Gleanings in Buddha-fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East

Houghton, Mifflin

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Houghton, Mifflin
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Dec 31, 1897
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Gombo Zhebes : Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs

Any one who has ever paid a flying visit to New Orleans probably knows something about those various culinary preparations whose generic name is “Gombo”—compounded of many odds and ends, with the okra-plant, or true gombo for a basis, but also comprising occasionally “losé, zepinard, laitie,” and the other vegetables sold in bunches in the French market. At all events any person who has remained in the city for a season must have become familiar with the nature of “gombo filé,” “gombo févi,” and “gombo aux herbes,” or as our colored cook calls it, “gombo zhèbes”—for she belongs to the older generation of Creole cuisinières, and speaks the patois in its primitive purity, without using a single “r.” Her daughter, who has been to school, would pronounce it gombo zhairbes:—the modern patois is becoming more and more Frenchified, and will soon be altogether forgotten, not only throughout Louisiana, but even in the Antilles. It still, however, retains originality enough to be understood with difficulty by persons thoroughly familiar with French; and even those who know nothing of any language but English, readily recognize it by the peculiarly rapid syllabification and musical intonation. Such English-speaking residents of New Orleans seldom speak of it as “Creole”: they call it gombo, for some mysterious reason which I have never been able to explain satisfactorily. The colored Creoles of the city have themselves begun to use the term to characterize the patois spoken by the survivors of slavery days. Turiault tells us that in the towns of Martinique, where the Creole is gradually changing into French, the Bitacos, or country negroes who still speak the patois nearly pure, are much ridiculed by their municipal brethren:—Ça ou ka palé là, chè, c’est nèg:—Ça pas Créole! (“What you talk is ‘nigger,’ my dear:—that isn’t Creole!”) In like manner a young Creole negro or negress of New Orleans might tell an aged member of his race: “Ça qui to parlé ça pas Créole: ça c’est gombo!” I have sometimes heard the pure and primitive Creole also called “Congo” by colored folks of the new generation.

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