Sugaree Rising - J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

1936. South Carolina. There were talks before of the Sugaree river being dammed, but it came and went like the generations of Yay'saws in Yelesaw. "Papa’Budi, after all, had said all along the news of the dam was nothing but a whitefolks’ trick to get the Yay’saws off their land, merely the latest, in fact, in a longrunning series."

Papa'Budi announced he ain't moving anywhere. His ancestors rising, coming from the other side of the grave, will find him in his house. The house he built himself. It was the only place they knew where to find him and it was their home too.

"“Papa’Budi say the talk got so bad, a nigger from over to Sandy Station built a boat in he yard, waiting for the water to come,” Cu’n Boo had said. “Sit on he porch every evening with two or three fishpoles, waiting. Finally stopped putting out crop or fixing things up, him figure there ain’t no use iffen they going underwater. The boat stay there in that yard so long, Papa’Budi say the chicken take to sleeping in it, ‘til the nigger’ wife up and turn it to a roost. Ain’t no spillway never got itself builded, ain’t no flooding never get out to Sandy Station, and eventual, the county take that nigger’ land for taxes, and him had for move him family into St. Paul and take work out to the pulp mill.”

Now there were talks again, Bonk Jackson brought the news of the Watercoming, stirring up uncertainty and talk all over the rice fields down in the swamp communities. Only this time a mule-eyed stranger walked into the Sambuhouse, put his hand on Orry's casket and told the assemblage: “They’s a water coming, ain’t you know?” he answered, and his voice was becoming more agitated as he talked. “Water fixing to battle with Earth, and Water gon’ win, and cover all the land. This ‘uman ain’t belong down in that Water. Iffen you does try for put she in the ground , it won’t accept she.”

Why Orry died was a mystery. "Her step had seemed just as firm as always , her arms as strong, her eyes as bright. There were no signs of sickness leading up to her final days that anyone could remember, even with the great vision of hindsight. The last week of her life she scattered feed to the chickens and leavings to the pigs and sang the clothes out on the line eevery morning and hummed them back in every evening and spent long hours over her cooking and healing pots, the same as she had always done, as ever as they had known her. But something dropped Orry down low just after dark one silver-moon, sliver -moon night and she went straight to her bed as soon as she had served supper to her sister and father. She did not rise the next morning but lay with a wheezling breath and great fever sweat on her forehead and cheeks. That alarmed Budi Manigault to no end, but by the time he’d sent Soo rushing across the yard to fetch Ná’Risa, it was already too late. Orry Manigault wavered between dark and light after that, her eyes fluttering unfocused, unresponsive to queries and concerns, and never said another mumbling word. She died just before daylight four days later, after being roused by a great fit of bloody coughing. What had hurried her off, no-one could guess."

Yally Kinlaw could visualize the Watercoming. Rain and rain and rain for days on end. Torrents of rain. Buckets of rain. Barrelful after barrelful dumped down without pause on the land. 

She saw the water overflowing the Sugaree river and the Swamp and rising, rising, nothing holding it back, covering the Bigyard and then the porch steps and all the porches, then whole houses up to the tops of the chimneys, washing over sheds and chickenyards and chickenpens and all the fields out back. Blackeels and golden minnows and rainbow crappie passed by in the dim light of murky waters, gliding in and out of open windows, swimming into cupboards. 

This time the water will be for real. The delegation sent to the meeting with the State Senator, the County High Sheriff and the Probate Judge, brought back confirmation. The decision taken in Washington was as good as set in stone. Unmovable. Land belonging to the Adams Neck community, such land located between the Sugaree and the Blacksnake Rivers in Cantrell County, South Carolina will be swapped acre for acre or paid out...

It is a story about one of the isolated communities and its people, centering mostly around the trials and tribulations of the families of Papa'Budi and Papa'Tee. There is humor and hardship, long tales and short stories and women who healed the hungry and the sick with the power of their hands and minds. It tells the story of men working in their rice fields and keeping important decisions as secrets among themselves and honor a deep bond with the Blacksnake river where history was written in skeletons and songs and only the elected few would receive the visions to relate it back to the community. A place where hoodoo and the mojo-bones were the unspoken guarantee of truth.

Yally received messages from the ancestors, which she found hard to trust or relate to the community. It would take a long line of events one day to lead her to except who she was and what her purpose among her people would become. She was recognized by only one other person, Baba’Zambu, and he wasn't talking. 

The endearing and deeply-moving story is told with a wealth of colorful prose, a depth of history and a warmth of memories. Unique expressions fills the narrative from top to bottom.Maybe Pap reckon you ain’t the panicky type, no matter what we come’cross back there. You married Cu’n Ula, inna’? That took some courage, I’m’a tell you. And you come over and told my uncle you’ intention, face to face, on he own porch. Shit, son, that took nuts big as a boarhog.”

"Sugaree Rising is a work of fiction that combines two historical events that never actually came together in real life. The first was the Santee Cooper Project, the building of the Pinopolis Dam in Berkeley County, South Carolina, in the late 1930’ s that created the two lakes— Moultrie and Marion— that split the Carolina Lowcountry landscape up the middle.

The second historical event around which “Sugaree” revolves was the gradual breaking down— from the 1930’ s to the present day— of the geographic and cultural isolation that had originally created one of the most unique peoples in the United States: the Gullah of the Southeastern sea islands." - author.

I recommend this book to everyone. It is one of those treasures which accidentally appear on our walk of life and take root in our souls to stay. It is also one of the most beautiful pieces of enriching prose I have read this year, actually, in recent years. You simply must read it!