The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #48893   Message #843275
Posted By: Stilly River Sage
07-Dec-02 - 08:50 PM
Thread Name: Origin: Limber Jim
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Limber Jim: History & Lyrics
Turtle Old Man,

Since you bounced us here from a different thread, I'll comment here.

I read through this fairly quickly, and see that much of it has origins in North Carolina and Ohio. But there are aspects of this that take me down the Mississippi to the Choctaw region of Louisiana and Mississippi (and you might find something related in other Muskogean speaking people). The connection is the number of references that seem to tie into Brer Rabbit stories. Those originated with Choctaw people, who mixed freely with the black slave population. The Brer Rabbit stories were absorbed into the culture, and not until they were appropriated by white writer Chandler Harris did they become known by a wider audience.

There is a lot of signifying in the verses presented here, substituting an innocuous animal when actually representing something more serious (often to do with white owners or overseers). For many people that didn't make sense (it wasn't supposed to make sense to white ears) and they were changed by that famous folk process to make a bit more sense. This is largely a guess, based on what I know of the appropriation of literature from one culture to the next (happens all of the time) and from sources like Henry Louis Gates' The Signifying Monkey.

In addition to this, there are references that could apply anywhere, or could have more origin-story meanings, such as the "Way down yonder in a hollow log, redbird danced with a green bullfrog" line. That may be exactly what it looks like, a nonsense line, or it could be a hint to the origin stories and eschatology of Choctaw, who carried logs in their travel from their original land to the Northwest--every morning they stood then dropped the log to determine the direction they should travel. They crossed logs across the Black River on their way to the promissed land, and as they migrated to the region they live in now, may even have picked up stories about emerging as a people from in the earth through a hollow log.

I realise this is really reaching, but you did ask. I did a lot of research on Choctaw eschatology and origins when I was working on a scholarly paper a few years ago about a book by a Choctaw friend and author, and for my master's thesis in English (about American Indian Literature). There are lots of watery references that would certainly be in keeping with the various swampy rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana.