|Native name Ebo Landing|
The marshes of St. Simons Island
|Location||Dunbar Creek, St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, United States|
|Outcome||Mass suicide in opposition to slavery in the United States. Notable influence on African American folklore and literature|
|Deaths||Ten slaves and three white overseers drowned but actual numbers uncertain|
|Part of a series of articles on...
1526 San Miguel de Gualdape
Igbo Landing (alternatively written as Ibo Landing, Ebo Landing, or Ebos Landing) is a historic site in the sand and marshes of Dunbar Creek in St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia. It was the setting of the final scene of an 1803 resistance of enslaved Igbo people brought from West Africa on slave ships. Its moral value as a story of resistance towards slavery has symbolic importance in African American folklore and literary history.
In May 1803 a shipload of seized West Africans, upon surviving the middle passage, were landed by US-paid captors in Savannah by slave ship, to be auctioned off at one of the local slave markets. The ship's enslaved passengers included a number of Igbo people from what is now Nigeria. The Igbo were known by planters and slavers of the American South for being fiercely independent and more unwilling to tolerate chattel slavery. The group of Igbo slaves were bought by agents of John Couper and Thomas Spalding for forced labour on their plantations in St. Simons Island.
The chained slaves were packed under the deck of a small vessel named the Morovia to be shipped to the island (another source writes the voyage took place aboard The Schooner York). During this voyage the Igbo slaves rose up in rebellion taking control of the ship and drowning their captors in the process causing the grounding of the Morovia in Dunbar Creek at the site now locally known as Ebo Landing. The following sequence of events is unclear as there are several versions concerning the revolt's development, some of which are considered mythological. Roswell King, a white overseer on the nearby Pierce Butler plantation, wrote one of the only contemporary accounts of the incident which states that as soon as the Igbo landed on St. Simons Island they took to the swamp, committing suicide by walking into Dunbar Creek. A 19th century Savannah-written account of the event lists the surname Patterson for the captain of the ship and Roswell King as the person who recovered the bodies of the drowned.
Igbo Landing was the final scene of events which, in the heyday of slavery in the United States in 1803, amounted to a "major act of resistance" and as such these events have led to enduring symbolic importance in African American folklore and literary history.
Currently although the site bears no official historical marker, and a controversial sewage disposal plant was built beside the historical site in the 1940s, it is still routinely visited by historians and tourists. The event has recently been incorporated into the history curriculum in Coastal Georgia Schools.
Mythology and folklore
The story of the Igbo slaves who chose death over a life of slavery is a recurring story that has taken deep roots in African American and Gullah folklore. As is typical of oral histories, the facts have evolved over time, in many cases taking on mythological aspects.
Myth of the water walking Africans
Heard about the Ibo’s Landing? That’s the place where they bring the Ibos over in a slave ship and when they get here, they ain’t like it and so they all start singing and they march right down in the river to march back to Africa, but they ain’t able to
get there. They gets drown.
A typical Gullah telling of the events, incorporating many of the recurrent themes that are common to most myths surrounding the Igbo Landing, is recorded by Linda S. Watts:
The West Africans upon assessing their situation resolved to risk their lives by walking home over the water rather than submit to the living death that awaited them in American slavery. As the tale has it, the tribes people disembark from the ship, and as a group, turned around and walked along the water, traveling in the opposite direction from the arrival port. As they took this march together, the West Africans joined in song. They are reported to have sung a hymn in which the lyrics assert that the water spirits will take them home. While versions of this story vary in nuance, all attest to the courage in rebellion displayed by the enslaved Igbo.
Myth of the flying Africans
Another popular legend associated with Igbo Landing known as the myth of the flying Africans was recorded from various oral sources in the 1930s by members of the Federal Writers Project. In these cases, the Africans are reputed to have grown wings or turned themselves into vultures, before flying back home to freedom in Africa. Wallace Quarterman, an African-American born in 1844 who was interviewed in 1930, when asked if he had heard about the Igbo landing states:
Ain't you heard about them? Well, at that time Mr. Blue he was the overseer and . . . Mr. Blue he go down one morning with a long whip for to whip them good. . . . Anyway, he whipped them good and they got together and stuck that hoe in the field and then . . . rose up in the sky and turned themselves into buzzards and flew right back to Africa. . . . Everybody knows about them.
As Professor Terri L. Snyder notes:
The flying African folktale probably has its historical roots in an 1803 collective suicide by newly imported slaves. A group of Igbo (variously, Ebo or Igbo) captives who had survived the middle passage were sold near Savannah, Georgia, and reloaded onto a small ship bound for St. Simon's Island. Off the coast of the island, the enslaved cargo, who had "suffered much by mismanagement," "rose" from their confinement in the small vessel, and revolted against the crew, forcing them into the water where they drowned. After the ship ran aground, the Igbos "took to the marsh" and drowned themselves—an act that most scholars have understood as a deliberate, collective suicide. The site of their fatal immersion was named Ebos Landing. The fate of those Igbo in 1803 gave rise to a distinctive regional folklore and a place name.
Influence on arts and literature
The actual historical events pertaining to the Igbo slave escape in Dunbar Creek, and the associated myth and pathos, have inspired and influenced the works of a number of African American artists.
Examples include Nobel laureate Toni Morrison who used the myth of the flying Africans as the basis for her novel Song of Solomon and Alex Haley who retells the story in Roots. The events also strongly influence the Paule Marshall novel Praisesong for the Widow, and are retold from the context of the surviving Gullah in the Julie Dash feature-length film Daughters of the Dust. Other contemporary artists that allude to, or have integrated the complete tale of the Flying Africans in their work include Joseph Zobel, Maryse Conde, Jamaica Kincaid and Toni Cade Bambara.
- Maduforo, Okey (10 July 2012). "Freeing the souls of Igbo Landing victims". Daily Independent (Nigeria). Archived from the original on 19 July 2012.
- Filan, Kenaz (2010). The Haitian Vodou Handbook: Protocols for Riding with the Lwa. Inner Traditions / Bear & Co. p. 167. ISBN 9781594779954.
- Powell, Timothy B. (15 June 2004) "Ebos Landing". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Glynn County, Georgia. "History and Lore: Ebo Landing". Retrieved 27 April 2013.
- Snyder, T. L. (1 June 2010). "Suicide, Slavery, and Memory in North America". Journal of American History 97 (1): 39–62. doi:10.2307/jahist/97.1.39.
- Watts, Linda S. (2006). Encyclopedia of American Folklore. Infobase Publishing. p. 211. ISBN 9781438129792.
- Wilentz, Gay (1989). "If You Surrender to the Air: Folk Legends of Flight and Resistance in African American Literature". The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) 16 (1): 21–32. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- "Slave legend draws people for two-day remembrance in coastal Georgia". Savannah Morning News. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
- Project, Georgia Writers' (2010). Drums and shadows : survival studies among the Georgia coastal Negroes. Los Angeles: Indo-European Publishing. ISBN 1604443243.
- McDaniel, Lorna (1 January 1990). "The flying Africans: extent and strength of the myth in the Americas". New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 64 (1-2): 28–40. doi:10.1163/13822373-90002024.
- Royer, Bob (20 May 2012). "Barrier Islands of Georgia". The Cascadia Courier.
- Buxton, Geordie (2007). Haunted Plantations: Ghosts of Slavery and Legends of the Cotton Kingdoms. Arcadia Publishing. p. 63. ISBN 9781439614129.
- The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture, Marquetta L. Goodwine, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October 9, 2002) ISBN 978-0932863256
- Black Folktales, Julius Lester, Grove Press; 1st Evergreen edition (January 10, 1994) ISBN 978-0802132420.
- The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, Virginia Hamilton (Author), Leo Dillon (Illustrator), Diane Dillon Ph.D. (Illustrator), Knopf Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (January 4, 1993), ISBN 978-0679843368.