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A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo: Rootworkers, Conjurers & Spirituals

A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo: Rootworkers, Conjurers & Spirituals

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A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo: Rootworkers, Conjurers & Spirituals

avaliações:
5/5 (5 avaliações)
Comprimento:
223 página
3 horas
Lançado em:
Feb 20, 2017
ISBN:
9781439659571
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

Author Tony Kail traces Memphis's colorful Hoodoo heritage from the arrival of Africans in Shelby County to the growth of conjure culture in juke joints and Spiritual Churches.


Widely known for its musical influence, Beale Street was also once a hub for Hoodoo culture. Many blues icons, such as Big Memphis Ma Rainey and Sonny Boy Williamson, dabbled in the mysterious tradition. Its popularity in some African American communities throughout the past two centuries fueled racial tension - practitioners faced social stigma and blame for anything from natural disasters to violent crimes. However, necessity sometimes outweighed prejudice, and even those with the highest social status turned to Hoodoo for prosperity, love or retribution.

Lançado em:
Feb 20, 2017
ISBN:
9781439659571
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor


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Melhores citações

  • The term is used to describe a number of herbs, including Solomon’s seal, Indian turnip, beth root, the root of St. John’s-wort and jalap.

  • Caroline Dye was born Caroline Tracy Dye in 1843. Her father was a slave to Henry C. Dye, a merchant of Sulphur Rock, Arkansas.

  • Here is the transplanted African learning to conjure with new roots, new herbs and old meanings. Here is that scorned dark woman going into the woods, tearing off the burlap sack dress to cloth herself in the protective culture of her ancestral legacy.

  • The association of African religious cultures with blues musicians is undeniable. The enormous influence of Hoodoo and conjure culture on the blues can be seen in the lives and lyrics of many blues musicians.

  • Newbell Niles Puckett, in Folk Beliefs of the Southern Negro, spoke of an elab-orate hand composed of sandbur, Sampson’s snakeroot and Devil’s Shoestring. These three items represented the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

Amostra do Livro

A Secret History of Memphis Hoodoo - Tony Kail

love.

Introduction

3:00 p.m., August 20, 1904

Lower Kongo, Central Africa

BOOMBOOMBOOM. Frail brown fingers clinched in a fist slam against a thick wooden door. A trail of sweat slides down the cheeks of the young woman’s face as the African sun beats down on her skin. The door begins to creak as it slowly opens, revealing the face of the old healer. His graying beard frames a toothy grin. What, girl? What do you want? he speaks.

Tsoma knows what the girl wants. He had grown accustomed to the sound of desperate knocks on his front door. He is the village healer, the nganga. He opens the door wider and beckons the girl to come in. The woman walks in, gazing intently at the walls covered in bones and animal hides. The tall slender man begins to walk toward a table in the middle of the room. Come! he beckons. The old man sits down on a three-legged wooden stool that had been carved from a tree trunk.

Tell me, what is your need, girl? The old man stares as the woman begins to rock back and forth on her bare feet nervously. It is my family. I’m afraid we have been bewitched. Tsoma’s neck tightens. Bewitchment is a serious issue. It could lead to madness. It could even lead to death. Two days ago, my children woke me in the middle of the night. They were crying and telling me that a strange man was in the room. I told them they must be dreaming, but they swore he was there. Last night, they woke me and said the man was back. I told them they must be dreaming, and they pointed to the doorway screaming that he was standing in front of me. Ever since then, they have gotten very sick. They cannot stop crying and there is no relief. Someone has cursed us. Please help!

The old man rubs his fingers against his beard. Hmmmm, he mutters. He walks toward the wooden table in the center of the room. The table is covered in roots and herbs, bones, a skull, bird feathers and a wooden statue of a man. Reaching across the table, the healer picks up the wooden statue. As he brings it closer to himself, the woman catches a glance of the statue’s face—wide, white-colored eyes and a curved mouth filled with sharp teeth. String holds a bird’s feather against the doll’s head. The stomach of the image bulges like the children’s stomachs in the village last year during the drought. Raising the doll to his face, the old man whispers into the statue’s ears.

The girl’s heart begins to beat faster as the man points toward the table. Hand me that bottle, he demands. The girl reaches across the table and picks up the glass bottle of liquid. You are to drink it, but do not swallow. Spit it into the face, the healer says as he points to the statue. The girl’s hands shake as she turns the bottle up. As the burning fumes from the bush whiskey hit her nose, the girl’s eyes water. The hot, sticky liquid floods her mouth as she drinks. She immediately spits the alcohol onto the statue, hitting its face and the healer’s hand. The healer begins to rub the stomach of the statue with his thumb while speaking to it in a language the girl does not understand. The room grows silent. There’s is a sense that something sacred has just entered the room.

Outside, a cock crows. Loud and screeching, a large bird bellows from the yard. The healer’s eyes widen. They are coming, he speaks. Who? the girl asks. He slowly opens this mouth to speak. The ancestors, he replies.

~

3:00 p.m., August 20, 1937

Beale Street, Memphis Tennessee

BOOMBOOMBOOM. Frail brown fingers clinched in a fist slam against a thick wooden door. A trail of sweat beads down the cheeks of the young woman’s face as the hot Memphis sun beats down on her skin. The door begins to creak as it slowly opens, revealing the face of the old healer. His graying beard frames a toothy grin. What, girl? What do you want? he speaks. Are you Doctor Scissors? Word is that you can talk to the spirits. That you can help somebody get rid of bad luck? the young woman asks.

The good doctor knows what the girl wants. He had grown accustomed to the sound of desperate knocks at his door. He was the rootworker, the spiritual healer. He opens the door wider and beckons the girl to come in. The woman walks in, gazing intently at the walls covered in pictures of Jesus and various saints. The tall slender man begins to walk toward a table in the middle of the room. Come! he beckons. The old man sits down on wooden chair.

Now, what is it that I can do for you? The doctor crosses his legs as he interlaces his fingers across his stomach. It’s my family. We suffering. I lost my job. My husband left, and my mamma is real sick. We goin’ hungry, and I don’t think we can make it much longer.

The old man closes his eyes and begins to nod his head. What you need is the saints’ help. You need a hand to help you get some good luck. You need some blessings. The old man walks toward a table in the center of the room. The table is covered in roots and herbs. Glass jars hold yellow- and red-colored candles. Bottles of liquid labeled Hoyt’s and Van Van sit behind a thick leather Bible.

The old man walks over to the table and opens the Bible. What I want you to do is to read the Twenty-First Psalm. While you doing this, I want you to light a candle and pray to Saint Expedite. Ask him to bring you good things. Good luck, good health, good life. The young girl nods as she listens.

I’m gonna make you sumthin. Sumthin you need to carry with ya. You need to take care of this like its alive…’cause it is. The man walks over to a small wooden desk and opens a drawer. He reaches in and pulls out a small red flannel bag. Reaching over the table, he begins to break off pieces of root, placing them inside the bag. He pulls a silver dime from his pocket and adds it to the small sack. Taking a few more items from the table and placing them inside the bag, he offers it to the girl. Take this. The girl nervously reaches across and takes the small flannel bag from the healer. Now, grab me that bottle! he says as he points to the bottle labeled Hoyt’s. The girl hands it to the old man, and he holds it out toward the girl. I want you to first spit in that bag. Then pour a few drops of this into it. Stick it in yo pocket and every day pour a little of dis cologne or some whiskey on it. The girl takes the small brown bottle from the man and unscrews the top. She holds the bag in one hand and looks awkward as she spits into the flannel cloth. She holds her hand open, looking at the bag and lifting the bottle above the bag. DripDripDrip. The drops of golden liquid splash across the bag. She grips the bag as if it were full of gold. The healer bows his head and begins to pray. Oh precious Lord, hear our cry. Hear dis woman’s cry and send her protectors to walk with her. Send them spirits. Send them saints. Just then, the girl feels the healer’s hand on her head. Yes, Lord. I feel the spirit. I feel the spirit in this here room. Speak to us. Show us. Guide us!

Just then, one of the candles in the glass jar falls over and rolls off the table, crashing onto the wooden floor. They here! the healer shouts. Who? the girl asks. The healer’s eyes widened as he slowly opens this mouth to speak. The ancestors, he replies.

~

Mojo City. Most of us know Memphis as the home of the blues, the place where rock-and-roll was born and the barbecue capital of the world, but Memphis has a secret history that once made it famous. The city was once home to a world of rootworkers, conjurers and spiritual healers—a world that was born on the other side of the ocean in Africa and was reborn on the banks of the Mississippi, on plantations in the Delta and on the streets of downtown Memphis. From Africa to the streets of Memphis, the practices and beliefs that sought to bring about healing, love, fortune and revenge originated in the practices of African traditional religious (ATR) cultures. These cultures that birthed the art of the rootworker and conjurer survived the deadly waters of the Middle Passage in the hearts and minds of enslaved Africans, who found themselves awash on the bank of the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee.

Some of the earliest mentions of the African presence in Tennessee occurred in about 1541. When the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis, he was recorded to have brought Africans with him as he traveled from Spain. In 1739, Frenchmen Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne ordered thousands of French soldiers to build a fort along the banks of the Mississippi. Le Moyne had been sent by France to wipe out the Chickasaw Indians who inhabited the region outside Memphis. The massive stronghold called Fort Assumption, which was constructed on the Chickasaw Bluff of the Mississippi River, was completed on the day of the Catholic Feast of the Assumption. The French building the fort brought several African slaves to complete the project.

By 1790, settlers from Virginia and North Carolina had brought African slaves with them to Memphis. When the first census was taken in West Tennessee, there were more than three thousand African slaves living in the region. Wealthy slave owners like Isaac Franklin and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, made several thousands of dollars off the slave trade. Slave-trading firms like the Memphis firm of Bolton, Dickens & Company advertised human trade like men were livestock, with ads noting that Virginia and North Carolina Negroes give more satisfaction, less trouble and make the best servants in the South.

Map of slave trade from Africa. Courtesy of National Endowment of the Humanities.

Settlers from Virginia and North Carolina brought slaves from Africa to Memphis to sell to slave-trading firms. Courtesy of National Endowment of the Humanities.

After the invention of the cotton gin, the slave trade in West Tennessee boomed. In fact, West Tennessee had the largest concentration of Africans in the state because of the region’s rich cotton supply. Memphis became known as the slave-trading center of the Mid-South.

The slave trade was so active in Memphis that the city’s four original town squares were named after aspects relating to the selling of slaves. Exchange, Market, Court and Auction were dark reminders of the system of slavery. Many slaves from West Africa were responsible for building many of the town’s well-known buildings and city roads. By 1860, there were well over three thousand African slaves in Shelby County. Many slaves who had escaped plantations had made Memphis their home. It had become a safe haven for many families on the run. By the end of the Civil War, there were more than seventeen thousand African Americans in Memphis, many of them settling in areas around Beale Street, Linden, Turley and Martin in an area that became known as Negro Quarters among whites in the city. Additional quarters sprang up in the area and gained horrendous names such as Rotten Row and Hell’s Half Acre.

The practices of Hoodoo, rootwork and conjure began to appear among Africans in the early slave population of Memphis. While a very traditional practice in Africa, the use of roots, herbs and various rituals by the African and African American community was looked on with disdain by the general public. Many of the practices of traditional healing were viewed as superstitious forms of paganism. African religious practices were equated with forms of devil worship and were seen as a means of conning the gullible in the African American community of Memphis. The terms Voodoo and Voodooism began to be used to designate any form of African spiritual belief or practice in the South. Many of the misconceptions of these traditions were taken from the sensationalistic depictions of African religions in Haiti and various Afro-Caribbean countries found in the press and media.

As early as 1866, newspapers in the South began reporting about the alleged devious works of rootworkers and the Hoodoo culture. A reporter for the Daily Union and American out of Nashville, Tennessee, warned readers about the threat of African spiritual practices that included stories of practitioners digging up graves and performing human sacrifices. Hoodoo, Voodoo and any other unfamiliar African religious practice was deemed barbaric and was viewed as a means of terrorizing white communities: It may not be generally known to the public, but it is nevertheless a fact, that these barbarous African superstitions and practices are increasing among the freedmen of Memphis and Tennessee, but of all the Southern States.

The following year, violence toward Hoodoo practitioners began to increase. In one instance, a rootworker was assaulted in Memphis. The

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