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Modern Voices
Cornelia Bailey on Butler Island and slave life
Resource Bank Contents

Q: Can you tell us something about the ways in which people worked rice on Butler Island?
Cornelia Bailey

A: You had to thresh all of that rice, and you had to put it in the mortar. You had to winnow it, in the large baskets. You were still not allowed to eat any of it. You planted it and harvested and do all that back-breaking work. You could not enjoy it. So the women devised a way of tying the apron around them, and when they tied it up, they tied it in such a way where there was like a pocket here. So when they got the basket and they had took the rice out of the mortar and pestle, put it into the basket for winnowing, then they would shake it up and they'd go:

   Peas, peas.
   Peas and the rice done done, uh-huh.
   Peas, peas.
   Peas and the rice done done, uh-huh.

And when they go with the "uh-huh", some of it would always drop inside that apron pocket. So when they went home at night when work was over, they had enough rice to feed their families. And without being caught. So you have to be a little bit ingenious to feed your family. So the the ladies were ingenious, of course. That's the only way you could do it.

Cornelia Bailey
Folklorist and Slave Descendant

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