South Carolina Folklore and Folkways

The folklore of the South Carolina Up Country is predominantly English and Scotch-Irish, as is generally true throughout the Appalachian regions. More than 20 old English and Scottish ballads have been collected in South Carolina, including 'Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight,' the 'Three Ravens,' 'Lord Lovel,' and 'Barbara Allen.' Sometimes the original ballad is much changed in the local version even in title; for example, 'The Daemon Lover' is discovered as the 'House Carpenter.' Since Cecil Sharp, the English scholar, collected ballads in the Southeast, ballad singing as a popular art has rapidly declined; but recently many amateur folklorists have set about collecting ballads and other forms of folklore.

The Up Country has few differences in dialect from the Low Country, though there is a marked contrast between the coastal Gullah and the talk of the mountaineers. 'Hit' for 'it' is used by illiterate whites and Negroes alike, as are 'holp' for 'helped,' and 'taken' for 'took.' Such redundancies as 'tooth dentist,' 'widow woman,' and 'shower of rain' are also State-wide. Occasionally, among the Negroes in central and Low Country South Carolina, there is the pronunciation of 'w' for 'v' and 'v' for 'w,' such as 'wegetubbie' for 'vegetable,' and 'vax' for 'wax.' 'Ary' and 'nary' for 'any' and 'not any,' 'favor' in the Shakespearean sense of 'resemble (in countenance),' and 'clever' as 'kind' or 'agreeable' are commonly heard from the mountains to the sea. The Up Countryman does not slur his 'r's' as the Low Countryman does, but brings them out sharply. This resemblance of Carolina speech to English speech is probably as much a matter of tone as of pronunciation or diction.

From Caesars Head to Charleston, belief in spells and conjures still prevails. Farmers plant their beans carefully at the 'right time of the moon,' and the wife of a former governor is said to carry on her person a small raw potato to absorb the rheumatism from which she suffers. An old woman in the Dutch Fork can 'use' for fire. Passing her hand over a burn, she repeats a magic formula and commands the fire to leave. The cries of owls and whippoorwills are regarded as bad luck and the fire-poker must be heated red so it will burn the tongue of the bird and make him leave. Negroes mix love-potions by adding bits of their hair and nail parings to whisky, and administer the drink to the person whose love is desired. Warts are conjured away by many mysterious formulas; an ax is put under the bed of Negroes in childbirth to 'cut the pain,' and silver tea, made by boiling a handful of coins, is used to stop the flow of blood from a wound. Many 'cures' for malaria are found in the Low Country where the disease has taken its toll for decades; ague weeds of various sorts, certain kinds of spiders, and a string with 16 knots tied around the waist are some of them.

Among the many strange good luck charms in which Negroes believe is the 'black cat bone.' Here is one old woman's suggestion for obtaining it: 'Get a black cat. Mustn't have a single white hair. Put on a pot o' b'ilin' water. B'ilin' hard, throw the cat in there and b'ile him alive. B'ile him till all the meat and everything is left the bone. Mustn't kill the cat. Must b'ile him 'live. Then take pot and all to runnin' stream. Runnin' stream o' water and dump it in. And all the meat and bone and water will go with the stream--all that is, 'cep' one bone. That the lucky bone. You can, work any kind o' work with that bone. Any kind o' magic. Can make a girl leave and follow you clean to the ocean.'

In the same coastal section where that old woman lives, fishing is not only a sport but an important source of livelihood and for it a ritual prevails. The fisherman believes he should never talk with an old woman before he casts off, nor let an old person handle the line before it is used. But it is lucky to talk to a young girl. Dogs must not accompany the fisherman, nor should food be eaten while fishing is under way.

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