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THE GRACE OF COINCOIN: THE ROLE OF AN AFRICAN WOMAN'S SPIRITUALITY AND ITS IMPACT ON CREOLE CULTURE

" Turning now to Africa, we find the legend of the creation of mankind out of clay among the Shilluks of the White Nile, who ingeniously explain the different complexions of the various races by the different coloured clay out of which they were fashioned. They say that the creator Juok moulded all men of earth, and that while he was engaged in the work of creation he wandered about the world. In the land of the whites he found a pure white earth or sand, and out of it he shaped white men. Then he came to the land of Egypt and out of the mud of the Nile he made red or brown men. Lastly, he came to the land of the Shilluks, and finding their black earth he created black men out of it. The way in which he modeled men was this. He took a lump of earth and said to himself, 'I will make man, but he must be able to walk and run and go out into the fields, so I will give him two long legs, like the flamingo.' Having done so, he thought again, 'The man must be able to cultivate his millet, so I will give him two arms, one to hold the hoe, and the other to tear up the weeds.' So he gave him two arms. Then he thought again, 'The man must be able to see his millet, so I will give him two eyes.' He did so accordingly. Next he thought to himself, 'The man must be able to eat his millet, so I will give him a mouth.' And a mouth he gave him accordingly. After that he thought within himself, 'The man must be able to dance and speak and sing and shout, and for these purposes he must have a tongue.' And a tongue he gave him accordingly. Lastly- the deity said to himself, 'The man must be able to hear the noise of the dance and the speech of the great men, and for that he needs two ears.' So two ears he gave him, and sent him out into the world a perfect man.'1

Studies of the origin and development of African descent communities, culture, and spirituality in Louisiana have been limited. This is a preliminary examination of the evidence for pre-colonial arrivals, the African slave trade to these regions, and the emergence of distinguishing African-Creole culture.

This paper sets as its principal task -- within the parameters of African-Creole ethnography -- an examination of social being as narrative for African-Creole stories about cultural identity. Stories such as those of Maria Thérèze Coincoin become the analyzable material not only for understanding these regionally and historically distinct societies, but also for the personhood and spirituality of the culture. We will move through the character of, Coincoin, the slave, her village, race, nationalism, femininity, motherhood, and healing.

Coincoin, the name was believed to have been corrupted by French and Spanish spellers. The name Coincoin is believed to be the phonetic equivalent of Ko Kwē, a name reserved for the second-born daughter by the Glidizi dialect of the Ewe linguistic group which occupied the coastal region of Togo. Marie Thérèze, called Coincoin, was, according to the church and civil record of the Natchitoches post, the second-born daughter of François and Marie François2

In Togoland the dimensions of the Ewe dyad of bought people and parents of the house are not the same as those of Western created master and slave relationships? 3According to Judy Rosenthal an Afa diviner in Togoland, the homeland of Coincoin, a shrine to worship the spirits of slaves once owned by slave owners in the United States should be prepared. Their spirits are powerful; they can help, heal, and protect you when you need them, if you honor them fully.

In Togo both descendants of slaves and descendants of slave owners must give time to the slave spirits, take care of them, and lavish ceremony upon them. Coincoin is unique because she was both slave and slave owner. In Natchitoches whiteness was a major element of identity in the racist west, which is a culturally constructed notion. With African cultural practices and worldview many of the Ewe spiritual beliefs in all likelihood influenced her beliefs as well. The African slave spirits were not foreign to the Creole culture. Hospitality, for instance, remains a manifestation of African-Creole culture. No one knows where Coincoin is buried which may have meaning within this belief structure. The various intertwined identities made vital in Cane River, Louisiana imply that religion and spirituality played a central role in the cultures of West Africa. as well.

In his memoirs, Olaudah Equiano, describes Ibo religion in present- day eastern Nigeria and observes that certain aspects of African religious belief resemble those found in Judaism and Christianity. According to Equiano, "as to religion, the natives believe that there is one Creator of all things, and that he lives in the sun, and is girded round with a belt, that he may never eat or drink; but according to some, he smokes a pipe, which is our own favorite luxury. They believe he governs events, especially our deaths or captivity. Some believe in the transmigration of souls in a certain degree. Those spirits, which are not transmigrated, such as their dear friends or relations, they believe always attend them, and guard them from the bad spirits of their foes. For this reason, they always, before eating, put some small portion of the meat, and pour some of their drink, on the ground for them; and they often make oblations of the blood of beasts or fowls at their
graves. "

We compute the year from the day on which the sun crosses the line; and, on its setting that evening, there is a general shout throughout the land. The people at the same time made a great noise with rattles not unlike the basket rattles…and hold up their hands to heaven for a blessing. It is then the greatest offerings are made; and those children whom our wise men foretell will be fortunate are then presented to different people....They have many offerings, particularly at full
moons, generally two at harvest, before the fruits are taken out of the ground; and, when any young animals are killed, sometimes they offer up part of them as a sacrifice...." 4 Though we had no places of public worship, we had priests and magicians, or wise men… they were held in great reverence by the people. They calculated our time and foretold events...

These magicians were also our doctors or physicians. They practiced bleeding by cupping; and were very successful in healing wounds and expelling poisons. They had likewise some extraordinary method of discovering jealousy, theft, and poisoning; the success of which no doubt they derived from the unbounded influence over the credulity and superstition of the people.

The law of retaliation obtained almost universally and even their religion appeared to have shed upon us a ray of its glory, though broken and spent in its passage, or eclipsed by the cloud with which time, tradition, and ignorance, might have enveloped it: for we had our circumcision: we had also our sacrifices and burnt- offerings, our washings and purifications. (...)

_ { {{©May, 2003 Patricia Heisser Metoyer, Ph.D.}} }
_ Luke Metoyer, Sr.

_ A Paper Presentation
_ Creole Studies Conference
_ October 23-25, 2003

_ Northwestern State University of Louisiana
_ Tulane University
_ Creole Heritage Center

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