“Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice” in the South Carolina Rice Fields!

John Wineglass and I set out for South Carolina in late August, the hottest and buggiest time of the year. He wanted to approximate as best we could the working conditions to which our ancestors had been subjected.  There had been plenty of rain, so the mosquitoes cooperated! Thankfully, the snakes and alligators stayed inside; it was probably too hot for them.

 Thanks to my colleague, Dr. Travis Folk of Folk Land Management, Inc. we were able to tour managed and unmanaged rice fields that have gone back to cypress and sweet gum tree forests and record sounds of insects, birds, and water flowing in and out of different parts of the hydraulic irrigation system.

The highlights of my trip were:

  • learning the differences between cypress trees (with their “knees” sticking out of the soil or water)
  • standing next to a cut down cypress tree and imagining how enslaved men cut it down with hand tools
  • driving an air boat through tall grasses in the rice fields!

I have been researching rice and rice farmers and tramping through rice fields on both sides of the Atlantic for the past 25 years.  Hanging out with my artistic collaborators, John, and my scientist collaborators, Travis, has opened my eyes and ears to the music of the rice fields! It is transforming “Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice.” And, it is changing how I write history

Author: Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black

Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black is an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History. Her research specialties are pre-colonial and West African history and their connections to the African Diaspora. Fields-Black has written extensively about rice farmers in early modern West Africa, as well as Africans enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations. Fields-Black is currently writing an epic history of the Gullah Geechee from their Western African origins to the publication of Lorenzo Dow Turner's study of the Gullah Geechee language