From the Cabin with the Ghetto Gourmet Part 2
by Gregory L. Towns
"The Dark Hours" is what slavery was called by my Elders. Culture and Tribal customs were lost, hidden and beaten out of our people. Only the survival methods were retained and exchanged with others of African decent and interchanged with those of Native American folk methods and used to prolong life and heal injuries.
The slave quarters were sometimes the only village displaced Africans knew. These societies away from the "Big house" had there own source of caste systems. Forms of worship, education was not allowed openly there were schools in secret to teach native language, taught boys to be men and girls what they needed to know to survive in the "quarters".
Doctors were seldom called to the "quarters" at best a veterinarian for slaves and live stock. When a medical opinion was needed, because the doctor didn't understand the slave's language or chose to disregard his symptoms – medical care was then left to tribal cures that Europeans called VOODOO or BLACK MAGIC. Fear and ignorance of the conditions and environment of their chattel were accustom. Men and women were left to die or put to death to stop the spread at sometimes easily cured ailments, what was the loss? A strong Black Male sold at the auction for a couple hundred British pounds and from 1790 – 1840 that was about $300.00. A woman on the other hand young, strong, was worth a lot more for several reasons, mostly breeding. From one strong Black Woman would come generations of Strong Black People.
As a boy I was prone to accidents, falling from trees, scraping and cutting myself not to mention the usual childhood illnesses. So in Part 2 of this series I shall give some of the age-old secrets of health – these have helped our people to preserve life.
Recently a nervous young expectant mother sought comfort from her mother and grandmother. Through the pain sweat and tears, a young doctor came into the room and ordered the nurse to administer medication for the pain. The grandmother being almost ninety explained, in my day chil' we had babies natural and were back in the field the next day. After witnessing the pain of the young women my question to the grandmother was, How? How did women work in the fields and in the cabin from sun up to sundown give birth and suffer all the ills and ailments of womanhood in the days of slavery – when there was no CVS or Rite-Aid.
When the baby had measles – mumps, whooping cough, colic, teething or diaper rash, what did our ancestors do!!! Well, you will be as shocked as I to know that life came with the help of some unusual aides. For instance – A pot of Red Beans was used for a woman who was over her "time". Cod liver or castor oil was used for long or difficult labor. Turpentine on a spoon of sugar for menstrual cramps, and even grandpa's corn whiskey was used to relieve the baby's teething pain and fever. A little rubbed on a baby's gums not only relieved the pain and fever, but was a natural sedative used for pulling teeth, minor surgery and in some instances major surgery, cleaning wounds and sterilization.
I recall an incident from my youth when children were often killed by a simple bee sting. I had an occasion to come head to nest with some angry wasp, as the family held a vigil I became feverish and my throat began to swell until my breathing became labored the classic allergic reaction. My grandmother was called, I've been told when only prayer would help "The old Indian" as she was affectionately know sent to the corner grocery for a "plug" of Redman chewing tobacco. She proceeded to lay me across her lap and chewed the unholy weed. With her fingers she took the chewed tobacco moist and placed it on the stings. Almost immediately the fever subsided and before 4 p.m. that day I was back to normal and back doin' devilment. Poltices of animal dung and tree mold, herbs of sassafras, mint, wolfbain, hemlock, and asafetida were used to make tea to cure everything from the common cold, pneumonia, whooping cough, diarrhea, aches and pains of all descriptions. Garlic and natural elixirs for high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, while kerosene and turpentine were a cure all mixed with herbs and roots used to perform all sorts of medical magic. From these cures and remedies black health has helped our ancestors survive for countless centuries.
The death rate among blacks for health related issues are lower than that of Europeans. Most black lived 10-15 years longer. Many black women lived well past the century mark. Another statistics that puzzles me are that African-Americans suffers less from cancer. After childhood and teen years of "TONIC" two to three times a year with castor oil, mineral oil and cod liver oil on the inside. Vicks, Vaseline, and Bacon Fat that Momma greased us with; cancer cells don't have anything to attach themselves too, everything's slick.
Eating healthy isn't arbitrary in most black households it's normal with menus that include oatmeal, grits, fruit, meat, eggs and fish. To greens for iron, niacin and other vitamins, peas and beans for roughage and momma's dumplin's for protein. Hence the term soul food. Slavery was blight on African culture and if there was a ray of sunshine it would be that we have retained healthy living through common and some extraordinary methods. In his effort to provide the worst conditions and food for his slaves, the master actually gave those in the slave quarters the means to persevere by creating and cultivating remedies and cures that may have save millions from death and disease, mended bodies and souls. Aside from the whipping post and the lynchman's knot – death by sickness and disease were at some point conquered by simple holistic methods brought to the new world in the belly of those horrible ships – methods that we use today. Talk to your elders, ask questions, make records of recipes, cures, and remedies that can be passed on in the millenium. So the next time you talk to "granny" or "old Uncle", ask them about the Watkins man and how he carried "the cure". We will next explore the Watkins Phenomena.