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CUNJUR AND 'SUASION
BY ELEANOR C. GIBBS
Toomber Kamid! What a name! Well, she was a woman, a negro woman, tall, black, brawny. About her there was something that attracted me by its singularity; yet with this attraction there was a something indescribable that was almost awe-inspiring to a child like me. When I asked her where she got such a queer name, she told me that it was her grandmammy's grandmammy's name. Her grandmammy, she said, was a Mollie Gloskie (Madagascar) negro; and she had been told that her grandmammy remembered all about being in Africa, and had told of many strange customs there, where children never wore clothes until they were as tall as their mothers. Then they were sent to the straw-fields to make long aprons for themselves. She said the mothers had to do something to help them to know their own children from the children of other negroes, so they took a sharp knife, made of a shell, and scratched up and down the children's faces, and up and down their arms and legs. As I listened to her, I saw that she was trying to describe tattooing. She told, too, of the rings she used to wear — gold rings, she said: two in her nose, and four or five around her ears, where holes had been pierced for them.
She said she had been told that her grandmammy's grandmammy was a
queen in Africa. But one day a big ship came sailing up, and the captain had pretty red calico and gold bracelets and looking-glasses in the ship. She and a crowd of other negroes 'scrouged' along and went on the ship, and the captain gave them some good firewater, and they got sleepy and went to sleep; and when they woke up, they were 'way off, 'way out in the sea, and the 'maremaids' were swimming all around them.
When I expressed doubts about the 'maremaids,' she said,'Dey sho is maremaids, kaze my own mammy seed 'em in de 'Tomac ribber. I hyeard her tell 'bout de maremaids times 'pon top uv times. She sho did see 'em wid her eyes — in de 'Tomac ribber. You doan' know 'bout maremaids, but niggers knows 'bout 'em kaze dey seed 'em deyselves. Now Gord knows dat 's de trufe.'
All these stories were as fascinating to me as 'Cinderella' and 'Jack and the Beanstalk' were to other children. I listened with eager interest to stories of the negroes in Africa who were 'cunjur niggers.' 'All uv em wuz cunjur niggers. Dey knowed how to walk on behind anybody an' pick up de tracks and put 'em in a cunjur bag with poisonous spiders and toad-frogs and treefrogs and devils' horses — great big old grasshoppers wid red-an'-black wings. Den doodle-bugs and grubworms and measuring worms would be put in, and cats' fur, and a piece of leather-wing bat's wing, and thousand-legged worms, and lizards' tails, and scorapins.'
When the cunjur bag was completed, it was buried under the eaves of the house where the victim of the cunjurer lived. The' tarrifyin' pains' would soon make themselves manifest, and in the veins, the stomach, and the bowels of the unfortunate cunjured person these 'varmints an' insecks' would hold high carnival. The victim was doomed. No doctor could relieve him. Only by propitiating the cunjurer was there any hope. This could sometimes be done by giving presents to the cunjurer. The poor cunjured wretch was avoided by all his acquaintances. People did not like to walk on the side of the road where the doomed one lived. When the 'cunjur' was getting off, the 'varmints an' insecks' would sometimes be heard jumping out and falling down flop on the ground.
Filled with interest and curiosity, I asked Toomber if she could tell me anything about conjuring.
'Yes,' she replied, 'cunjurin' sho is true fac'. I bin had de cunjur on me, an' I knows 'bout it. I sho do. One Sunday, when I gwine 'long ter meetin', I seed a cunjur 'oman pickin' up my tracks. Dat was Sunday; den on Monday dat 'oman done put de cunjur on me. I knowed she gwine do dat, kaze I seed her at her devilment, stoopin' down on de san' an' pickin' my tracks right outen de san', an' puttin' 'em in her pocket. I peeped roun' de corner uv my eye an' seed her. I knowed she gwine do devilment. I knowed she a dang'ous 'oman. Tore Gord, ef you ever git de cunjur on you, you sho' will know 'bout cunjur. Dat 'oman pick up my tracks on Sunday, an Monday 'bout daybreak de cunjur 'peared. I could n' git out de
bed, kaze de misery was in my laig, an' my foots, an' my side, an' my head. I des sot propped up on de side uv de bed an' I moan an' groan. I skeered ter tell 'bout what dat dang'ous 'oman done ter me, kaze hit mought make de cunjur worse an' worse. Den I crope out de bed, an' tuck a knife an' dug up some poke-root an' biled it an' rubbed my swol'd-up laig wid dat, an' rubbed hit wid karosene. But de cunjur did n' leave my cistern. My cistern wuz all discomfused. Hit so full of cunjur I did n' know what ter do.
'Dat night olc squint-eye Sary Jane come ter see my misery, an' she say I mus' fix up a big plate full uv good vittles, an' put two dimes in de plate, an' sen' de plate to de cunjur 'oman wid my love an' complimen's. Gord knows I did n' want dat dang'ous 'oman ter hab dat plate full uv good vittles, but I so skyeurd uv dat 'oman I was mos' crazy. De cunjur kep a-goin' on, an' I kep' sayin', "O Gord! O Gord! O Gord! I'ze cunjured mighty bad. De misery's wuckin' all th'oo my cistern. O Gord!
0 Gord!" Squint-eye Sary Jane say she'll tote de plate ter de cunjur 'oman ef I can han' out a nice ashcake to her, kaze her belly wuz a growlin' an' groanin' for vittles. Cunjur kin strike you mighty bad when your belly is moanin'.
1 han' out some taters an' some cushaw an' some lye hominy to Sary Jane, an' she smack'd her mouf an grin' her toofs. Den she toted dat plate uv vittles ter de dang'ous 'oman an' gin her de money. Den de misery got ter 'swagin' down. Den Sary Jane say she pertects herse'f 'ginst cunjur. She totes de lef hin' foot uv a grabeyard rabbit in her pocket day in an' day out. I gwine get me one. Den cunjur'l lemme 'lone. I sho is gwine ter pertec' myse'f f om cunjur. I got 'nuf uv cunjur.
'Dem Cincinnati niggers is gittin' so dey likes ter hear 'bout cunjur an' witches an' grabeyard rabbits. Dem niggers is mighty ign'an'. Dey doan' know nuthin' 'bout de bref uv heaven. I flings my wooden winder-shutters open an' de bref uv heaven goes a sweepin' th'oo my cabin. Dey got glass winders all shut up tight, an' ain' got no great big fireplace. I feels like I wuz sufflicate when I goes in de chu'ch dar. I wants to be back on de plantation whar I kin git de bref uv heaven. I gwine back dar soon's ole Mistiss comes ridin' back Tom Culpeper Cote House.
'I doan' want ter stay in Cincinnati an' be a free nigger. I doan' want two things — I'ze sot 'ginst bein' a free nigger or bein' po' white trash. Niggers 'spises po' white trash an po' white trash 'spises niggers. I bin uster quality white folks. Dey sets heap uv sto' by niggers, an' niggers sets sto' by dem. Dey sho do like one anurr. I gwine back to Kanawha County an' live out all my born days wid quality folks.
'Dem dar Cincinnati niggers got so now dey lis'ns when my tongue 'gins ter run. One uv dem little Ohio niggers wuz layin' up on de bed groanin' wid de headache. She tol' me she dunno what make her head ache so. I say, "Chile, I'll tell you. Sho's you born, you bin th'owed a strart' uv yo' hyar out de winder, an' a bird done tuck hit up in a tree. Cose den eb'ry time de win' blows yo' head 'bleeged to ache. You all so ign'an' up here, you 'bleeged ter be painified." I tell you I knows a heap. I knows when bad luck is comin' 'long, lickity-split, lickity-split. Scritch-owl tells me 'bout dat. He dess scritches an' scritches when he knows bad luck's comin'. Dat he do. One time a ole scritch-owl sot on de ridge-pole uv my cabin un' mos' split his th'oat scritchin'. Isettin' down in de cabin, waitin' for my old man ter come home wid de oxteam. De scritch-owl kep' on scritchin'. I th'owed my apurn up ober my face an' sot dar an' shivered an' trimbled. De scritch-owl done got in good chune
den, an' he kep' on scritchin'. My ole man nuvar did come home. He done drownded in de creek, cedar creek, one mile f om de cabin.
'I bin livin' nigh on to a hunderd years, an' I done fin' out how knowin' scritch-owls is. Dey's knowin' in ATbama an' dey's knowin' in de Mis'sippy bottoms. Whippoorwills is badluck birds, too, but scritch-owls kin beat whippoorwills. When I hears a scritch-owl I runs ter de fire, an' sticks a shovel in de fire. Sometimes dat 'pears ter do some good. Sometimes hit doan' do no good. I tries all de ways I hears tell 'bout ter shoo bad luck off. Ef a chunk uv fire rolls down, I puckers up my mouf in a hurry an' spits down, spang on hit. Den when I spittin' I wishes a good-luck wish. Dat's a good way to do. Des say, "Stay dere, ole chunk, an' hev 'memb'ance ter bring good luck!" I spits three times, spang! spang! spang! Den I sets down an' sings a little.
'I likes ter sing. All de plantation niggers likes ter sing. Dem Cincinnati niggers so smart dey say dey sings outen a book, do, re, mi, like white folks. I say, Gord teached de plantation niggers an' de mockin' birds how ter sing. I spec' de debble teached de jay birds. I dunno 'bout dat.
'I sho does wish ole Mistiss would git up on her prancin' sorrel horse an' ride back home. I tired bein' chambermaid on de steamboat. Dey got cuyous vittles on dat steamboat, an' I'ze tired eatin' dem things whar I ain' bin uster eatin' on de plantation. I wants some possum, I does, possum wid sweet 'taters all ranged roun' hit, wid good possum gravy. Plantation niggers knows what good vittles is soon's dey sets dey eyes on hit. 'Pear like I cyarn' go back ter de plantation now; but I know whar I kin go when de right time comes: I kin sho' go ter de promis' Ian' up de right road ter glory. I 'll go when
Marse Jesus calls. When de angels
'Some uv dese mornin's bright an' fair
'O Gord! O Gord! Lord 'a' massey on me! Poor me! Dat's bad as a scritchowl, dess as bad. I looked out my doah an' seed a hog, a ole razor-back red sow, des a-runnin' up an' down de pastur' wid a shuck in her mouf. I knowed she tellin'me den'bout bad luck. Poor me! I knowed bad luck was comin', kaze las' night I dreamt 'bout muddy water. Den to-day I drapped ter sleep in my split-bottom chair an' dreamt 'bout snakes. Dat a mighty bad sign. Secret enemies gwine ter 'pear when you dreams 'bout snakes. Poor me! Poor me! I 'members de fus time I dreamt 'bout hog runnin' roun' wid shuck in his mouf. I wuz livin' 'way down in Mis'sippy den, on Marse Jeems's lower plantation. Dey did n' hab de same ways down dar dat dey got on dis plantation. Dey gin out a tas' [task] ter ebry nigger on de place. Not a hard big tas', des a tas' 'bout de right size. Atter dat tas' done did, all you got ter do is ter work 'long, an' all you makes Marse Jeems 's gwine buy fom you.
'I wuz a sassy little gal when I live down in Mis'sippy on Marse Jeems's place. Marse Jeems nuvar did speak discontempshus ter me but one time. I done hyeard 'im tell Mistiss dat I got gifty-gab. I so uppity I traipsed up ter de house, an' pick up de bunch uv peacock feathers ter keep off de flies. I waved dem peacock feathers an' I waved 'em. Den I say, "Marse Jeems,
please, suh, splainify 'bout what you say I got — 'bout gifty-gab." Marse Jeems th'owed back his head an' laffed an' laffed. Den I say agin, "Marse Jeems, suh, please splainify 'bout giftygab." Den he say, " When you fus' begin comin' up ter de house ter set on de bottom step an' play wid my chillern, I tuck noticemen' dat you nuvar stop talkin', talkin'. You kep' up yo' clack all de time. When folks doan' nuvar stop talkin' I 'clares dat dey sho got gifty-gab. Talk, talk, talk." Den Marse Jeems th'owed back his head agin. He sho did. I ain' stop gifty-gab yit. I spec' I'll keep up gifty-gab 'tel dey hauls me ter de grabeyard. I doan' see no use uv havin' a tongue ef hit gwine ter be closed up 'tween yo teef, day in an' day out. My mammy say I talks in my sleep. I dunno, I ain' nuvar 'mained wake ter see 'bout dat. Dey say de gifty-gab runs day an' night.
'I did n' like ter stay down on Marse Jeems's plantation. Too many ole alligators down dar. My mammy tell me ter stay up on de hill. She say she hyeard dat alligators would bite off little nigger chillern's laigs. Dey nuvar bit my laigs. I got many laigs now as I uver had in all my born days. Dat's de trufe — dat's Gord's trufe. .
'Marse Jeems wa'n't like ole Marster hyeah on dis plantation. Marster's a dignity man. Sometimes Marse Jeems wuz a dignity man — des' sometimes. Den sometimes he so chock full of fun an' devilment, de dignity des' banished. I mos' laffed tell my ribs rattle when I 'members how Marse Jeems punish Nepchune. Dat nigger wuz de lazies' nigger on Marse Jeems's plantation down in Mis'sippy. But he sorter smart nigger, an' he fooled Marse Jeems tel he 'sidered Nepchune a induschus nigger. Den Marse Jeems 'pinted Nepchune for foreman. He tol' 'im ter go an' look at de difFunt fiel's an' lay off de wuck for hisse'f an' for de gang.
'Nepchune sho did lay off de wuck for hisse'f. All he laid ofT for hisse'f was ter do nothin' an' res' in de shade. He knowed how ter do. One day Marse Jeems an' Nepchune wuz out in de House gyarden. Marse Jeems 'splained ter Nepchune 'bout plantin' de seed, radish-seed, and turnip-seed, an' all sorts uv little pinhead seed like mustard-seed. Nepchune say he got de understannin' 'bout how ter do. Whnn he went up ter de house an' tol' Marse Jeems he done plant all de seed, Marse Jeems say Nepchune bin mighty smart, an' he gin 'im a present. He gin 'im a whole plug uv 'bacco.
'Nex' day Marse Jeems wuz walkin' in de gyarden, an' unbeknownst he kicked up a brick layin' out dar. Gord 'a' massey! Marse Jeems foun' all de papers uv little pinhead seeds onder dat brick. Marse Jeems a mighty cussin' man when he wuz mad. I hyear 'im say, "Dat infernal rascal! I'll punish im sho as I a born man. I sho gwine punish Nepchune."
'I kep on studyin' 'bout what Marse Jeems gwine ter do ter Nepchune. I foun' out. Ha, ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! Marse Jeems's place most jined on ter Merid'an. One day a Merid'an man comed ter de plantation an' 'swaded Marse Jeems ter buy a great, big, long red hammock. Dat man swung dat hammock up on Marse Jeems's gallery an' lef. Marse Jeems kep' on studyin' 'bout how Nepchune plant dem seed. I knowed what wuz in his min'. He studyin' an' studyin' 'bout punishin' Nepchune. I sho thought he gwine whip Nepchune bad. Dat I did. No, suh, Marse Jeems mighty notionate man. He got heap uv devilment 'bout 'im, an' heap uv fun. He call Nepchune up ter de gallery an' say: —
'" Nepchune, I mighty sorry you had to work so hard plantin' de gyarden. I knows you tired mos' ter def, poor nigger. I gwine give you some res'.
Yo' Marse Jeems ain' gwine ter let you work yo'se'f 'tel yo' tongue mos' hangin' out yo' mouf. He sho ain' gwine ter do dat. Come hyeah, Nepchune, an' teck a liT res'. Poor fellow, yo' Marse Jeems sorry for you, he sorry for induschus nigger like you, Nepchune. You needs a res', nigger. Come hyeah."
'Nepchune stepped up on de gallery, an' Marse Jeems say, "Now, Nepchune, git up in dis big red hammock an' stretch yo'se'f out long as you kin."
'Nepchune sorter swunk back. Den Marse Jeems say, "Is you work so hard you got deaf? Poor devil, you sho needs a good res'.
'Nepchune 'bleeged ter git in de hammock an' stretch out. He 'peared mighty sorrowful like. Marse Jeems mighty dignity dat day; talk mighty onnateral, so gently an' sweetified, Nepchune did n' know what wuz de 'casion uv dat soft-soap talkin' to a nigger. When Nepchune done stretch out good, kaze he skyeard not to do dat, Marse Jeems sot hisse'f down by de red hammock. He done tied a twine string ter de hammock. He sot in a big split-bottom chair an' pull dat string, an' made it swing an' swing.
'Presen'ly Nepchune say, "Marse Jeems, I'ze mightily res' up; I wants ter go out in de fiel', suh."
'"No, no, Nepchune. No, no, poor fellow. I gwine ter let you hab a good ole res'."
'Den Marse Jeems swinged Nepchune an' swinged 'im, an' swinged 'im. Eb'ry now an' den some uv de niggers comed up ter de house, 'tendin' dey 'bleeged ter come on business. Dey kep' on comin', an' laffin', an' savin', "Nepchune, you sho gittin' a good res'. Dat you is." Nepchune nuvar 'sponded nuthin'. Marse Jeems kep' on swingin' dat nigger, an' lookin' like he walkin' 'hind a hearse ter de grabeyard down by de ribber. I wuz des' shakin' my