Okefenokee Swamp Folklore

The majority of this series comes from fieldwork, vertical files, and administrative files related to the Okefenokee Traditional Music Survey, a fieldwork project funded by the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Community Folklife Program from 1998-2000. The project documented a distinctive folk region by updating the pioneering work (1912-51) of naturalist and amateur folklore collector, Francis Harper.

Chesser Open House

At the an annual Chesser Open House, for example, Chesser family descendents and neighbors gather to talk, eat a simple meal cooked on the homestead's wood burning stove, and share with visitors customs associated with life on Chessers Island. Some demonstrations, such as lye soap making and washing clothes with a "battlin' stick," are nostalgic re-creations of past lifestyles. Others, such as quilting, palmetto broom making, turpentining, and sacred harp singing, still are practiced in the surrounding area.

Sacred Harp Sings

Sacred harp sings' date to at least the 1860s in the Okefenokee. The sacred harp or "shape-note" tradition originated during the colonial period as a means to teach congregations to sing. Traveling singing school teachers used "four shape" tunebooks with religious lyrics in which different shaped note heads were assigned to the European musical scale of fa, sol, la, and mi. Within southeast Georgia, conservative Primitive Baptist beliefs combined with the relative cultural isolation of the Okefenokee to foster a distinctive stylistic variant of sacred harp. Characteristics include walking time in a counterclockwise fashion according to the meter of the tune, and the same slow tempos and melodic ornamentation found in the Primitive Baptist meeting house.