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Interviewer: T. Pat Matthews
Person Interviewed: Mary Anngady
Location: 1110 Oakwood Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina
(Princess Quango Hennadonah Perceriah) 1110 Oakwood Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina.
I was eighteen years old in 1875 but I wanted to get married so I gave my age as nineteen. I wish I could recall some of the ole days when I was with my missus in Orange County, playing with my brothers and other slave children.
I was owned by Mr. Franklin Davis and my madam was Mrs. Bettie Davis. I and my brother used to scratch her feet and rub them for her; you know how old folks like to have their feet rubbed. My brother and I used to scrap over who should scratch and rub her feet. She would laugh and tell us not to do that way that she loved us both. Sometimes she let me sleep at her feet at night. She was plenty good to all of the slaves. Her daughter Sallie taught me my A B C’s in Webster’s Blue Back spelling Book. When I learned to Spell B-a-k-e-r, Baker, I thought that was something. The next word I felt proud to spell was s-h-a-d-y, shady, the next l-a-d-y, lady. I would spell them out loud as I picked up chips in the yard to build a fire with. My missus Bettie gave me a blue back spelling book.
My father was named James Mason, and he belonged to James Mason of Chapel Hill. Mother and I and my four brothers belonged to the same man and we also lived in the town. I never lived on a farm or plantation in my life. I know nothing about farming. All my people are dead and I cannot locate any of marster’s family if they are living. Marster’s family consisted of two boys and two girls–Willie, Frank, Lucy and Sallie. Marster was a merchant, selling general merchandise. I remember eating a lot of brown sugar and candy at his store.
My mother was a cook. They allowed us a lot of privileges and it was just one large happy family with plenty to eat and wear, good sleeping places and nothing to worry about. They were of the Presbyterian faith and we slaves attended Sunday school and services at their church. There were about twelve slaves on the lot. The houses for slaves were built just a little ways back from marster’s house on the same lot. The Negro and white children played together, and there was little if any difference made in the treatment given a slave child and a white child. I have religious books they gave me. Besides the books they taught me, they drilled me in etiquette of the times and also in courtesy and respect to my superiors until it became a habit and it was perfectly natural for me to be polite.
The first I knew of the Yankees was when I was out in my marster’s yard picking up chips and they came along, took my little brother and put him on a horse’s back and carried him up town. I ran and told my mother about it. They rode brother over the town a while, having fun out of him, then they brought him back. Brother said he had a good ride and was pleased with the blue jackets as the Yankee soldiers were called.
We had all the silver and valuables hid and the Yankees did not find them, but they went into marster’s store and took what they wanted. They gave my father a box of hardtack and a lot of meat. Father was a Christian and he quoted one of the Commandments when they gave him things they had stolen from others. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, quoth he, and he said he did not appreciate having stolen goods given to him.
I traveled with the white folks in both sections of the country, north and south, after the _War Between the States_. I kept traveling with them and also continued my education. They taught me to recite and I made money by reciting on many of the trips. Since the surrender I have traveled in the north for various Charitable Negro Societies and Institutions and people seemed very much interested in the recitation I recited called “When Malinda Sings”.
The first school I attended was after the war closed. The school was located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and was taught by a Yankee white woman from Philadelphia. We remained in Chapel Hill only a few years after the war ended when we all moved to Raleigh, and I have made it my home ever since. I got the major part of my education in Raleigh under Dr. H. M. Tupper who taught in the second Baptist Church, located on Blount Street. Miss Mary Lathrop, a colored teacher from Philadelphia, was an assistant teacher in Dr. Tupper’s School. I went from there to Shaw Collegiate Institute, which is now Shaw University.
I married Aaron Stallings of Warrenton, North Carolina while at Shaw. He died and I married Rev. Matthews Anngady of Monrovia, west coast of Africa, Liberia, Pastor of First Church. I helped him in his work here, kept studying the works of different authors, and lecturing and reciting. My husband, the Rev. Matthews Anngady died, and I gave a lot of my time to the cause of Charity, and while on a lecture tour of Massachusetts in the interest of this feature of colored welfare for Richmond, Va., the most colorful incident of my eventful life happened when I met Quango Hennadonah Perceriah, an Abyssinian Prince, who was traveling and lecturing on the customs of his country and the habits of its people. Our mutual interests caused our friendship to ripen fast and when the time of parting came, when each of us had finished our work in Massachusetts, he going back to his home in New York City and I returning to Richmond, he asked me to correspond with him. I promised to do so and our friendship after a year’s correspondence became love and he proposed and I accepted him. We were married in Raleigh by Rev. J. J. Worlds, pastor of the First Baptist Church, colored.
P. T. Barnum had captured my husband when he was a boy and brought him to America from Abyssinia, educated him and then sent him back to his native country. He would not stay and soon he was in America again. He was of the Catholic faith in America and they conferred the honor of priesthood upon him but after he married me this priesthood was taken away and he joined the Episcopal Church. After we were married we decided to go on an extensive lecture tour. He had been a headsman in his own country and a prince. We took the customs of his people and his experiences as the subject of our lectures. I could sing, play the guitar, violin and piano, but I did not know his native language. He began to teach me and as soon as I could sing the song “How Firm A Foundation” in his language which went this way:
Ngama i-bata, Njami buyek Wema Wemeta, Negana i bukek diol, di Njami, i-diol de Kak Annimix, Annimix hanci
Bata ba Satana i-bu butete Bata ba Npjami i bunanan Bata be satana ba laba i wa–Bata ba Njami ba laba Munonga
We traveled and lectured in both the north and the south and our life, while we had to work hard, was one of happiness and contentment. I traveled and lectured as the Princess Quango Hennadonah Perceriah, wife of the Abyssinian Prince. I often recited the recitation written by the colored poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar “When Malinda Sings” to the delight of our audiences.
The following incidents of African life were related to me by my husband Quango Hennadonah Perceriah and they were also given in his lectures on African customs while touring the United States.
The religion of the Bakuba tribe of Abyssinia was almost wholly Pagan as the natives believed fully in witchcraft, sorcery, myths and superstitions. The witch doctor held absolute sway over the members of the tribe and when his reputation as a giver of rain, bountiful crops or success in the chase was at stake the tribes were called together and those accused by the witch doctor of being responsible for these conditions through witchery were condemned and speedily executed.
The people were called together by the beating of drums. The witch doctor, dressed in the most hellish garb imaginable with his body painted and poisonous snake bone necklaces dangling from his neck and the claws of ferocious beasts, lions, leopards and the teeth of vicious man-eating crocodiles finishing up his adornment, sat in the middle of a court surrounded by the members of the tribe. In his hand he carried a gourd which contained beads, shot, or small stones. He began his incantations by rattling the contents of the gourd, shouting and making many weird wails and peculiar contortions. After this had gone on for sometime until he was near exhaustion his face assumed the expression of one in great pain and this was the beginning of the end for some poor ignorant savage. He squirmed and turned in different directions with his eyes fixed with a set stare as if in expectancy when suddenly his gaze would be fixed on some member of the tribe and his finger pointed directly at him. The victim was at once seized and bound, the doctor’s gaze never leaving him until this was done. If one victim appeased his nervous fervor the trial was over but if his wrought-up feelings desired more his screechings continued until a second victim was secured. He had these men put to death to justify himself in the eyes of the natives of his tribe for his failing to bring rain, bountiful crops and success to the tribe.
The witch doctor who sat as judge seemed to have perfect control over the savages minds and no one questioned his decisions. The persons were reconciled to their fate and were led away to execution while they moaned and bade their friends goodbye in the doleful savage style. Sometimes they were put on a boat, taken out into the middle of a river and there cut to pieces with blades of grass, their limbs being dismembered first and thrown into the river to the crocodiles. A drink containing an opiate was generally given the victim to deaden the pain but often this formality was dispensed with. The victims were often cut to pieces at the place of trial with knives and their limbs thrown out to the vultures that almost continuously hover ’round the huts and kraals of the savage tribes of Africa.
In some instances condemned persons were burned at the stake. This form of execution is meted out at some of the religious dances or festivities to some of their pagan gods to atone and drive away the evil spirits that have caused pestilences to come upon the people. The victims at these times are tortured in truly savage fashion, being burned to death by degrees while the other members of the tribe dance around and go wild with religious fervor calling to their gods while the victim screeches with pain in his slowly approaching death throes. Young girls, women, boys and men are often accused of witchcraft. One method they used of telling whether the victim accused was innocent or guilty was to give them a liquid poison made from the juice of several poisonous plants. If they could drink it and live they were innocent, if they died they were guilty. In most cases death was almost instantaneous. Some vomited the poison from their stomachs and lived.
The Bakubas sometimes resorted to cannibalism and my husband told me of a Bakuba girl who ate her own mother. Once a snake bit a man and he at once called the witch doctor. The snake was a poisonous one and the man bitten was in great pain. The witch doctor whooped and went through several chants but the man got worse instead of better. The witch doctor then told the man that his wife made the snake bite him by witchery and that she should die for the act. The natives gathered at once in response to the witch doctor’s call and the woman was executed at once. The man bitten by the snake finally died but the witch doctor had shifted the responsibility of his failure to help the man to his wife who had been beheaded. The witch doctor had justified himself and the incident was closed.
The tribe ruled by a King has two or more absolute rules. The Kings word is law and he has the power to condemn any subject to death at any time without trial. If he becomes angry or offended with any of his wives a nod and a word to his bodyguard and the woman is led away to execution. Any person of the tribe is subject to the King’s will with the exemption of the witch doctor. Executions of a different nature than the ones described above are common occurrences. For general crimes the culprit after being condemned to death is placed in a chair shaped very much like the electric chairs used in American prisons in taking the lives of the condemned. He is then tied firmly to the chair with thongs. A pole made of a green sapling is firmly implanted in the earth nearby. A thong is placed around the neck of the victim under the chin. The sapling is then bent over and the other end of the thong tied to the end of the sapling pole. The pole stretches the neck to its full length and holds the head erect. Drums are sometimes beaten to drown the cries of those who are to be killed. The executioner who is called a headsman then walks forward approaching the chair from the rear. When he reaches it he steps to the side of the victim and with a large, sharp, long-bladed knife lops off the head of the criminal. The bodies of men executed in this manner are buried in shallow holes dug about two feet deep to receive their bodies.
The rank and file of the savage tribes believe explicitly [HW correction: implicitly] in the supernatural powers of the witch doctor and his decisions are not questioned. Not even the King of the tribe raises a voice against him. The witch doctor is crafty enough not to condemn any of the King’s household or any one directly prominent in the King’s service. After an execution everything is quiet in a few hours and the incident seems forgotten. The African Negroes attitude towards the whole affair seems to be instinctive and as long as he escapes he does not show any particular concern in his fellowman. His is of an animal instinctive nature.
The males of the African tribes of savages have very little respect for a woman but they demand a whole lot of courtesies from their wives, beating them unmercifully when they feel proper respect has not been shown them. The men hunt game and make war on other tribes and the women do all the work. A savage warrior when not engaged in hunting or war, sleeps a lot and smokes almost continuously during his waking hours. Girls are bought from their parents while mere children by the payment of so many cows, goats, etc. The King can take any woman of the tribe whether married or single he desires to be his wife. The parents of young girls taken to wife by the King of a tribe feel honored and fall on their knees and thank the King for taking her.
The prince of a tribe is born a headsman and as soon as he is able to wield a knife he is called upon to perform the duty of cutting off the heads of criminals who are condemned to death by the King for general crimes. Those condemned by the witch doctor for witchcraft are executed by dismemberment or fire as described above.
My husband was a cannibal headsman and performed this duty of cutting off persons heads when a boy and after being civilized in America this feature of his early life bore so heavily upon his mind that it was instrumental in driving him insane. By custom a prince was born a headsman and it was compulsory that he execute criminals. He died in an insane ward of the New Jersey State Hospital.
[Footnote 1: [HW: ]Dr. Henry M. Tupper, a Union Army chaplain, who helped to start Shaw University in 1865.]