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About The advocate. (Portland, Or.) 19??-19?? | View Entire Issue (March 14, 1931)
EXAMINING the “TOM-TOM*
O ff the Coast of Georgia
culiar Culture Which Fir
The “ Ring Shout" found exclusively
Saint Simons Island, is today known as on<
most devout and primitive of religion
monies. Pounding on a wooden floor w
Georgia “ tom -tom s," these religious peo|
set up a throbbing vibration which mo\
most disinterested spectator.
-O ld g u r l r r n u n ." oiw of »hr few of thr older native* »1111 alive « 1 s ,l n l
Simon» Island »Krrr a wins revival h u no» br|»n. Quarterman re
member» many of Ihp *‘»|pp»‘ of Ihp trntury-old shouts.
By L A W R E N C E G . H O L M E S .
NE NIGHT a ^ailing -»hip slipped up Dunbar Creek to
the landing plaee. Dunbar Creek is on Saint Simons
Island, one of the “ Golden Isles" of the Georgia
coast, and Dunbar (’reek rises in the very heart of the island.
Surrounded by jungles, the ship landing on the creek hud
Aboard this windjammer were twenty men, women and
children— almost the whole stalw art Kbo tribe from Africa.
However, they were not willing passengers. For more than
a month they had been confined in the hold of the vessel-—
a terrifying experience to an inland people, but one which
was not unusual in the heyday of the slave trading era.
These Ebo folk met the ordeal with extraordinary b ravery:
and, with a courage which has preserved their name for
nearly two centuries, they worked out their own salvation.
All but one little girl. She couldn't have been more than
a slip of a child, maybe thirteen years old, according to the»
old story. It is on her testimonythat the queer old story is
b a se d ; for she is the only one of the tribe who could be found
the morning after the landing.
Shivering and sobbing, she was
found In one corner of the stockade
"Where are the others?" she was ask
ed. She pointed to the black silent
water of Dunbar Creek.
"The water brought us; the water
will take us home," the chief had told
her people. "But I was afraid—a-
fraid!" the child wailed. "When they
all walked Into the water to go home,
I was afraid!"
The whole tribe, with deep and un
shaken faith in Its chief, had fol
lowed him Into the deep waters of
the creek. To this day the landing
on Dunbar Creek Is known as Ebo
Landing, a mute tribute to the tribe.
Since this act of martyrdom, no col
ored man or woman of Saint Simons
Island fishes there, although there
are myriads of great catfish and the
huge, bluc-clawcd crabs which are
very tasty. It is commonly believed
among the natives that on certain
nights the ghosts of that Ill-fated
tribe may be seen silently struggling
In the black waters.
More than likely the devout Ebo
folk sang that night while they were
making up their minds to die as
martyrs. Their chief was with them
iso the story says) and it would
be the natural thing for him to
chant and listen to his people an
swer in ehorus. In crude and weird
rhythm the rhythm that ha* Its ori
gin In ‘ he pulsing life of the Jungles
— they answered him.
N ativ e A n c e s tr y D ire ctly
T r a c e a b l e to A f r i c a
That singular rhythm Is Just as
much alive today among the Geor
gia islands as Is the story of the Elio
tribe. Almost without exception the
native families of Tlie Islands trace
their ancestry directly to Africa
Many tribes are represented, and
many tribal customs are still mani
fest In the present-day culture and
lives of the Islanders. Now practi
cally all the old Island songs are be
Some of the greatest orchestra
leaders of the day have heard these
strange harmonies; listened to them
and then admitted hopelessly that
the swing and beat are purely orig
inal and cannot be captured, although
It would be worth a fortune to the
orchestra which could perform them
In pure original style.
The songs sung today were born
many generations ago, when the first
Africans were brought to Idle Islands.
World famous Sea Island cotton, with
the long staple now grown only In
Egypt and Arizona, was first pro
duced thei- by native Africans who
sang as they hoed, rowed the barges,
buried their dead, or rested by their
"tabby" quarters on monolight nights.
S et B ib l e to S ti r r i n g
M u s ic
Having learned a bit of modern
civilization. They took the dramutlc
Instances from the IJIble and wove
Saint Simon» Island nallpp» »hnulinf. Only a faint Idea of thp »pint m o t i o n » of thp «hout» ran bp ob
tained by thia ptvture. It wa» only aflrr ntui h pcrsuiklon that thr»r folk »nuM »Ini amt »hout In tlir
daylimr lor pirturr»; Ihp normal »hnulinf 1». of rour«r. dnnr at n l f h l and thp d a y l l m r V rrs lo n of thr rlnc
»hout I oar* niui h of ita clamour
new songs about them. Although the
wonts arc English, the musical in
terpretations »re deeply emotional
and stirring far more than the words.
The pulsing beat starts slowly, in
tune with the beating of the heart.
Gradualy ‘t gets faster and faster.
And the strange thing Is that the
heart of the listener beats faster snd
faster in rhythm with the music The
singers themselves "get happy" and
sometimes swing right into the
"shout"—the name which Is applied
to a dai ce orgy whlrh. until recently,
has rarely been seen by a stranger.
The natural secludon and aloofness
of the Georgia islands has helped to
preserve the originality of the native
Tlie native Islanders have luid on
ly transient contact with the new
world. They have continued to f.irm
their.little gardens, to fish, to haul
lumber, etc. They hold their church
meetings, and have their peculiar lit
tle separate villages; frequently they
continue living in the old "tabby"
quarters of their ancestors. Home of
them still are living in these "tabby"
buildings, which are as solid as con
crete of today although built a cen
tury and a half ago. Since l ie com
ing of "Jazz." the old music and many
of the old customs began I > disap
pear. • But now the "old-timers" are
reviving the Interest of their fellow
natives In their own history and the
beauty of the old songs.
Is the one they preferred to use when
an especially heavy timber had to
be loaded aboard a boat.
Home of the songs are humorous -
for Instance, the one which the lead
er sings, with the chorus prallng out
between each line the Ironical state
Hard Time In OUt Virginia."
'O ld Missus gone to London.
Mv Missus Is a rich old lady.
Hard time in old Virginia.
Forty-seven servants round her table
Hevcn servants roll the baby round.
Hard time In Old Virginia I"
Binging of the old work songs never
fall to break down the self-conscious
ness of the singers and renters their
attention on the music rather tiian
on Hie listeners. Unprompted, us
ually, Maggie Dennison, who sings
the "high Dibble' lead, o* Julia Arm
strong. another sweet-voiced singer,
wilt start walling on one of the re
ligious spirituals Africa draws closer.
The Imagination pictures un A fri
can voodoo priest moaning an In
cantation, to be answered by the deep
and emotional surge of his congre
gation. Most of thr old spirituals un|
sung In that manner; leading lln .Jpf
one of tlie singers and the re ;»apa
by the entire group of men and wom
T h e O l d N a t iv e S o n g s
H a v e U n iq u e O r i g i n
Mr James Weldon Johnson, author
of "The Book Of American Negro
Spirituals," savs that, "A study of
the Spirituals leads to the belief that
the earlier ones were built upon the
form so common to Afrtcnn songs,
leading lines and response . . . . —
often run strictly parallel to African
songs." This Is quite apparent In
many of the songs of the Georgia
It has been said that the Negroes,
in making their religious songs, chose
Old Quarterman Is one of the most
fruitful sources of the old songs He
and hi* brother. Dorsey, used to row
a longboat between plantations. Old
Quarterman remembered many of the
spirituals which he and Dorsey used
to sing "Look at. Moses srnotln' on
the water," Is one of the best, for
rowing, he soys; and, "Oh, my ratty,"
N a t i v e S p i r i t u a l s C lo s e s t
A p p ro xim atio n s of A frica n
the most dramatic instances ol
Bible. Apiwreiitly without rrga
religious significance, thr plrlur
or dramatic stories have been w
Into these old Bulnt Simon a
Tlie semblance of acceptaner of
while man's ways and the 1
man's religion, have In no way all
the soul and rhythm of the n
It i* known that a great maj
of whites admire thr native l»lan
music. One white man has n
< rlred seventy-right songs. Ar
them are, "I Oot a Home In
Rock," "Bhadrark, Amrshak am
brdnrgo," "Bulan Am a Hm
'Veddy, Ole Egypt," "Aclile, Ma
One," anil a long rcprrto.re of !
“ R ing
S hou t"— A
O r g y o f R e li g i o u s F e d i i
Binging of the work tongs, f0
ed by the spirituals, leads Inrvli
to the “ ring shout." A ring a
Is as Impressive and as signlfl
as any of the Indian dances
ring shout hasn't been carrtei
the extreme here timi It has In I
where It is known as tlie d
Congo and is usually Hie, frci
climax of a religious ceremony
No tom-toms are used
places are thr "Oeorgla Tom-Ti
whlrh are nothing more or less
broomhandles. With these pomi
on a wooden floor a half dozen di
mers can ;.rt up a throbbing vl
Don which Is Just as efTectlve as
drums themselves would lie. ultlu
the sound does not carry for as 1
11 mil accompaniment for the
chest ra of brooms! irks.
The M i n g most generally use
"Oh, Eve, where's Adam?"
audience never falls In giggle
llghtrdly when the answer fli
comes: "Adam In the garden,
As queer as It may seem, the: