sailors were organized as small companies under a headman. They would paddle in small canoes as far as a dozen miles out to see to meet ships as they arrived and negotiated their employment on the spot. Headmen often carried credentials from previous stints of employment in boxes or other containers, and negotiations were conducted rapidly. During the earlier part of the nineteenth century foreign observers often gave the Kru high praise for their honesty, courage, efficiency and willingness to do hard work. Later observers, however, had more disparaging comments to make, though either way, few ships plied African waters without many Kru sailors on board.[10]
Although initially Krumen were interested only in sailor's work, in time some took up land based employment doing all sorts of work in the many trading factories that grew up all along the African coast from Sierra Leone to the mouth of the Congo River. They were also recruited as soldiers and common laborers, some traveling as far as India and the Malayan peninsula to the east. Krumen workers served French employers in the French attempt to dig the Panama Canal, others were employed in Jamaica.[11]

In the late nineteenth century reports described the Krumen are divided into small commonwealths, each with a hereditary chief whose duty is simply to represent the people in their dealings with strangers. The real government is vested in the elders, who wear as insignia iron rings on their legs. Their president, who holds religious authority as well, guards the national symbols, and his house is sanctuary for offenders until their guilt is proved. Personal property is held in common by each family. Land also is communal, but the rights of the actual cultivator cease when he fails to farm it.

The first descriptions of core group of Krumen's religion were done by missionaries notably James Connolley,[12] But these accounts can also be augmented by more detailed accounts of the Grebo of nearby Cape Palmas who were linguistically and culturally related and were, by 1855 becoming Krumen themselves by going to sea and may have been as important in the overall culture as the core Krumen themselves. The central elements of the spiritual universe of this region included a figure identified by missionaries as a high, creator God, named Nyesoa, spirits or deities associated with territories called, familial spiritual guardians called ku and finally kwi or the souls of the departed who remained near by and could influence events.
These spiritual entities were contacted through a class of people called deya, who underwent long and specialized training and apprenticeship to take up their office. They addressed problems both medical and spiritual using pharmaceutical and spiritual remedies.[13][14]

The Kru languages
Main article: Kru languages
Wilhelm Bleek classified the Kru language with the Mandingo family, and in this he was followed by R. G. Latham; S. W. Koelle, who published a Kru grammar (1854), disagreed.

Behrens, Christine (1974). Le Croumen de la côte occidental de l'Afrique Talence: Ministère de la Education Nationale.
Breitborde,L. B. (1991). "City, Countryside and Kru Ethnicity," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 61/2 (1991): 186-201.
Brooks,George (1972). The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Compendium, Newark, DE: Liberian Studies Association of America.
Büttikofer (1890), Reisebilder aus Liberia 2 vols., Leiden.
Burroughs, Robert (2009) "[T]rue Sailors of Western Africa: Kur Seafaring Identity in British Traveler's Accounts of the 1830s and 40s," Journal for Maritime Research 11: 51-67.
Harry H. Johnston (1906), Liberia London.
Martin, Jane (1995). "Krumen 'Down the Coast': Liberian Migrants on the West African Coast in the 19th and early 20th centuries," International Journal of African Historical Studies 18: 401-23.
McEvoy,Frederick (1977). "Understanding Ethnic Realities among the Grebo and Kru Peoples of Western Africa," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 47/1: 62-80.
Nicholas (1872), in Bulletin de la Société Anthropologique
A. de Quatrefages and E. T. Hamy (1878–1879), Crania ethnica, 9: 363 (a biometric study)
Schlagintweit-Sakununski, "Angaben zur Charaturistik der Kru-Neger," Sitzungsberichte Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu München 5(1875): 183-202 (a biometric study of 3 Kru sailors on a ship bound for India in 1857).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Krumen". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

^ a b Ethnologue report on Krumen at SIL
^ James Connelly,"Report of the Kroo People" Annual Report of the American Colonization Society 39 (1856) p. 38.
^ George Brooks, The Kru Mariner in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Compendium, (Newark, DE: LIberian Studies Association of America, 1972), pp. 76-77.
^ Ludlam, "An Account of a Tribe of People called Croomen..." in Report of the Directors of the African Institution 6 (1812) p. 44.
^ Connelly, "Report", p. 38.
^ The earliest reference is Thomas Winterbottom, An Account of the Native Peoples in the Vicinity of Sierra Leone (London, 1803), p. 8.
^ Brooks, Kru Mariner. pp. 44-59.
^ Frederick McEvoy, "Understanding Ethnic Realities among the Grebo and Kru Peoples of Western Africa," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 47/1 (1977): 62-80.
^ L. B. Breitborde, "City, Countryside and Kru Ethnicity," Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 61/2 (1991): 186-201.
^ Brooks, Kru Mariner, pp. 1-59.
^ Christine Behrens,Le Croumen de la côte occidental de l'Afrique (Talence: Ministère de la Education Nationale, 1974) pp.65-82.
^ Connolley, "Report" p. 39
^ Anna M. Scott, Glimpses of Life in Africa (New York: American Tract Society, n. d. [1857]). This short pamphlet, clearly clouded by a Christian and missionary perspective nevertheless lays out quite clearly the cosmology of mid nineteenth century Grebo.
^ J. Payne "Rr Rev Bishop Payne's Report on the Grebo Tribe, of Cape Palmas,"Annual Report of the American Colonization Society 39 (1856) pp. 36-37.
Retrieved from ""

Kru people

The Kru are an ethnic group who live in interior of Liberia. Their history is one marked by a strong sense of ethnicity and resistance to occupation. In 1856 when part of Liberia was still known as the independent Republic of Maryland, the Kru along with the Grebo resisted Maryland settlers' efforts to control their trade. They were also infamous amongst early European slave raiders as being especially averse to capture.
They are distinct from the Krumen (sometimes called Kru), a subgroup of the Grebo who live along the coast.
Their reputation was such that their value as slaves was less than that of other African peoples, because they would so frequently attempt to escape or to take their own lives upon being captured.[1]
Kru is one of the many ethnic groups in Liberia, comprising 7% of the population. It is also one of the main languages spoken. The Kru are one of the three main indigenous group players in Liberia's socio-political activities along with the Krahn and Mano.
Notable ethnic Krus include former soccer star George Weah and Christian Evangelist Samuel Morris who was originally known as Kaboo.[2] Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is of mixed Kru, Gola, and German ancestry.[3][4] Mary Broh, the current mayor of Monrovia, is of mixed Kru and Bassa ancestry.

Kru languages

The Kru languages belong to the Niger–Congo language family and are spoken by the Kru people from the southeast of Liberia to the east of Côte d'Ivoire. The term "Kru" is of unknown origin. According to Westermann (1952) it was used by Europeans to denote a number of tribes speaking related dialects. Marchese (1989) notes the fact that many of these peoples were recruited as “crew” by European seafarers; “the homonymy with crew is obvious, and is at least one source of the confusion among Europeans that there was a Kru/crew tribe”[1] Andrew Dalby noted the historical importance of the Kru languages for their position at the crossroads of African-European interaction and wrote that “Kru and associated languages were among the first to be encountered by European voyagers on what was then known as the Pepper Coast, a center of the production and export of Guinea and melegueta pepper; a once staple African seaborne trade”.[2] The Kru languages are known for some of the most complex tone systems in Africa, rivaled perhaps only by the Omotic languages.

Current status
Recent documentation has noted “Kru societies can now be found along the coast of Monrovia, Liberia to Bandama River in Cote d'Ivoire” [3] “Villages maintain their ties based on presumed common descent, reinforced by ceremonial exchanges and gifts”.[3] The Kru people and their languages, although now many speak English as a second language, are said to be “dominant in the southwest region where the forest zone reaches the coastal lagoons”.[3] Nevertheless, the Kru people rely on the forest for farming supplemented by hunting for their livelihood. Overall, in 2010, Kru and associated languages were spoken by 95 percent of the approximate 3.5 million people in Liberia.

Subgroups and associated languages
The Kru languages include many subgroups such as Kuwaa, Grebo, Belle, Belleh, Kwaa and many others. According to Breitbonde, categorization of communities based on tcultural distinctiveness, historical or ethnic identity and socio-political autonomy“ may have brought about the large numbder of distinct Kru dialects; "Although the natives were in many respects similar in type and tribe, every village was an independent state; there was also very little intercommunication".[4] Breitbonde notes the Kru people were categorized based on their cultural distinctiveness, separate historical or ethnic identities, and social and political autonomy. This is the possible reason for so many subgroups of the Kru language. Unfortunately, as noted by Fisiak, there is very little documentation on the Kru and associated languages.[5]

Congo Square, African Heritage, and New Orleans Voodoo

Congo Square is an open area in the southern corner of Louis Armstrong Memorial Park next to the French Quarter in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was the only place for both free and enslaved blacks to gather and socialize in the manner of their ancestors - singing, dancing, drumming and marketing goods. According to H. C. Knight on a visit to New Orleans in 1819, "On sabbath evening, the African slaves meet on the green, by the swamp, and rock the city with their Congo dances." By this time, these gatherings attracted over 500 people weekly.
In the colonial era of the 18th century in French and Spanish Louisiana, slaves were allowed a day off of work to gather on Sundays in the Place de Negres, Place Publique, and Place Congo - all names for Congo Square. Because of the Louisiana Black Code or Code Noir, slaves had to be given time off of work and allowed to socialize in a meaningful fashion.
Often, the Code Noir is misunderstood to be a set of laws put into place to improve the lives of slaves. This is far from the truth. The Code Noir was developed to keep slave owners from having to buy more slaves, to reinforce racial stratification based on skin color, forbid the practice of traditional African religions, expel Jews from the colony, and force anyone and everyone to convert to Catholicism.
One unintended effect of the Code Noir was the development of the tradition of gathering of freed and enslaved Africans on Congo Square. For a period of time, a less restrictive attitude towards African traditional religions by Catholicism allowed Africans to gather and express themselves spiritually. This played a big role in the preservation of New Orleans Voodoo dances and rituals. Among the dancers were the Bamboula, Calinda and the Congo tribes. As their sacred rituals and socializing began to become public spectacle, the rituals changed from a decidedly spiritual and religious affair to one of entertainment for the masses of nonindigenous onlookers and tourists. As Catholicism was more strictly enforced, the Voodoo spirits were cloaked behind the veil of Catholic saints and various aspects of Catholicism were assimilated into the Voodoo religion.
Another unintended effect is the role Congo Square played in the cultivation and preservation of New Orleans' musical heritage. It is a symbol of the early African contributions to the origins of jazz and other American musical forms. African music was suppressed in Protestant areas of the colonies and so Congo Square drew visitors from all over the United States. The primary instruments used were long, narrow African drums, triangles, jawbones, and early ancestors to the banjo. The Tremé neighborhood where Congo Square is located is famous for its history of African American music. All of the musical forms observed in Congo Square permeate the very fabric of people's lives in New Orleans to this day.
Congo Square is listed on the National Registry as a Historic Landmark. The sign located at the entrance to the square reads:
Congo Square is in the ‘vicinity’ of a spot which Houmas Indians used before the arrival of the French for celebrating their annual corn harvest and was considered sacred ground. The gathering of enslaved African vendors in Congo Square originated as early as the late 1740′s during Louisiana’s French colonial period and continued during the Spanish colonial era as one of the city’s public markets. By 1803, Congo Square had become famous for the gatherings on Sunday afternoons. By 1819, these gatherings numbered as many as 500 to 600 people. Among the most famous dances were the Bamboula, the Calinda and the Congo. These African cultural expressions gradually developed into Mardi Gras Indian traditions, the Second line, and eventually New Orleans jazz and rhythm and blues.
In 1893 Congo Square was officially named Beauregard Square by the New Orleans City Council. Although it was rarely referred to as such by locals, it's official name remained Beauregard Square until April 2011 when the City Council renamed it Congo Square.
Congo Square was the site of the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970. Gospel legend Mahalia Jackson performed at the first festival and The Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts is located next to Congo Square in honor of her. Today, Congo Square continues to celebrate African arts and culture. Each week, musicians, dancers and drummers gather just inside the gates of Louis Armstrong Park to perform in the traditional West African manner.
Every Sunday from 2PM to 4PM in Congo Square you can witness African ancestral ritual spiritual drumming, dancing, singing and chanting, libation pouring and community gathering celebrating this rich cultural heritage.
For readers interested in helping with the preservation of Congo Square, you are encouraged to check out the Congo Square Preservation Society. At the time of this writing, the website is in place but still under construction. Their mission is "To promote the indigenous cultural traditions of New Orleans and Congo Square through education, advocacy, and research." See the Congo Square Preservation Society Facebook page for more information.

2012 Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival
The Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival celebrates the rich cultural heritage of New Orleans, Louisiana. Influences from Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America combine to make New Orleans a rich melting pot of world culture.
Featuring the best in traditional New Orleans Jazz, world-music from African, Caribbean and Latin American regions, the Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival is a unique event in New Orleans. In addition to music and dance there will be plenty of great Louisiana food and exotic crafts.
This festival combines two of our smaller events - Fiesta Latina and the Congo Square Rhythms Festival - into one large event.
Mar 24–25, 2012 Saturday, March 24, and Sunday, March 25 - 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. both daysCongo Square - Louis Armstrong Park901 N. Rampart StreetNew Orleans, LA 70116Admission: Free
Tom Dent Congo Square Symposium
Topic: "Voodoo at the Crossroads: Mystical Traditions in Africa, the Caribbean and the Gulf South."
Confirmed speakers include:
Robert Farris Thompson, Professor Emeritus, Yale University
William Ferris, University of North Carolina
Event Information:
Date: Saturday, Mar 24, 20129:00 AM – 1:00 PMAdmission: FreeLocation: St. Augustine ChurchAddress:1210 Gov. Nicholls StreetNew Orleans, LA 70116Phone: (504) 558-6100

Engraving by E. W. Kemble, to illustrate article “The Dance in Place Congo” by George Washington Cable, published in Century Magazine, February, 1886.
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, Penguin History, paperback edition, 47
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Other articles about New Orleans Voodoo you may find interesting:
The Basics of New Orleans Voodoo: Part 1
The Basics of New Orleans Voodoo Part 2: Africans and Indians
The Basics of New Orleans Voodoo Part 3: Regional CharacteristicsContinue reading on Congo Square, African Heritage and New Orleans Voodoo - New Orleans voodoo

Congo Square, The Soul of New Orleans

Congo Square is celebrated on this date's Registry from 1817. It is the informal name for an open area in the southern corner of Louis Armstrong Memorial Park.
Officially named Beauregard Square and Congo Plains, the site is paved with cobblestones and has large oaks and ornamentals. The site has remained an open meeting area since the establishment of the city in 1718. Before 1800, Black slaves gathered on Sunday afternoons in this open field just outside the city walls on the edge of the Treme plantation. Blacks, both enslaved and free, used this space to market goods, socialize, and participate in drumming, music making, and dance.
This community helped maintain a musical heritage and social cohesion in the African community. In 1817, the City Council of New Orleans passed legislation allowing African slaves meetings for dancing on Sundays. These meetings would take place in a public location chosen by the mayor, which was Congo Square.
The primary instrument for the cultural music expression was a long narrow African drum. It came in various sized from three to eight feet long and had previously been banned in the South by whites. Other instruments used were the triangle, a jawbone, and early ancestors to the banjo. Many types of dances were performed in Congo Square, including the “Flat-Footed-Shuffle” and the”Bamboula.”
The locals and a growing list of visitors to the city also went there to listen to Black music and to dance. One of the most reasonable explanations for the spiritual symmetry between West Africa and the city of New Orleans at that time was that it was a Catholic colony. Catholicism’s acceptance of a variety of saints and spirits was a major factor in the religion’s ability to both embrace and assimilate African spirituality. According to Bruce Raeburn, the curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, "There is a greater ease that is made possible between African religions and Catholicism. The iconography of the Catholic faith is not stark, but rather, it’s loud and in its own way colorful. It lends itself to the kinds of additions that we find in African spirituality."
So a less restricted attitude towards other religions than existed in New Orleans allowed for African retentions. The music and the spirituality inherent to it, which developed out of Congo Square, exemplified this. Congo Square represents an Africanized approach to music and culture. As time went by, the music of New Orleans spread throughout the country because of the travels of such early jazz musicians as Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Mahaila Jackson, and others. The music continued to thrive in New Orleans, permeating every aspect of people’s lives in the Crescent City. The use of this area declined in the 1840s and ended by the beginning of the Civil War.
Today, Congo Square holds a special symbolic importance to African-Americans. It is significant because of the role the square played in New Orleans' musical heritage and as a symbol of the early African contributions to the origins of jazz and other American musical forms. In the 21st century, standing in tribute to the accomplishments of the tightly knit New Orleans musical community, Congo Square remains a memorial to the artists who transformed their sound and exported it throughout the world. Congo Square was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Handsome, elegant, and dignified, Armstrong Park is near Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. Like much of the current cityscape, it was submerged beneath the waters from Hurricane Katrina. But grim as that event was, New Orleans' richness as roux musical tradition will not be drowned by the loss of life, property, and community. Congo Square and the music will not be lost in the flood.
Reference:The Washington Times3600 New York Ave NEWashington, DC 20002-1947.

The Seven Steps

The SEVEN STEPS of District Six as a symbolic tool for understanding Cape identity
To anyone who has had an association with old District Six, the very mention of the ‘Seven Steps’ immortalised in Taliep Petersen’s musical ‘District Six’, stirs up deep emotions. The Seven Steps of stone worn by the thousands who climbed these to work, to home, to school, to play, to bok, to church, to mosque, to shop, to celebrate and to mourn, were part of the great big soul of the district. Today, so many years after its destruction, the Seven Steps stands out as the premier symbol of District Six. The District Six museum has it as an integral part of its brand and logo. There is a reverence at its mention – seven after all is God’s number. Seven is the dobbelaars ‘Lucky Number’.

The Seven Steps of stone worn by the thousands who climbed these to work, to home, to school, to play, to ‘bok’, to church, to mosque, to shop, to celebrate and to mourn, were part of the great big soul of the district.

District Six became Cape Town’s own Harlem. This Cape African Creole district on the edge of the city had its roots as one of the first settlements of freed urban slaves after emancipation. It was also the first home of African dockworkers from the Eastern Cape, sailors who jumped ship and poor European immigrants. The district grew over the years and became the cultural heart and soul of Coloured people. Some 40 000 people were living there. In 1966 the Apartheid regime began a forced removals process after declaring the colourful district as a ‘whites only’ part of the city. The forced removals, accompanied by wholesale demolitions saw the dwellings of the entire district raised to the ground. First Africans and then Coloured people were moved to the Cape Flats. The forced removals finally ended in 1986 when the last of the people were moved out. To add fuel to the fire, the district was renamed Zonnebloem - sunflower.
In the heart of District Six stood the seven stone steps which became one of those symbols of District Six that lives in the hearts of all who lived, loved, played and worked in the ‘District’. The seven steps became a powerful representation of popular memory.
The physical District Six is lost somewhere on the patch of earth and grass that remains like a gash on the body of our city. The District Six Museum is custodian of some of the old blocks of stone, the steps, and some pictures and paintings exist, but the greatest legacy symbolised by the seven steps is etched in our hearts. The spirit of District Six lives on.
There were seven stone steps in the heart of old District Six which holds a special place in the hearts of many and it is a powerful symbol of the heritage of Cape Town. The Seven Steps also speaks of the Seven Roots of identity in the Cape. The Coloured community in particular shares all of these roots of identity. (While some are comfortable with the term ‘Coloured’ many do not accept the term and feel uncomfortable with it, but no universally accepted term for people of mixed origins has ever emerged to find acceptance. I personally do not like the term and express myself as having a Cape Creole African identity as a South African, but I also do not shy away from using the term Coloured as it is more generally understood and used. Creole simply means ‘new creation’ or ‘locally born’).
Most people of the Cape from all population groups share two or more of the Seven roots. There is at least one of these roots in everyone and even the most recent to join us in this city and province has a place in these Seven Steps. Everyone had a place in old District Six and the Seven Steps stands out as a powerful symbol of diversity and inclusivity in the Cape. In applying the symbolism of the Seven Steps to our heritage, each STEP represents a root tributary to Cape identity as follows:

STEP 1: Represents the tributary of the INDIGENES. The people of the Cape have strong African roots. The San, Khoe and amaXhosa in the Cape and the baSotho and baTswana in western and northern reaches of the old demarcated Cape Colony are the first tributary of Cape identity. The Coloured people of the Cape have deep African roots with a number of traditional African communities, sharing ancestors and many elements of cultural heritage. History also shows us that communities such as the amaXhosa of today, share San, Khoe, Asian and European ancestors with Coloured communities. There is a strong cousin-connection across ethno-social boundaries in the Cape.

STEP2: Represents the tributary of the SLAVES. We are the descendents of Slaves from other parts of Africa and Madagascar, from India and from the Indonesian Islands. Over the period 1653 – 1808 over 63 000 slaves were brought to the Cape from these areas. Around 32 500 of these slaves came from Africa and Madagascar, 19 000 from India, and 11 500 from the Indonesian islands. Between 1808 – 1856 a further 8000 mainly African slaves were brought to the Cape as ‘Prize Negro’ slaves captured from slaver vessels by the Royal Navy. The locally born children and successive grandchildren of these slaves were all to lead lives of slavery until emancipation in 1836. For many ‘Prize Slaves’ emancipation only came in dribs and drabs right through to 1870 and the last slaves arrived in 1890.

STEP 3: Represents the tributary of the FREE BLACKS. We are descendents of the Free Blacks of the Cape – a category of people that once were poised to be a socio-economic group to be reckoned with in early Cape development, but later for a number of reasons became powerless. Early Mardijkers soldiers from Ambonya in the employ of the VOC, Free Black travellers, soldiers and sailors, the manumitted slaves, and freed black convicts all became part of those referred to as Free Blacks.

STEP 4: Represents the tributary of the EUROPEANS. We are descendents of a range of Europeans who intermarried with, or who had children with Indigenes, Slaves and Free Blacks. In the early founding years of the Cape Settlement the mainly German, Dutch, Swiss, Portuguese, French and Scandanavians were mainly male and took black partners. Many Europeans were also transient and never settled in the colony but left children behind. There were always Europeans, across the centuries, who had children with black partners and this carried on when the English, Irish and Scots arrived in South Africa. The Europeans settled and made their homes in Africa as a local people, but their bloodlines can also be found amongst indigene groups and Coloured communities, as much as indigene and Coloured bloodlines can be found in the descendent European communities.

STEP 5: Represents the tributary of the MAROONS. We are descendents of runaway slaves, Free Black rebels, mixed ‘Baster’ descendents of indigenes and slaves, non-conformists Europeans, escaped convicts, and eccentric missionaries. They became the freedom-trekkers who moved as far away from the reaches of the colonial government, long before the Boer Great Trek, to the long wild territory along the Garieb river in the north west, and to the amaXhosa territory in the east. Here these Drosters or Maroons mixed with Khoe, San, Xhosa and other indigenes and formed new groups such as the Orlams Afrikaners, the Bergenaar Basters, the Springboks, and the Griquas. Others joined the Xhosa armies and resisted both the Boers and later the British.

STEP 6: Represents the tributary of the EXILES & REFUGEES: We are the descendents of outspoken fighters and political leaders who challenged the Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish in various territories in Indonesia and Polynesia. Indonesian Muslim resistance leaders were tried and banished into exile at the Cape; Peranakan Chinese from the Chinese resistance after the massacres of Chinese by the Dutch in Batavia; and Philippine refugees from the Phillipine Revolution - the Manillas, landed up at different times in the Cape and integrated into what was later called the Coloured population. In later years, to this day, new exile and refugee groups would continue to trickle into the Cape, make this place their home and integrate with other communities.

STEP 7: Represents the tributary of the INDENTURES & MIGRANTS: We are descendents of a range of people who were brought to the Cape as indentured labourers or who were economic migrants. After slavery was formally ended at the Cape, first the ‘Prize Boys’ were forced to accept indentureship as labourers, then farmers began importing indentured labour from the Congo, Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique. Most of these ‘Indentures’ were settled in the Drakenstein and integrated with both the Coloured communities and the amaXhosa who were working in the district since the late 1700s.

Already many of the freed slaves in the Drakenstein were those from East Africa known locally as the Mosbiekers. The Mosbieker pool grew as indentureship was continually extended over the 19th century.

From the 1840s and increasing in the 1870s right through to 1910 and beyond, large groups of people were brought in as indentured servants from St Helena. The Saints as they were known were also descendents of slaves, Chinese and British settlers on the island of St Helena.

In 1890 the Ormoro North African slaves (Somalia) seized from a slaver ship were brought to the Cape and these also integrated into Coloured and amaXhosa communities.

Also amongst the migrants were West Africans of the Kru tribe who had been employed by the Royal Navy in Simonstown for almost a century (1830 – 1930). These Kroomen as they were locally known also integrated into the Coloured community. Their grave markers can still be seen in Simonstown today. In the late 1800s the Royal Navy began recruiting Siddis and Zanzibaris from displkaced African communities scattered along the African and Indian coasts. Siddis and Zanzibaris like the Kru also integratyed into Cape society.

Migrants and other infusions into the Cape society carry on to this day. Through our sea ports relationships have produced children with Chinese and other seaman of many nations. Economic migrants and refugees from other African countries still arrive daily and take their place among us as they always have. District Six was a key centre that became a microcosm manifestation of the coming together of all of these tributaries and the creolisation of cultures that gave us the rich and diverse locally born Cape African heritage that we celebrate today.

Indo-Caribbean Roots

Indo-Caribbean people or Indo-Caribbeans are Caribbean people with roots in India or the Indian subcontinent. They are mostly descendants of the original indentured workers brought by the British, the Dutch and the French during colonial times.
The antiquated term East Indian is still used in the English-speaking Caribbean and by the Canadian mainstream media. In Surinam, the term East Indian refers to people with roots in the former Dutch East Indies (i.e. Indonesiaa). Those with roots in India are called Hindustani and were during colonial times referred to as "British Indians."[citation needed] In day to day parlance, Indian is used in the English-speaking Caribbean.
Most Indo-Caribbean people live in English speaking Caribbean nations, Suriname and Netherlands, as well as in the French overseas departments (primarily Guadeloupe & Martinique.

Caribbean Islands
Indians in Barbados
Indians in Guadeloupe
Indo-Trinidadian and Tobagonian
Mainland Caribbean
Indians in Belize
Indians in French Guiana
Indo-Caribbean American
British Indo-Caribbean community
Indians in Venezuela

Migration history

Colonial powers that brought Indo-Caribbeans to the West Indies called them East Indian Coolies - manual labourer or slave from India. An image of Indo-Caribbeans in 19th century celebrating the Indian culture in West Indies through dance and music.
From 1838 to 1917, over half a million Indians from the former British Raj or British India, were taken to thirteen mainland and island nations in the Caribbean as Indentured workers to address the demand for sugar cane plantation labour following the abolition of slavery. Attempts at importing Chinese, Portuguese and others as indentured labourers had failed.

Sugarcane plantations in the 19th century

A 19th century lithograph by Theodore Bray showing a Caribbean sugarcane plantation. On right is the European overseer. Workers toil during the harvest. To the left is a flat-bottomed vessel for cane transportation.
Much like cotton, sugarcane plantations motivated large scale near-enslavement and forced migrations in the 19th and early 20th century.[1]
Following the emancipation of slaves in 1833 in the United Kingdom, many liberated Africans left their former masters. This created an economic chaos for British owners of sugar-cane plantations in the Caribbean region, and elsewhere. The hard work in hot, humid farms required a regular, docile and low-waged labour force. The British looked for cheap labour. Since slavery had been abolished, the British crafted a new legal system of forced labour, which in many ways resembled enslavement.[2] Instead of calling them slaves, they were called indentured labourers. Indians, primarily began to replace Africans previously brought as slaves, under this indentured labour scheme to serve on sugarcane plantations across the British empire.
The first ships carrying indentured labourers for sugarcane plantations left India in 1838 for the Caribbean region. In fact, the first two shiploads of Indians arrived in British Guiana (now Guyana) on May 5, 1838 on board the Whitby and Hesperus. These ships had sailed from Calcutta. In the early decades of the sugarcane-driven migrations, indentured Indians were treated as inhumanely as the enslaved Africans had been. They were confined to their estates and paid a pitiful salary. Any breach of contract brought automatic criminal penalties and imprisonment. Many of these were brought away from their homelands deceptively. Many from inland regions over a thousand kilometers from seaports were promised jobs, weren't told the work they were being hired for, or that they would leave their homeland and communities. They were hustled aboard the waiting ships, unprepared for the long and arduous four-month sea journey. Charles Anderson, a special magistrate investigating these sugarcane plantations, wrote to the British Colonial Secretary declaring that with few exceptions, the indentured labourers are treated with great and unjust severity; plantation owners enforced work in sugarcane farms so harshly, that the decaying remains of immigrants were frequently discovered in sugarcane fields. If labourers protested and refused to work, they were not paid or fed: they simply starved.[1]

The sugarcane plantation-driven migrations led to ethnically significant presence of Indians in Caribbean.[3] In some islands and countries, these Indo-Caribbean migrants now constitute a significant proportion of the population. Sugarcane plantations and citizens of Indian origin continue to thrive in countries such as Guyana, formerly, British Guiana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, St. Croix, Suriname and Nevis.[1][4] By some estimates, over 2.5 million people in the Caribbean are of Indian origin. Many have ethnically blended with migrants from other parts of the world, creating a unique syncretic culture.
Not just British colonies, sugarcane production affected human history in colonies controlled by other pre-World War II powers. France, for example, negotiated with Britain leading to Act XLVI of 1860, whereby large numbers of Indian indentured labourers were brought for harsh sugarcane plantation work in French colonies in the Caribbean region.[5] The Caribbean colonies of the Netherlands too benefitted from the indentured laborers from India.

Post world war II trends

Indian indentured laborers worked for decades for meagre wages in sugar cane plantations of the Dutch East Indies. This image from Tropenmuseum Royal Tropical Institute shows two Indo-Caribbean people walking towards the house of a Dutch engineer in a Caribbean sugar cane plantation.
The majority of the Indians living in the English-speaking Caribbean came from eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, while those brought to Guadeloupe and Martinique were mostly from, but not only, from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. About twenty percent (20%) of the indentured were Tamils and Telugus particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.
A minority emigrated from other parts of South Asia, including present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Indo-Caribbeans comprise the largest ethnic group in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
They are the second largest group in Suriname, Jamaica, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
There are also small populations in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, French Guiana, Panama, Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Netherlands Antilles. There are also small groups often called "mulatts" who are of Indian descent in Haiti.
Modern-day immigrants from India (mostly Sindhi merchants) are to be found on Saint-Martin / Sint Maarten, St. Thomas, Curaçao and other islands with duty-free commercial capabilities, where they are active in business. Other Indo-Caribbean people descend from later migrants, including Indian doctors, Gujarati businessmen and migrants from Kenya and Uganda.
Indo-Caribbeans have migrated to the United States, Canada, Hispanic America (notably Panama & Venezuela), The Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom, and to other parts of the Caribbean.


Many Caribbean islands celebrate traditional Indian festivals, such as Diwali as shown in this Divali Nagar decorations from Trinidad and Tobago.
The indentured Indians and their descendants have actively contributed to the evolution of their adopted lands in spite of many difficulties.

In recent years, attempts to commemorate the Indian presence and contributions have come to fruition:
In 1995, Jamaica started to celebrate the arrival of Indians in Old Harbour Bay, St. Catherine Parish on May 13.
In 2003, Martinique celebrated the 150th anniversary of Indian arrival. Guadeloupe did the same in 2004. These celebrations were not the fact of just the Indian minority, but the official recognition by the French and local authorities of their integration and their wide-scale contributions in various fields from Agriculture to Education, Politics and to the diversification of the culture of the Creole peoples. Thus, the noted participation of the whole multi-ethnic population of the two islands were in these events.
St. Lucia and many Caribbean countries have dedicated commemorative days to acknowledge the arrival and important contributions of their Indo-Caribbean populations. St. Lucia celebrates it Indo-Caribbean heritage on May 6. Other dates when the India Arrival Day is celebrated in the Caribbean include May 5 (Guyana), May 10 (Jamaica), May 30 (Trinidad and Tobago), June 1 (St. Vincent), and June 5 (Suriname).[4]

Indo Caribbean Media - Canada
There are three Indo-Caribbean newspapers based in Toronto:
Indo-Caribbean World - has been in existence for 25 years.
Caribbean Xpress - has been in existence for 5 years.
Indo-Caribbean Times - had been in existence for about 2 years. After the death of one its founding members in April 2010, the paper has not been published.

Notable Canadian Indo Caribbeans
Anjulie - singer/songwriter. Her parents migrated from Guyana.
Dave Baksh - former lead guitarist of the band Sum 41. A founding member of the mainly reggae band Brown Brigade. His parents migrated from Guyana.
Professor Frank Birbalsingh - born in Guyana, now retired. - taught English & Commonwealth Literaure for many years at York University, Toronto.
Bas Balkissoon - born in Trinidad and Tobago, is a member of the Provincial Parliament of the Province of Ontario.
Neil Bissoondath - Writer, born in Trinidad and Tobago.
Melanie Fiona - R&B singer and songwriter, born to Guyanese parents. Also of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Kamala-Jean Gopie - Educator and Political Activist (Jamaican born).
Ian Hanomansing - born in Trinidad and Tobago, is a television anchor & reporter with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Shani Mootoo - Writer, born in Ireland to Trinidadian parents.
Hedy Fry - Long-standing Canadian federal politician and physician, born in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago. She was the fifth person to ever unseat a sitting prime minister, doing so in 1993.
Aimee Balkissoon - Youngest Indo Caribbean dance director in Ontario, Canada with Upscale Dance Academy. Her parents migrated from Trinidad & Tobago.

Notable Other Indo Caribbeans

V.S. Naipaul, an Indo-Caribbean was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature, for his works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories. In his Nobel lecture, Naipaul describes the destitution forced upon Indo-Caribbeans in Port of Spain, and their cultural struggles.[6]
Tatyana Marisol Ali- American actress and R&B singer. Also of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Jacques Bangou - the incumbent mayor of Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul - Current West Indies cricketer and former captain of the side; from Guyana.
Serge Letchimy - President of Martinique Regional Council. Also of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Thierry Moutoussamy - is a ragga-zouk musician of Martiniquais heritage. Also of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Nicky Minaj - Singer. Born in Trinidad to a Indian father & African mother.
V. S. Naipaul - Writer, born in Trinidad, Nobel Prize in Literature (2001).
Nicole Narain - Nicole Narain is a Guyanese-American model and actress. Also of Afro-Caribbean descent.
Rozonda Ocelean Thomas - of the R & B group, TLC. Best known by her stage name Chilli. Also of African American descent.

See also

Caribbean portal
Hinduism in the West Indies
Tamil diaspora
Indo-Caribbean music
British Indo-Caribbean community
Indo-Caribbean American
Anglophone Caribbean

^ a b c "Forced Labour". The National Archives, Government of the United Kingdom. 2010.
^ Hugh Tinker (1993). "New System of Slavery". Hansib Publishing, London. ISBN 978-1870518185.
^ K Laurence (1994). "A Question of Labour: Indentured Immigration Into Trinidad & British Guiana, 1875-1917". St Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0312121723.
^ a b "St. Lucia’s Indian Arrival Day". Caribbean Repeating Islands. 2009.’s-indian-arrival-day/.
^ "Indian indentured labourers". The National Archives, Government of the United Kingdom. 2010.
^ V.S. Naipaul (2001). "Nobel Lecture - Literature 2001". Nobel Prize Committee.

External links
Indo-Caribbean Alliance, Inc. A 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing services and advocacy to New York City's growing Indo-Caribbean community.
Jahajee Sisters: Empowering Indo-Caribbean Women A movement-building organization, led by Indo-Caribbean women, committed to creating a safe and equitable society. Jahajee Sisters fosters solidarity and empowerment through dialogue, arts, leadership development and grassroots organizing.
Indian Heritage Foundation in St. Vincent - Unfortunately the site is currently inactive (Feb 2009).

Friday, March 30, 2012

The "Cymbee Water Spirits"

The "Cymbee" Water Spirits of St. John’s Berkeley
By Natalie P. Adams*

The purpose of this short essay is to highlight the belief held by African-Americans in the South Carolina lowcountry in Kongo water spirits known as simbi (pl. bisimbi) as illustrated by several first and second hand accounts in the St. John's Berkeley Parish. Researchers of the African diaspora (Brown 2000, 2002; Thompson 1998) have linked this belief to an area in West-Central Africa from where a significant portion of Africans was imported (see Brown 2002: 300-305; Littlefield 1981: 111; Wood 1974: 334-339). In the case of St. John's Berkeley, these spirits were widely believed to inhabit the limestone sinkholes that were prolific in that region.
The accounts uncovered focus on Woodboo and Pooshee Plantations now located under the waters of Lake Moultrie. A portion of the Santee limestone karst region is found in the area around modern-day Santee State Park, and incorporates Lake Moultrie, Lake Marion, the Santee Canal, and areas along the Santee River near Jamestown (Figure 1).
In 1860, Henry Ravenel published an essay entitled "The Limestone Springs of St. John's Berkeley," noting that the most remarkable one in that area was located at Woodboo Plantation. Although his examination was not exhaustive, he also visited springs at a plantation east of Woodboo, also Wantoot, Pooshee, Fountain Swamp, and Chelsea -- all currently under the waters of Lake Moultrie (Figure 2). He also discusses the spring at the Eutaw battlefield of Revolutionary War fame, and springs near Black Oak Lock on the Santee Canal (Taylor 1998: 198-199).

Figure 1: Map showing locations associated with the Santee limestone karst region.Accounts of "Cymbee" in South Carolina
Edmund Ruffin
Edmund Ruffin's (1794-1865) travels through South Carolina were part of his overall efforts to keep the slave economic system viable through agricultural reform. Because of rather severe economic depressions during the previous 25 years and the exhaustion of fields due to monocropping, Ruffin became preoccupied with marling and liming to ameliorate the acidic and depleted fields in the South (Matthew 1992: xi-xii).

Figure 2: Map of Lake Moultrie showing known locations of Woodboo, Wantoot, Pooshee, and Chelsea Plantations.
On March 25, 1843 Ruffin visited the plantation of Mr. Robert Mazyck, the owner of Woodboo Plantation. It was in this vicinity that he had noticed numerous sinks, subterraneous passages of water, and limestone boiling springs. Ruffin referred to the sinks and springs as "fountains" (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Example of a limestone sinkhole.
At the plantation, a fountain was cared for as a part of the landscaping. It was at that fountain the Ruffin first heard of a belief amongst the slaves regarding water spirits. Each fountain of any considerable size was believed to be inhabited by what they called a "cymbee." This was Ruffin's best guess at a spelling and he mentions that he doubts if the word was ever written before. Each fountain had its own cymbee, with each "having a different size, appearance, and set of habits" (Matthew 1992: 166).
A slave driver that accompanied Ruffin told him that he had never seen the Woodboo cymbee, but that others had told him that it was web footed like a goose. Another elderly slave stated that, as a very young boy he had seen one at another fountain. Ruffin wrote that the man said the cymbee was "seated on a plank which was laid across the water, & that the long brown hair of her head hung down so low, & so covered her face & whole body & limbs, that he saw no other feature; nor could he answer to my question whether she as a white or a negro cymbee, except as may be inferred from her long hair." After seeing her, she glided into the water and disappeared. The man admitted that he was "so young and so frightened, that his recollection of what he saw was rather vague" (Matthew 1992: 166). At Pooshee plantation on the Santee Canal not too far from Woodboo, Ruffin stated that a young slave boy went to a fountain for water late at night and was very frightened by a cymbee who was running around and around the fountain.
Although few witnesses to the appearance of cymbees were found by Ruffin, he stated that they are generally believed by the slaves to be frequent and numerous. It should be noted that part of the superstition was that it was bad luck for anyone who saw one to "tell of the occurrence, or refer to it; & that his death would be the certain penalty, if he told of the meeting for some weeks afterwards" (Matthew 1992: 166).
According to the local slaves, the Woodboo cymbee was only seen when the sunshine was "right up & down." At other fountains, they appeared at night. They were usually found sitting on a low bridge or plank crossing the water or on the edge of a steep side (Matthew 1992: 166).
Ruffin noted, "in regard to matters of fact of these fountains from the lime-rock, and which facts are in strict accordance with the cavernous foundation which I suppose, these fountains sometimes suddenly disappear entirely, & in other places, new fountains burst out. When the former occurs, the negroes believe that the cymbee has died, or has been offended & abandoned her residence. When Dr. Ravenel enclosed his fountain with masonry & confined & raised its water, an old half breed Indian of the neighborhood, who was half negro in blood, & wholly in habits & superstition, remonstrated with him, upon the ground that the cymbee might be made angry & leave her haunt, & that then the spring would be dried. Unluckily for the story, the fountain continues to flow as previously" (Matthew 1992: 167). At the end of Ruffin's account, Matthew notes that in Indian folklore dwarves, water babies, and old women variously inhabit springs and other wet places.
Robert Wilson
Robert Wilson (1838-1924) was born and educated in Charleston and, as a young man, practiced medicine in St. John's Berkeley Parish. Prior to the Civil War he trained to become an Episcopalian minister, but during the war served as a doctor at Wayside Hospital in Columbia. Afterwards he served as rector at the Episcopal Church in Stateburg, then Maryland, and later back to Charleston. In his "Half Forgotten By-Ways" he describes a Christmas he spent at Pooshee Plantation. The year is unknown, but the account was written in 1876 and published fifty years later. In examining Ruffin's diary, Ruffin makes no reference to Wilson and it is unknown if they ever met. Wilson obviously knew the owners of Pooshee -- the Ravenels - and his accounts of cymbee spirits closely corresponds to that of Dr. Henry Ravenel's son, the younger Henry Ravenel, where he may have picked up the story.
Wilson notes that an octagonal brick wall enclosed the spring at Pooshee. He states that two miles away on Woodboo Plantation there were two similar basins that were connected by a shallow stream (Wilson 1926: 155). About a mile in the opposite direction, through a belt of wet pinelands, there were a dozen or more of these ponds. The largest of them was no more than six by nine feet and are not drained by any stream. Others existed at the famous Eutaw Springs 15 miles away and 10 miles beyond that were the last of these basins in the chain (Wilson 1926: 156).
He states that the slaves "have peopled these fountains with spirits which they call cymbies, akin to the undine and the kelpie. On Saturday nights you may hear a strange, rhythmic thumping sound from the spring, and looking out you may see by the wild, fitful glare of lightwood torches dark figures moving to and fro. These are the negro women at their laundry work, knee deep in the stream, beating the clothes with heavy clubs. They are merry enough when together, but not one of them will go alone for a piggin of water and if you slip up in the shadow of the old oak and throw a stone into the spring, the entire party will rush away at the splash, scream with fear convinced the cymbee is after them" (Wilson 1926: 156-157).
Henry William Ravenel
Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) was the son of the owner of Pooshee Plantation, which was the ancestral home of that family. The young Ravenel was not only a planter, but also a botanist and scientist. Ruffin probably knew Henry as "just a young scientist-planter that was interested in agricultural improvements" (Matthew 1992: 333). The young Ravenel was a strong supporter of Ruffin's previously mentioned survey.
In Henry Ravenel's "Recollections of Southern Plantation Life" (Ravenel 1936:776), he states, "there was a general belief in the guardian spirits of water called cymbee among the slaves." He stated, "I have never been able to trace the word to any European language and conclude it must be African. If anyone disturbs the spring, the Cymbee would be angry. If it was destroyed or much injured from any cause, the Cymbee would leave it, and the waters would dry up. The Cymbees were proportionate in size to the spring" (Ravenel 1936: 776).
Ravenel then provides a nearly identical story regarding the women washing clothes and it is probably from him or another Ravenel family member that Robert Wilson got his story. He concluded "they all have entire faith in Cymbee -- and one of the old men told me with a grave face that he had seen it. On inquiry about its appearance, he described the old traditional mermaid -- a female form -- half fish -- sitting on the banks and combing out its long tresses" (Ravenel 1936: 776).
Clara Milligan
Pooshee Plantation comes up again as a location occupied by water spirits in a much later context. A black woman by the name of Clara Milligan warned some white children who were playing beside of a pool. She warned "Got to be really carefully if you go in that water. Simbi'll get you." One of the children, Nina Langley remembered that warning occurred sometime between 1915 and 1921. Her daughter, Patricia Dwight of Charleston, brought this story to Robert Farris Thompson's attention, who published this brief account (Thompson 1998: 61; 301). Ras Michael Brown's Discussion of the Ruffin Account
In a paper presented at the 2000 fall meeting of the Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies, historian Ras Michael Brown discusses the Ruffin example. Brown contends that "West-Central African nature deities, called simbi spirits in Kikongo, served the enslaved people of the early Lowcountry as spiritual benefactors around which captives of diverse African origins and those born in the Lowcountry built their communities" (Brown 2000). Brown specifically points to a Kongo proverb that notes, "where your ancestors do not live, you cannot build your house." Brown argues that nature spirits allowed those who were either strangers to the area or lacked ties with named ancestors to "still have access to the agents of Other Worldly powers and to feel attached to the land where they lived."
Brown states he believes that "cymbee" is an attempt to represent the pronunciation of the Kikongo word simbi. The words not only match in sound but also in meaning. Nature spirits known as bisimbi (plural of simbi) often take the form of water spirits and he believes the lowcountry example is unmistakably derived from West-Central African understanding of simbi spirits. As previously mentioned, although presumably knowing nothing about African culture, Henry Ravenel believed that the word was African.
Brown argues that West-Central Africans were particularly influential in the cultural development of the slave society because they arrived during times that corresponded with the formative phases in the growth of slavery and not because they numerically dominated the population. This argument is laid out in his article "'Walk in the Feenda': West-Central Africans and the Forest in the South Carolina-Georgia Lowcountry" (Brown 2002) and should be consulted for further information.
He suggests that simbi spirits may have offered West-Central African slaves powerful spiritual benefactors within slavery. They may have focused their anxieties over health and fertility on the simbi spirit. The existence of simbi in the South Carolina lowcountry exhibits the concerns African slaves had about the maintenance of community and their spiritual and material survival. As such they were vital features of the mental and physical landscape (Brown 2000).
Brown (2000) believes that the existence of simbi in South Carolina is not an "Africanism," but rather a mechanism for community building within the system of American plantation slavery. Regardless of the cultural plurality that existed during slavery, it "transformed into a complex African-Lowcountry culture that incorporated various influences into a framework that had been established by West-Central African founders. In this process the fundamentally similar perspectives concerning nature spirits that Africans from many regions brought with them were retained by ultimately expressed in the idiom of West-Central African Kongo culture." Bisimbi in West-Central Africa
In Kongo, bisimbi inhabit rocks, gullies, streams, and pools, and are able to influence the fertility and well being of those living in the area. They are closely related with persons born abnormally (called baana ba nlongo) and minkisi which are magical devices or "power objects" (MacGaffey 2002: 212). They are powered by nature spirits such as bisimbi.
The difficulty in categorizing the manifestations of these spirits is illustrated by a 1915 KiKongo text, which states:
What are bisimbi? They have other names, too. Some are called python, lightning gourd or calabash, mortar or a sort of pot. The explanation of their names is that they are water spirits (nkisi mia mamba). The names of some of these minkisi are: Na Kongo, Ma Nzanza, Nkondi and Londa. They have many appearances of all kinds. Some are seen to be green, or red, black, or perhaps in spotted or sparkling colors. The body in which they are appealed to is of three or four kinds: 1) the body of a person 2) of a snake such as a python or viper 3) a calabash or gourd 4) of wood or pottery. Sometimes a spark of fire (quoted in MacGaffey 2002).MacGaffey (2002: 213) states that they affect the lives of people in three modes. "They are the tutelary spirits of particular territories, they become incarnate as twins and other special children, and they are the principal animating forces in minkisi. Since the destruction of indigenous polities under colonial rule, the great, named spirits are scarcely remembered. Nowadays, bisimbi are most familiar as anonymous spirits able to cause trouble if they are not treated with respect."
The accounts of "cymbees" in St. John's Berkeley Parish of South Carolina clearly demonstrate the belief in West-Central African simbi water spirits and their association with limestone sinkholes in the area.
How African-Americans envisioned the functions of these spirits in the sinkholes is not obviously clear. The references from the nineteenth and early twentieth century do not elaborate in this regard. The only conclusion one might draw from reading the accounts is that they were creatures to be feared. At the same time, however, their presence was desired as exhibited by the admonishing statement that enclosing the fountain at Woodboo would make the cymbee angry and it would leave. Brown (2000) suggests that the fear "cymbee" spirits invoked did not alienate people, but simply "confirmed that nature spirits and the sites associated with them were legitimate channels of Other Worldy power." As later generations continued to have many of the same concerns about community maintenance and spiritual and material survival, they likely remained "vital features of the mental and physical landscape into the twentieth century" (Brown 2000). Note* The author, Natalie P. Adams, R.P.A., is a vice-president and archaeologist with New South Associates.References CitedBrown, Ras Michael2000 West-Central African Nature Spirits in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Paper presented at the Southeastern Regional Seminar in African Studies, Fall Meeting, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.2002 "Walk in the Feenda": West-Central African and the Forest in the South Carolina-Georgia Low Country. In Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, pp. 289-317, edited by Linda M. Heywood. Cambridge University Press. Littlefield, Daniel1981 Rice and Slaves, Ethnicity and the Slave Trade in Colonial South Carolina. Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge. Matthew, William M. 1992 Agriculture, Geology, and Society in Antebellum South Carolina; the Private Diary of Edmund Ruffin, 1843. University of Georgia Press, Athens. MacGaffey, Wyatt2002 Twins, Simbi Spirits, and Lwas in Kongo and Haiti. In Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora, pp. 211-226, edited by Linda M. Heywood. Cambridge University Press. Ravenel, Henry1936 Recollections of Life on a Southern Plantation. The Yale Review: A National Quarterly. Summer Issue. Taylor, David (editor) 1998 South Carolina Naturalists -- An Anthology, 1700-1860. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia. Thompson, Robert Farris1998 Bighearted Power: Kongo Presence in the Landscape and Art of Black America. In Keep Your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American Home Ground, edited by Grey Gundaker with the assistance of Tynes Cowan, pp. 37-64. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville. Wilson, Robert1926 Half Forgotten By-ways of the Old South. The State Company, Columbia, South Carolina. Wood, Peter1974 Black Majority. W.W. Norton & Company, New York.