Monsters in Gullah Folklore
The Gullah-Geechee Corridor is a marshy strip of waterways and islands stretching down the coast from lower North Carolina to upper Florida. Gullahs were the corridor's original slaves. Geographical isolation preserved Gullah culture over 300 years. Gullah folklore has great monsters, which drive the plot in my historical vampire novel, The Bad Death. All sources noted here (except my book) are nonfiction.
In my novel, 'drolls' are little vampires who run in packs, but a Gullah droll can be the uneasy spirit of any child who suffered an unnatural death. The most legendary is Crab Boy, whose story serves as a cautionary tale to children. As told to Murrells Inlet native, Lynn Michelsohn, the boy went diving for an elusive stone crab but got more than he bargained for. Residents still hear his screams across the marshes.
As Daufuskie Island's Roger Pinckney described in Blue Roots, "Some spirits…are inhabitants of a parallel spiritual universe who cross over into the material world at will or by command." This spirit is called a 'hag' and Blue Roots specifies, "… two types, the hag that is a total spirit and the 'slip-skin' hag, which is a person, usually a female, who becomes invisible by shedding her skin…"… two types, the hag that is a total spirit and the 'slip-skin' hag, which is a person, usually a female, who becomes invisible by shedding her skin…" The hag then slips into your skin while you sleep to give you nightmares. In Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, a Johns Island resident described the experience, "…they bear on you, and they feel kind of heavy. They say the whole person is lay weight upon you in the bed. Then you can't wake." One way to prevent a hag riding you is to cut off the bedposts so she can't roost. A sieve hung by your bed or rice thrown on the floor tempts the hag to count holes or grains, distracting her from persecuting you. The Bad Death's hag slipped her skin to escape with her life, and our heroine's body is the perfect hiding place now that the monsters called 'plat-eyes' are prowling.
A Gullah woman described her run-in with a plat-eye In A Woman Rice Planter: "I see a man walk right befo' me, en I call to um…de man neber answer, en w'en 'e git to de gate 'e neber open um, 'e jes' pass trou' wi'dout open, en den 'e tu'n 'eself unto a bull, en rare up befor' me. Den I kno' 'twas plat eye…" Plat-eyes shape shift badly, and you can spot them by their mistakes. In human form, they're apt to have only one eye. Most references attribute the term 'plat-eye' to that one human eye being big as a plate. However, the 1989 James Island and Johns Island Historic Survey credits the name to the monster's fondness for plaiting the eyelashes of whoever it's terrorizing. In The Bad Death, plat-eyes love the smell of whiskey and the taste of human blood.
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