De hog en de cow

  • Friday, January 24, 2014

Photo courtesy of the Georgetown County Museum. Julius Britton, c.1935. One in a series of photos of Lark Hill Plantation.

One of my favorite books is “De Nyew Testament,” a Gullah translation of the King James Version of The Bible. I bought the book, published in 2005, from Bunny Rodrigues, a friend and native Georgetonian.

“De Nyew Testament” was a labor of love many years in the making. It was translated by The Sea Island Translation Team in cooperation with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and published by The American Bible Society.

Do you recognize this Bible verse? “Cause God lob all de people een de wol sommuch dat e gii we e onliest Son. God sen we um so dat ebrybody wa bleebe pon um ain gwine dead. Dey gwine lib faebamo.”

Yes, this is the Gullah translation of John 3:16 and it almost makes me weep, not only because it’s so lyrical and beautiful, but also because in my past I was fortunate enough to have known elderly African-Americans who spoke pure Gullah, and nothing but Gullah.

The Georgetown Semi-Weekly Times published its own version of Gullah on March 4, 1899. On the front page, under “To the Editor of The Times,” the following letter appeared.

“I wood luk to ax you a siberlize queschun on the cow: De hog is expire frum de town reddy, en de helt expectir say him enter groine to leff a lettle pig grunt at you doa no mo: so dayfo nutten leff but de cow.

Well den ef de hog is counterfit on de cajun a him hab ee nose in ebry ting en da peruse yu nabor yaad back and forrud, en stroyed all de greans en tunup, en so fote, wus matter wid de cow?

Ent him is fa put way e can lick ee long tung ober de naber fench en car off you Sundy britches en underwise close, way you wife heng pun de line fa dry?

I ain blame de cow, mind yu, but I tink de mossa ob de anemil shud sponsibil fa de britches en de machiz box en de rule, way de cow eat in de pocket.

An a narrer ting, ef a man way hab a cow en doan nurrish um wid good fuil tel e eat up yu atickles frum hongry, ent dat way you call brutelty to cru animal en call fo a ditement?

I wish yu kin fix dis ting sum how or nudder, so I kin expound wid the torrities. Yose, Sam”

Okay, I’m no Gullah translator, but here’s what I think the letter said.

“I would like to ask you a serious (civilized?) question about the cow. The hog is ? from the town already, and the health inspector said he isn’t going to let a little pig grunt at your door anymore. So, therefore, there’s nothing left but the cow.

Well then, if the hog is ? on account of him having his nose in everything and he peruses your neighbor’s yard, backwards and forward, and destroyed all of the greens and turnips, and so forth, what’s the matter with the cow?

Isn’t he put away where he can lick his long tongue over the neighbor’s fence and carry off your Sunday britches and underwear clothes, the way your wife hangs them upon the line to dry?

I don’t blame the cow, mind you, but I think the owner of the animal should be responsible for the britches and the match box and the ruler, which the cow ate in the pocket.

And another thing, if a man has a cow and doesn’t nourish him with good food until he eats up your articles from hunger, isn’t that what you call cruelty to animals and calls for an indictment?

I hope you can fix this thing somehow or another, so I can expound with the authorities. Yours, Sam”

I don’t know if this letter was real, or written by Josiah Doar, who was Editor of the newspaper. I should have asked two of our local Gullah speakers to help translate: Rev. Gloria Barr Ford (a columnist for this newspaper) and Brendon Barber (Georgetown City Council member).

To the Georgetown County Digital Library . . . thanks for the memories.

Debby Summey may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or djsummey@gmail.com

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