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Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon (10 page)

I goin' tell you whut de sailors say when dey went down in de bottom of de boat. I goin' tellee you whut dey say to Jonah. Dey say, “O sleeper, wake up from your sleep and call on your God, else we go perish in de sea!”

When he come to de captain on de deck he say, “Who you?” He (Jonah) say, “I'm a Hebrew, done run away from God.” Captain say, “Whut must we do now so de sea kin become calm?” He say, “Heave me overboard.” De captain say, “I ain' gwine do it till we draw de lot. We don't want be guilty of your blood.”

Dey draw de lot and de lot fell on Jonah. Lookee here God prepare de whale right long sidee de ship wi' his mouf wide open (gesture). When dey throw him in, de whale tookee and carry him to Ninevah three days and three nights. When he got to de Ninevah he heave him on de shore. Ain' no shade in de seashore, so God suffer de gourd vine grow over he head for de shade.

Jonah wont go (to Ninevah) so God sendee de worm and cutee gourd vine (slashing gesture) down (hand lifted straight up). God said, “Jonah, your name called.” He say to him, “Go in de Ninevah, and when he got dere he say forty days and forty nights and Ninevah shall be overthrowed.”

And de king say, “Dis is de man of God—three days, three nights, de cow, de pigs neither de mules neither de chickens give em nothin to eat. Nobody eat neither drink.”

So Jonah went to de mountain to see how it goin' be over throw, but stid uh dat God blessee dem. So den Jonah got mad: Say, “Lor', didn't you tell me you goin' 'stroy dat city?”

God say, “Jonah, dere's seven thousand women and chillun in dat city don't know right from wrong. If you think I go 'stroy dem, youse crazy.”

How long Ninevah de blessee, I don't know. Dat de end right dere. Dats de fur I kin go.

Now Disa Abraham Fadda de Faitful

He had nephew name Lot—now dass right. Boffe of dem kinfolks. Dey have servant mind de stock whut dey raisee. One day dey two servants dey were quarreling.

Abraham say to de Lot, “We two kinfolks. Dese servant dey quarrel, don't lettee dat breakee de friendship. Now, data right, dasa left. Now which way you goin'?” Lot say to de Abraham, “I goin' to Sodom and Gomorrah, where you goin'?” Abraham say, “I goin' to de Land of Caanan.”

When dey so much in sin in Sodom and Gomorrah, den de Lord he tookee two angels to pass Abraham's tent. Abraham seen dem and want to bow to dem and den he went and get kid and dressee him and set it before dem to eatee dinner. When dey get thew eatee dey start to Sodom and Gomorrah.

One de angels say to de udder, “Less not hidee our business from Abraham. Less tellee him whar we gwine.” So dey say, “Abraham, do you know we goin' to Sodom and Gomorrah to settee it afire, goin' burn de place down? So muchee sin wentee before God dat God goin' burn de place out.”

“Naw,” Abraham say, “if I findee fifty ratcheous will you spare de city?” De angels say, “Yes, for your sake.”

Abraham went to Sodom and Gomorrah and can't find de fifty ratcheous. “If I findee forty ratcheous will you spare de place?”

Dey say, “Yeah, for your sake, we spare 'em.”

He fell back to twenty-five and couldn't find 'em. When he call for ten de Lord wont lissen. He flee way from him. Den de two angels go to Lot house and tell him, “Now you leavee here and don't lookee back.”

When de people see de daughters of Zion come to Lot house, dey say to Lot, “Whut is dey doin dere?” Lot say don't bother dem. Den de angel pull Lot backee and wavee de hand and all de people go blind. Den dey say to Lot, “You flee away from here jes' as quick as you kin, and don't lookee back.”

Lot's wife lookee back and turn to a pillar salt and she be dere till Judgment Day. Poor Cudjoe, I no lookee back. I pressee forward.

The Lion Woman

Three men, dey each have a lady. One say, “If I live to marry a wife, when she have a son, he go git down on top of a elephant to ride.”

Another one say, “If I live to have a wife, when she have a son, he go git down on top a zebra for a ride.”

De third man he say, “If I live to marry disa girl I love, when she have a son, he go git down on top a lion for a saddle horse.”

De people, dey say, “How he goin't do dat? He cain't do dat because befo' he ketchy de lion, de lion ketchy
him
.”

He say, “Oh, no!”

Well he marry de girl and dey have a son. When de boy he git so he kin run and throw de spear from the
hand, you unnerstand me, de man he go in de woods and he found two young lions; but dey mama she gone killee something for them to eat. So he takee de two lions and killee one and takee de hide and stretch hit on de fence in de garden. De other one, you unnerstand me, he chain by de neck to de tree.

De mama lion she come home and she miss her babies, and she know de man take her children.

She feel hurtee, you unnerstand me, her breast swell way laka dis. She make up her mind she goin' punish de man whut killee her babies. So she turn herself into a woman, and many men see her come into de village. She look very fat and handsome and all de men want to marry her.

She tote a purse here (upon her hip). She say she will marry de man dat throw somethin' in de purse.

Everybody dey chunking at de purse. Dey chunk and dey chunk. Some throw too fur, some don't throw fur 'nough. Nobody make it go in de purse.

De man dat ketchee de lions, he stand and lookee but he don't try chunkee in de purse. He love his wife and don't want no mo' wife. She watch him and she aska him, “Why
you
no try chunkee in de purse? Don't you want me for yo' wife?”

He say, “I don't wanta chunk. I gotta wife already.”

She say, “But I wanta you to chunk.” She beg him please till after while jus' so he pick up somethin' wid his left hand throw disa way, but it went right in de purse, so she went home wid him to his house.

Soon's she git in de house she see de skin stretch on de
garden fence and see de other one chained to de tree, and she swell up insider her, and she wish for night to come. She wishee it was night dat minute.

She lay in de bed wid de man dat night, but she ain' never go to sleep. He go sleep; but she wait to kill him. When she see he sleep, she turn back to a lion and got up walking in de house.

De man he got dogs, you unnerstand me, and dey know she a lion, and dey know when she git up to kill him. Jus' when she go to him to tear him up, de dogs bark and say, “No, you don't! No, you don't! Dass my master, and iffen you kill
him
you can't cross dis yard. We killee
you
.”

She come back and lay down wid de man and wakee him up. She say, “Husband, I can't sleep. Yo' dogs makee so much noise, dey keep me wake. I think dey goin' come in de house and bite me. You betta go chain dem up.”

He git up and go chain de dogs lak she say, den he go back to sleep. She git up agin, but de dogs hear her and dey talk so loud she skeered he hear 'em. So she git back in de bed and she think whut she kin do to kill him.

In de morning she say to him, “I can't stay wid you 'cause yo' dogs dey won't lemme sleep. I'm goin' home disa morning. You going piece de way wid me?”

He say he go wid her piece de way. He go git his hunting spear and his bow and arrow, but she say, “Whut for you take de spear? You mean to killee me on de way? You don't need no arrow neither.”

He tellee her he always take his spear when he go to de woods, but she cry and say she skeered he goin' kill her, so he put down de weapons. Den he put on his
hunting knife but she make him take dat off, too. Den he takee a whistle, you unnerstand me, and put it in his shirt, and takee nine eggs to eat on de way. Den he go on wid her.

On de way dey talk. She aska him, “If a lion jump on you, whut you goin' do?”

He say, “I turn to a deer and run away fast.”

“Oh, but a lion overtake a deer, den whut you do?”

“Den I turn to a snake and go in de ground.”

“Oh, but de lion ketchee you befo' you dig de hole.”

“Well, den I turn . . .” he start to say he turn to a bird and fly up in de tree, but de voice of his father come to him and say, “Hush!” so he say, “I don't know whut I do den.”

After a while dey come to a woods and de woman excuse herself and go in de bush and stay a minute—den a big lion come out and take right after de man. He think quick whut he goin' do, and he turn to a bird and fly up in de highest tree.

De lion open one side and took out nine men wid dey axes and open de other side and take out nine mo' and dey 'gin to choppee down de tree. De man he blow on de whistle so his dogs hear him and come.

De men dey chop hard at de tree. De lion she walk round and round and roar whut she goin' do when de tree fall. When de tree 'gin to fall, de man drop one egg and de tree it come back up agin. He blow and blow for his dog, but dey ain' heared him yit.

He drop another egg when de tree commence to fall nex' time, and he kep' on till de last egg it gone. De tree 'gin to shake agin, but he blow and blow on his whistle.

One young dog say to de other, “Dat seem lak master's whistle I hear—don't you think so?”

De ole dog say, “Oh, lay down! You always hear somethin' so you kin run in de woods.”

After a while de young dog say he hear somethin' agin, but de old dog say, “No, be quiet.”

De tree is almost choppee down, and de lion stand on her hind legs so she grab him when he fall. De young dog say agin he hear de whistle and de ole dog say, “Wait, I believe I hear somethin', too. Wait a minute.” He lissen, den he say, “Hit
is
master's whistle! He in trouble, too. Lemme go in de house and put de eye medicine in de eye.”

He go in de house and put de medicine in his eye, so dat he kin see clear cross de world. “Unhunh!” he say. “I see master and he in bad trouble. Less go.”

Dey run to de tree faster dan anythin' in de world and kill de lion and all de men. De man flew down from de tree and turn back to hisself agin. Den de man and de dogs take up all de meat and take it home and throw it in de yard. Den de man he go in de house wid his wife, but he don't tell her nothin' 'cause de ole dog he tell him dat if he tell, he will die.

When she look in de yard and see all de meat, she say to him, “Where you git all de meat?”

And he say, “I been hunting,” but he don't tell her dat de dogs done made baskets outa plum twigs and brung de meat home. Dey walk on dey hind legs laka men and tote de baskets wid dey front legs.

His wife say, “You never brung home all data meat.
No man kin tote so much, it too much for one man. You tell me who brung dat meat for you.”

All day she keep dat up. Night time come and he wanta go to bed. She say no, she not sleep wid him never no mo' less he tell her 'bout de meat. So he tell her and den she sleep wid him. But de nex' mornin' she say to de dogs, “Why don't you tell me you kin tote meat laka man? Here I been had to wash yo' eatin' trough and tote yo' grub to you, and you plenty able to bring yo' plate and fetch yo' own grub.”

Den de man he die 'cause he told whut de dog tell him not to, and de people make a great funeral for three days wid him. His wife she cry and cry 'cause she make him die, but dey go to bury him. But de ole dog say, “No, wait till his father come—he gone away on a journey.” So dey wait three mo' days and when de father come he rub medicine on his eyes and he woke him, and he live a long time after dat, and his son git down on de lion he brung home.

Cudjo Lewis (Oluale Kossola), in front of his home in Africatown (Plateau), Alabama, circa 1928. To have his photograph taken, Kossola dressed in his best suit and removed his shoes: “I want to look lak I in Affica, 'cause dat where I want to be.”

Afterword

Hurston described Kossola as a “poetical old gentleman . . . who could tell a good story.”
1
And in the tradition of the griot of his West African homeland, Kossola tells a story of epic proportion. He is at once storyteller and heroic figure, as he is the protagonist in the saga he relates to Hurston. He was “left to tell” the story of a massacre that befell the town of Bantè, and he was the last original founder to sing the paean of Africatown. Characteristic of griots is their extraordinary memory. As with others who had interviewed Kossola, Hurston, too, took note of this attribute. In the preface to
Barracoon
, Hurston commends his “remarkable memory.” And she states, “If he is a little hazy as to detail after sixty-seven years, he is certainly to be pardoned.” Hurston used secondary sources in relation to Kossola's narrative, but not as a corrective. Her use of historical research did not align with that of “the scientific crowd.” “Woodson knew that people's memories were notoriously unsound and
must be checked carefully by reference to written documents.”
2
But Hurston's motivations were different: “The quotations from the works of travelers in Dahomey are set down, not to make this appear a thoroughly documented biography, but to emphasize his remarkable memory.”
3

“CUDJO'S OWN STORY”

Prior to their December 1927 meeting, Hurston had interviewed Kossola once before. As she states in her introduction to
Barracoon
, “I had met Cudjo Lewis for the first time in July 1927. I was sent by Dr. Franz Boas to get a firsthand report of the raid that had brought him to America and bondage, for Dr. Carter G. Woodson of the
Journal of Negro History
.”
4
From February to August of 1927, Hurston conducted fieldwork in Florida and Alabama under the direction of Franz Boas, her mentor, the renowned “Father of American Anthropology.” Boas had early on approached Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” about a fellowship for Hurston, in support of the research. In accordance with their arrangements, Hurston was to collect black folk materials for Boas and scout around for undiscovered black folk artists. In addition to the gathering of historical data for Woodson, she was also to collect Kossola's story.
5

Woodson supported Hurston's field research with a $1,400 fellowship. Half of the funds came from the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, an organization founded and directed by Woodson. Elsie
Clews Parsons, of the American Folklore Society, granted matching funds. As a fellow and “investigator” for the association, Hurston was expected to contribute material to the
Journal of Negro History
, a publication of the association. During the latter part of her time in the field, Hurston drove to Plateau, Alabama, to undertake her last task for Woodson and conduct the interview with Kossola. Along with various reports and archival data, Hurston submitted to Woodson materials she had collected on Fort Mosé, a black settlement in Saint Augustine, Florida. Woodson published this material as an article entitled “Communications,” in the October 1927 issue of the
Journal
.

In the same issue, he published Hurston's Kossola interview as “Cudjo's Own Story of the Last African Slaver.”
6
A footnote at the beginning of the article stated that as “an investigator of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History,” Zora Neale Hurston had traveled to Mobile to interview Lewis, “the only survivor of this last cargo.” The note states further, “She made some use, too, of the
Voyage of Clotilde
and other records of the Mobile Historical Society.”
7
In reality, Hurston made more than a little use of the society's records. And though part of the article was “a first-hand report,” the larger portion of the article was secondhand information drawn from Emma Langdon Roche's
Historic Sketches of the South
(1914). Emma Roche was a writer, artist, and farmer born in Alabama in 1878. Her book is an account of the origins of slavery in America, couched in proslavery tenets and paternalistic perspectives. Her narrative recounts the
history of the
Clotilda
and follows the fate of the Africans who were stored in its hold.

Only decades later would the literary critic and Hurston biographer Robert Hemenway bring the matter of Hurston's “borrowing” to scholarly attention and discussion. Hemenway credits the finding to the linguist William Stewart, who discerned it in 1972. “Stewart's discovery was conveyed to me,” Hemenway noted in
Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography
, “by John Swed of the University of Pennsylvania. I am grateful to Professor Stewart for granting me permission to cite his research and findings.”
8
Though the footnote in her 1927 article acknowledges the Mobile Historical Society as a secondary source, it does not reference
Historic Sketches
specifically, and Hurston makes no direct reference to Roche's book within the body of the article itself. Rather, improperly documented paraphrased passages and near-verbatim appropriations from Roche's work constitute the larger part of the article. “Of the sixty-seven paragraphs in Hurston's essay,” Hemenway relates, “only eighteen are exclusively her own prose.”
9

Hemenway speculates that Hurston found her interview with Kossola lacking in original material and therefore resorted to the use of Roche's work to supplement it. He supposes, too, that Hurston, writing at the outset of her career, suffered a quandary of purpose, direction, and methodology: How, exactly, was she to introduce the world to African American folklore, which she perceived to be “the greatest cultural wealth on the continent”?
10
Hemenway observed that Hurston, as one of the folk
herself, struggled to negotiate the sociocultural chasm between her rural hometown of Eatonville, Florida, and the wealthy enclaves of New York City. He believed that her frustration with the academic study and presentation of the African American folk and folk culture was a reflection of the same struggle.

Hurston had imbibed Boas's theory of cultural relativity and understood that there were no superior or inferior cultures; she understood that cultures were to be assessed and evaluated on their own terms. But were the methods of Boas and Woodson conducive to her purposes? Was it possible that “the reportorial precision” of Western scientific investigation could be the means by which she would document and celebrate African American genius and, thereby, challenge European imperialism and Euro-American cultural hegemony? Or, did she believe, as did poet Audre Lorde, that “
the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house
”?
11

In a letter to her friend Thomas Jones, the president of Fisk University, Hurston articulated her conundrum. “Returned to New York and began to re-write and arrange the material for Scientific publications, and while doing so, began to see the pity of all the flaming glory of being buried in scientific Journals.”
12
She was dubious about Boas's objective-observer approach to folklore collection, and she chafed under Woodson's brand of scholarship. She preferred to be in the field, writes Hemenway, and so resented the time she spent investigating court records and “mindlessly transcribing historical documents.”
13

Nonetheless, Hemenway wondered why Hurston would risk her career and whether her plagiaristic use of Roche's work was “an unconscious attempt at academic suicide.” This attempt, Hemenway concludes, “is made because of a lack of respect for the writing one has to do.” If detected and “her scientific integrity destroyed . . . Hurston's academic career would have been finished.” She would then have been free from Boas's admonitions and Woodson's demands, and “the unglamorous labor” of collecting folklore.
14
Is it possible, Hemenway speculates further, that footnotes referencing Roche had been included but were lost or otherwise omitted from the “other records” to which the article's footnote alludes? In any case, Hemenway states that “Hurston's career needs no absurd apologetics. She never plagiarized again; she became a major folklore collector.”
15

Hurston biographer Valerie Boyd has proposed that even though Hurston resented the “hack work” she did for Woodson, it is also just as likely “that Hurston believed the report was only for Woodson's files; she did not expect it to be published any more than she thought her transcribed ‘Communication' was worthy of publication.”
16
The “Communications” article was a compilation of transcribed excerpts from letters and historical and congressional documents, strung together with brief transitional statements. This style of reporting bears comparison with the composition of “Cudjo's Own Story.”

Boyd wondered whether Hurston's submission of material that contained only 25 percent of her original work might have been Hurston's “way of getting back at Wood
son for arbitrarily slicing her pay and cutting into her research time by having her do his dreck work.”
17
Hurston had complained to her friend, the poet Langston Hughes, that she had finished her work for Woodson but wasn't paid in full. “I thought I'd get pay for the month but he only paid me for two weeks.” She vented to Hughes and told him that she felt depressed about the matter.
18

As Hemenway conjectured that Hurston may have saved the “juicy bits” of her folklore finds for theatrical collaborations with Langston Hughes, Boyd conjectured that Hurston “had resolved to save her most compelling material from Cudjo Lewis for her own work.”
19
Kossola had gained some celebrity as the last living survivor of the
Clotilda
. Other anthropologists, folklorists, historians, journalists, and artists alike had sought him out. Hurston's colleague Arthur Huff Fauset had already collected from Kossola the folktale “T'appin” (“Terrapin”), which he published in Alain Locke's 1925
The New Negro: An Interpretation
. Speculations aside, Boyd states, “Making ‘some use' of material from another writer is completely common and acceptable. But, as Zora knew, copying another's work, and passing it off as one's own, is not.”
20

It is possible that the compromised article may have both relieved Hurston of tedium and allowed her a boon of lore for her own purposes, thereby hitting a straight lick with a crooked stick. Or, as Lynda Marion Hill suggests in
Social Rituals and the Verbal Art of Zora Neale Hurston
, Hurston's professional faux pas may have been an instance of Hurston masking her emotional response to a troubling event. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston was
new. Although Hemenway may have agreed with Franz Boas that “Hurston was a ‘little too much impressed with her own accomplishments,'” it is equally true that she herself was still very much impressionable.
21
In 1927, the career to which critics allude was in the future. Hurston was not the seasoned social scientist who had published the folklore collections
Mules and Men
(1935) and
Tell My Horse
(1938). She was not the author of four novels, including the celebrated
Their Eyes Were Watching God
(1937). She was yet at the beginning of things.

“Cudjo's Own Story” was Hurston's debut scholarly publication. “In writing her first essay on Cudjo,” Lynda Hill surmises, “Hurston might have been too moved and too uncertain how to manage her subjective response, rather than too frustrated with the rigors of scientific analysis, to produce an authentic text.”
22
As Hurston reflected on her interview with Kossola years later in her autobiography,
Dust Tracks on a Road
, “It gave me something to feel about.”
23
The interview changed Hurston, Hill observes. This elder, an Isha Yoruba in America, had schooled her in the sociopolitical and cultural complexities of “My People.” In face of Kossola's recollections, the social constructions of “My People” and “Africans” were deconstructed by the reality of ethnic identifications, which not only distinguished tribes and clans but also generated the narrative distance and the ideological difference that rendered one ethnic group capable of regarding another as “stranger” or “enemy,” and allowed that group to offer up the “Other” to “the trans-Atlantic trade.”

“One thing impressed me strongly from this three
months of association with Cudjo Lewis,” Hurston writes. “The white people had held my people in slavery in America. They had bought us, it is true and exploited us. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw, was: my people had
sold
me and the white people had bought me. That did away with the folklore I had been brought up on—that the white people had gone to Africa, waved a red handkerchief at the Africans and lured them aboard ship and sailed away.”
24

Hurston was a collector of folklore. However, the folklore she was “brought up on” contradicted the folklore she was collecting from Kossola. Moreover, “all that this Cudjo told me,” Hurston mused, “was verified from other historical sources.”
25
Harlem Renaissance pundits and artists like Zora Neale Hurston were wrestling with the identity of “the Negro.” They had reclaimed the image of black people and asserted the value of black culture (vis-à-vis white people and Anglo American culture). There was a decided movement to do away with the image of “the Old Negro” and usher in “the New Negro,” whose authentic culture and ethos were rooted in African origins. How did the butchering and killing of African “others” and the extirpation of whole societies fit within the profile of this modern, authentic “New Negro”?

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