Come Along, Let's Ride This Train: Santee River Testimonies, Praises and Songs
by Vennie Deas-Moore. A South Carolina native, Deas-Moore is a photographer and writer who specializes in the cultural history of the Lowcountry, especially the rice culture of Georgetown County.
My fieldwork has taken me home to the Santee Delta. This area has been the home of my family for generations. It has had a long history of rice cultivation. Along the massive back creek salt marshes, my mother recalls working in the spongy gray bogs, walking carefully not to sink to her waist. The tall cane-like marsh grass would continuously beat the body, almost to the ground. Traveling to a slightly higher ridge, one encounters clinging briar patches. During the summer months of planting the sandflies, deerflies, and mosquitoes, distract from the watching alligators and wild hogs. The swampy rice fields are now silent. No longer is rice grown. Yet left are the descendants of these great rice growers. These descendants live throughout the Santee Delta. Their families continue the traditions and folkways of their West African Roots.
During the 1700s the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia discovered a very profitable economic plantation system, "rice planting." French Huguenots settled along the North and South Santee Rivers. Although these colonists had no experience or skill in rice cultivation, they learned that Africans from the "Rice Coast" or "Windward Coast" were traditional rice-growers. This region stretched from Senegal down to Sierre Leone and Liberia. These colonist also discovered that the moist semi-tropical marsh, like Santee Delta were comparable to the West African coast. With West African Slaves' labor, the Huguenots owned some of the wealthiest plantations in America. The delta is some forty miles north of Charleston, South Carolina. The Santee Delta quietly forks off of the Old Coastal Highway. The narrow roads bend along the Santee River. The Santee is a river of vast volume, bearing down silt in a manner that makes it resemble the Nile. Like the Nile's periodic floods, the Santee fed those massive rice fields. Sixteen miles from its mouth, the Santee divides; and these two streams flow independently into the ocean. Between them is the lonely delta of the Santee, formerly one of the greatest rice-growing areas of North America, but now returned to a green wilderness as pristine as it must have been in the days of the Indians.
Crested in the delta are the people and their beautiful music. The Senior Citizens of the Santee Delta are meeting at Zion AME Church in South Santee, South Carolina. Without musical instruments their voices, clapping of their hands, and patting of their feet carries the rhythm. It is a spontaneous blending of Call and Response. " The real Negro singer cares nothing about pitch. The first notes' just burst out and the rest of the church join in----fired by the same inner urge. Every man trying to express himself through song. Every man for himself. Hence the harmony and disharmony, the shifting keys and broken time that make up the spiritual," states Zora Neale Hurston in The Sanctified Church. Ethnomusicologists trace such style of singing, chants, and shouting to West African Roots. Regular church attendance was the norm for my community. At a young age, I can remember spending long hours in church on Sunday, only to return for evening services…experiencing singing, preaching, and "rejoicing in the name of the Lord." The highly spiriting and shouting usually swept across the congregation like "wild fire."
Week night prayer meetings were common in the rural churches. Again, one would experience increasingly vigorous shouting and feeling the "Holy Ghost" until far in the night. There would be testifying and unloading of one's burdens.
I find it difficult to isolate this music into bars and notes. As a child, I was not taught formally the singing of the gospel. But I learned to participate with the adults around me. The music elicits foot tapping, hand clapping and shouting. The singing is often interspersed with spoken testimonies, and the lead singer usually sings in a call-and-response pattern. The singing becomes spontaneous and one feels and displays his emotions.
The songs are not only relaying to the other members of the church, but the singer is also experiencing and communicating with the "Holy Spirit." One may become "happy or go into a trance or lose consciousness. The music heals the soul; it releases inner tribulations and simultaneously gives joy, hope and salvation.
Ella Peoples: “It comes from an understanding that life is intended for something and that something is good. It is to be used and when we stop using it, we begin to fall apart. Haven't passed four score years I find that the vision is what gives us old age it's spendors it can turn wrinkle unto beautiful smiles. Senility unto seniority, and slowness of speech unto wisdom, it can change complaining spirit unto prayer warriors, it can suffer the gradual process of aging with dignity, and so attach the admiration and of affection of younger people. Can you imagine what a strill it is when someone says to you, " When I get old, I want to be just like you." As the vision take hold of you and give you your direction, God will write a new chapter in your biography. A chapter you never dream is possible. You will find the God is a master host. I love the Lord. I love to be here this morning I enjoy being in the service of the Lord. It is so beautiful to see older generations gather together this time to say something good for the Lord and sing songs of praises. So lets be joyful. Devotional services before Sunday morning service. A leader walks to the front of the church standing beside the offering table. He leads the church members in prays, songs, and testimonies.”
Margaret German: “I am greatful to be here in your number and I am happy to be here. Because I love singing and shouting and praying. I just love to serve the Lord.”
Sadie Smith: “I love to sing, I love to praise the Lord, because if we never needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now. I am going to sing this song, short song, not very long. But it starts like this. The person who testifies expects to raises a hymn.”
Annabelle Porcher: “I am the site manager of the Awendaw Senior Center. I am a member of Mt. Nebo AME Church; Rev. Holmes is my pastor. And I just love to praise the Lord.”
Rebecca Chapman: “I belong to St. James AME, my pastor… my pastor Rev. Gaillard. I was the Sunday school superintendent for thirty years, and I am still doing my job…And thanking God for each of you here this morning. May God bless you and may God keep us.”
Emmalina Thompson: “I am from Awendaw, my pastor, Rev Butler, and I am in Union AME Church. And praise the Lord. I love to sing, I love singing, and I love shouting too…Thank God I'm still here.
Carrie Jackson: “From Mt. Nebo Church. I thank the Lord, he wake me up this morning in my right mind. I love to go to church and love to do the best I can between each other… And I ask the Lord to carry me through this day. And I ask this pray in Jesus Name.” The music is not rehearsed; it is spontaneous. Group singing bent on expression of feelings. These senior citizens come from different churches. There are no conductors. They beautifully blend their songs and testimonies…All so naturally.
Louise Sutton: “I don't want Jesus to past me by, because I love the Lord and all his goodness, and if you do thy will of the Lord, I am sure he would not pass you by.”
Leonford Patterson: “I love to sing, I love to praise the Lord, I love to praise the worship songs, because it blesses my soul and it tells a story. I think, it blesses everyone who listens. I am just grateful to be here this morning…Last night, we had pray service at Zion and the spirit was in the house. And when the spirit is in the house there is joy, there's joy. Th
Audio (Transcript Coming Soon)
What a Might God We Serve (01:25)
Ella Peoples (00:21)
How Great Thou Art (01:30)
Come Along My Savior (01:08)
Sadie Smith (02:39)