Uncanny Georgia: Oba

Igbo man with facial scarifications ("ichi"), early 20th century

Igbo man with facial scarifications (“ichi”), early 20th century

For the last installment in this series, I’d like to direct your attention to a ghost story that is told on St. Simons Island, as it is recounted at The Moonlit Road:

Near the mouth of Dunbar Creek on Georgia’s St. Simons Island, there’s a section of swampy marshland where some fishermen refuse to cast their lines. In the daytime, it doesn’t look any different from the other vast marshes stretching across Georgia’s coastal islands. Elongated white herons call to one another over the endless plain of reeds and mosquito infested marsh grasses. Fiddler crabs scurry across the sands. Unseen creatures plop into the black waters.

But when night falls, it is said that one can hear a different sound entirely. Swamps are known to make strange sounds at night. But if you listen closely, you may hear what sounds like the faint rattling of chains drifting across the marsh, followed by an eerie chant: “The water brought, us the water will take us away.”

If you think your ears are deceiving you, think again. For the old timers in the area will tell you that what you’re hearing is the brave warrior Oba, leading his people on their final march home….

Read the rest here.

Uncanny Georgia: Plat-Eyes

The plat-eye is another Gullah monster, a kind of ghost or haint that can pass through gates without opening them. Plat-eyes operate much as bogeymen; serving as a warning to children against wandering and getting lost in the woods. They are shape-shifters, but not very accomplished ones: you can spot them from their mistakes. In human form, for example, they often have only one eye. An article in the Augusta Chronicle describes them thusly:

Long before interstate highways and jet travel, back roads of the Deep South were dangerous for solitary travelers.

Besides Indians, wild animals and cold-blooded highwaymen, other terrors lurked among the remote hills and swamps – fanciful terrors that belong more in the realm of folklore than history.

One of the most dreaded creatures was the “plat-eye,” a much-feared spirit that supposedly haunted and tormented its victims unmercifully before driving them either to insane asylums or early graves. To meet up with this loathsome creature meant doom for the unlucky traveler. That’s why in the old days folks tried their best to avoid certain hollows, woods and swamps when going cross-country.

The website The Moonlit Road elaborates:

Like many other Southern folktales, the “plat-eye” stories were brought over by African-Americans who had been sold into slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are especially prevalent in the coastal Gullah communities of Georgia and South Carolina. In these tales, the plat-eye is typically an evil spirit who has not been properly buried, and now stands guard over buried treasure deep in a forest or swamp.

Plat-eye stories became especially prevalent after the Civil War, when rumors thrived that plantation owners had buried their Confederate money to keep it away from the Union army. In some of these stories, a slave was beheaded and buried with the treasure. His restless spirit would then become the guardian of the loot.

The Moonlit Road has also made available a plat-eye story for you to read (and hear). In this tale, the plat-eye takes the form of a ghostly dog, not too different from the grims and barghests of England.

Uncanny Georgia: Boo Hags

"The Old Plantation," South Carolina, abt. 1790

“The Old Plantation,” South Carolina, abt. 1790

The boo hag is a variant on the widespread belief in hags: evil spirits that torment a person in his or her sleep. It is part of the culture of the Gullah (or Geechee) people of the Sea Islands mainly off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. (Take time to watch this 6-minute video introduction to Gullah culture.)

A boo hag is an undead creature somewhat like a vampire that can become invisible by shedding its skin. The hag then slips into a victim’s skin while he or she is sleeping and gives that person nightmares.

A hag lives a normal life during the day but sheds its skin in order to haunt people at night. It is usually female.

So, how does this creature “work”? According to one source,

One of the beliefs that Gullahs hold is that people have both a soul and a spirit.  They believe that souls leave human bodies upon death, and, if it’s a good soul, it ascends to Heaven.  The spirit of a person has a different function.  A good spirit stays behind to watch over the deceased’s family, guiding and protecting them, if needed.

A bad spirit, on the other hand, is a “boo hag.”  The boo hag uses witchcraft to manipulate people and steal energy from the living while they sleep.  Gullahs sometimes bid each other good night, saying “don’t let de hag ride ya!”

Boo hags are a little like vampires in that they are undead beings that feed off of living humans.  They are skinless, and bright red in color, with bulging blue veins.  To survive in the world of the living, they’ll steal a living person’s skin, and wear it like clothes so that they can move amongst the living without suspicion.  At night, though, they shed the skin, and go looking for a victim to “ride.”

Boo hags are crafty.  They can get into your house through very small openings—a slightly open window, or even a crack in a wall.  Once inside, they’ll sit on a sleeping victim’s chest, and steal their breath, or, more specifically, their energy.  A boo hag will “ride” its victim all night long, then sneak away before dawn to return to its skin.  If it can’t get back to its skin before the sun comes up, it will be destroyed.

There are some warning signs to let you know that a boo hag is close.  First, the air will become very hot and damp.  Second, the air will smell like something is rotting.

But if you’ve woken up exhausted after a full night’s rest, you may have been visited by a boo hag.

Sweet dreams!

Uncanny Georgia: The Altamaha-ha


Image from Cryptidz.wikia.com

The Altamaha River drainage system is the largest in the United States east of the Mississippi. The river itself is formed by the confluence of the Ocmulgee and the Oconee Rivers just a few miles downstream from Lumber City, Georgia.

This river is also the home of the Altamaha-ha, Georgia’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster, an aquatic creature that purportedly lives in the marshes at the mouth of the Altamaha River near the city of Darien.

According to ExploreSouthernHistory.com,

The region where the Altamaha-ha is usually seen is a beautiful and mysterious estuary known for its vast marshes, multiple river channels and abandoned 18th and 19th century rice fields and canals. It seems appropriate that the beastie inhabits the waters around Darien, a town founded by Scot Highlanders from the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland.

The earliest sightings of “Altie,” as the creature is known, date back to the 1830s. It is described as a thirty-foot long (or longer) creature with seal-like flippers.

A few years ago, the Darien Chamber of Commerce commissioned artist Rick Spears to create a life-size model of the creature:

Spears says he had to extrapolate the creature’s appearance based on limited descriptions. “You don’t have any hard evidence like fossils, which can indicate the placement of muscles. They say it undulates up and down, but fish and reptiles move from side to side, so it’s mammalian,” he says. “And some people say it breathes steam or warm air, which suggests that it has lungs. Things like that have a basis in reality.”

Uncanny Georgia: Daughters of the Sun

young_wishham_womanHere’s a fun one. According to a legend from southern Georgia, a Creek hunting party once got lost in the Okefenokee Swamp. At the height of their desperation, they were rescued by a group of beautiful women. According to an early 19th-century report:

[They] being lost in inextricable swamps and bogs and on the point of perishing, were unexpectedly relived by a company of beautiful women, whom they call daughters of the Sun, who kindly gave them such provisions as they had with them, consisting of fruit and corn cakes. (Jedidiah Morse, The American Universal Geography [J. T. Buckingham, 1805] 726)

Having rescued, cared for, and fed their guests, the women then warn them to flee as fast as possible “because their husbands were fierce men and cruel to strangers” (Morse, 726). These husbands were said to be of gigantic stature. They are hairy, aggressive, barely civilized wild men.

For their part, however, the “daughters of the sun” are beautiful nymph-like beings with dark eyes and musical voices. They often appear in thin, clouded forms, and have been compared to angels.

Despite their brutish husbands, the daughters of the sun dwell in an inaccessible island paradise. Morse continues to describe their settlements,

situated on the elevated banks of an island, in a beautiful lake; but that in their endeavours to approach it they were involved in perpetual labyrinths, and, like enchanted land, still as they imagined they had just gained it, it seemed to fly before them.… When [the hunters] reported their adventures to their countrymen, the young warriors were inflamed with an irresistible desire to invade and conquer so charming a country, but all their attempts had hitherto proved fruitless, they never being able again to find the spot. (726–27)

The idea of beautiful, helpful women married to terrible ogres seems to be an almost universal trope in fairy tales. This is but another variation on that theme.

Uncanny Georgia: Chief-of-Deer

As Bill Grantham tells us,

Chief-of-Deer was described as a small deer about two feet high that was either speckled or white with lofty horns. Lena, however, described it as only about two or three inches tall and relates the belief that anyone lucky enough to see a male would have the gift of learning sacred formulas easily. (Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians [University Press of Florida, 2002] 36)

This mysterious creature has a counterpart in Cherokee folklore named Awi Usdi or “The Little Deer.” In ancient times, Awi Usdi advocated for deer-kind with humans by appearing to them in their dreams, urging them only to hunt as much game as they needed to survive and to perform certain hunting ceremonies to acknowledge their indebtedness to the deer for its meat and even ask its forgiveness.

When hunters were careless and did not perform the required rituals, Awi Usdi used his magic to afflict them with rheumatism.

Uncanny Georgia: Atsil-dihyegi

Here is one more Cherokee myth, as reported by James Mooney:

Hermann Hendrich, Will-o'-the-wisp and Snake

Hermann Hendrich, Will-o’-the-wisp and Snake

There is one spirit that goes about at night with a light. The Cherokee call it Atsil’-dihye’gï, “The Fire-carrier,” and they are all afraid of it, because they think it dangerous, although they do not know much about it. They do not even know exactly what it looks like, because they are afraid to stop when they see it. It may be a witch instead of a spirit. Wafford’s mother saw the “Fire-carrier” once when she was a young woman, as she was coming home at night from a trading post in South Carolina. It seemed to be following her from behind, and. she was frightened and whipped up her horse until she got away from it and never saw it again. (Myths of the Cherokee [1900] 235)

This sounds like a will-o’-the-wisp or ignis fatuus, a phenomenon known—and mythologized—in many cultures of the world. This version seems to provoke a bit more terror than most, however. There may be more here than meets the eye.

Uncanny Georgia: Long Ears

Wikimedia user: Dmitry Bogdanov / GFDL

Wikimedia user: Dmitry Bogdanov / GFDL

Bill Grantham describes a curious creature called “long ears” or hvcko cvpko (roughly pronounced hutch-ko chupp-ko):

Long Ears was about the size of a mule, with immense ears, a very hideous appearance, and a disagreeable odor; it caused a dangerous disease. Two colors of this creature are described: dark brown, and nearly black and slate color. The Oklahoma Seminoles described the being as gray, about three feet tall, with a head like that of a wolf, the tail of a horse, and enormous long ears. Like Tall Man [i.e., a giant], it was said to smell like stagnant muddy water. (Creation Myths of the Creek Indians [University Press of Florida, 2002] 36)

The wolfish head and comparisons with a horse or a mule lead me to wonder if perhaps some species of mesonychid (like the Sinoplotherium pictured above, but with long ears?) would be an appropriate stand-in for this creature, should it ever find its way into fiction.

Uncanny Georgia: Like-a-Cow

cowbirdHere’s another one from Bill Grantham: the wak omo or “like-a-cow.”

Like-a-Cow was piebald. Several traveled together, moving in a single file and alternately. One moved for a distance and stopped, then moved again. The one behind then moved up. According to Lena, Like-a-Cow was a type of bird, its name referring to its similarity to a cowbird. It was described as the most dangerous of all birds and was believed even to attack and kill wolves. (Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians [University Press of Florida, 2002] 36)

I like that, even though this creature is called “like a cow,” it is actually a bird. That’s a great way to throw people off the trail, isn’t it?

In case you’re interested (I was), a cowbird is a member of the genus Molothrus, a group of birds that usually feed on insects—especially the great swarms that may be stirred up by cattle—rather than wolves. Like the cuckoo, to which they are not related, they will lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.

Uncanny Georgia: Miscellaneous Water Beings

In Bill Grantham’s Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians (University Press of Florida, 2002), he cites John R. Swanton to the effect that various sorts of aquatic creatures are found in Muskogee mythology:

Swanton mentions, with little description, several water beings. Among these are the water bear, water calf, water bison, water tiger, and water person. The last of these, the water person, was described as about four feet tall and having long hair. Also mentioned by Swanton with little description are Wiofû’tc miko (water king deer), which caused certain diseases, and a Spirit of War that appears to have been in human form.