Friday, September 12, 2014

Speculations About The Origin & Meaning Of "Sangaree" And "Sandy Ree" [song titles]

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a two part series about the Georgia Sea Islands [United States] songs "Sangaree" and "Sandy Ree". This post presents speculations about the origin & meaning of the words "sangaree" & "Sandy Ree" as found in those songs. This post also presents some other examples of the word "sangaree" apart from the use of that word as a song's title and refrain.

Click for Part I of this series. That post showcases the 19th century Black American song "Sangaree" [with later verses] and a 20th century version of that song entitled "Sandy Ree".

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who composed and collected these songs. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

Verse 1: From Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands by Lydia Parrish (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1942, reprinted 1992), page 99 [hereafter given as Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands]

If I live (Sangaree)
Don' get kill' (Sangaree)
I'm goin' back (Sangaree)
Jacksonville (Sangaree)

From Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage by Bessie Jones & Bess Lomax Hawes (1972) pp. 133-135 [hereafter given as Step It Down]

Verse #1:
Way down yonder,
Sandy Ree,
Where I come from,
Sandy Ree,
Girls love boys,
Sandy Ree,
Likee a hog loves corn
Sandy Ree,
The complete lyrics for those versions of those songs can be found in Part I of this series.

These theories are presented along with their citations in the order that I came upon them. The numbers are assigned for referencing purposes only. Any italics were added by me to highlight that particular sentence or sentences.

1. From Step It Down
"Sangaree" is an old dance song and a particular form of dancing to that song.
"..."Sandy Ree" was obviously onee of the Islanders favorite dance; they seemed to reservee their fanciest footwork and their hottest clapping for a "Sandy Ree" session. The word itself may have originally been "sangari," an African term*, but the people from the Sea Islands say that the name came from the way one's feet "scrooch up in the sand: when the Sandy Ree step is down"
Given the similarities between the words "sandy ree" and the word "sangaree" as well as the very close similarities between the structure and much of the lyrics of both versions of this song that I've come across, it seem obvious that "sandy ree" is a folk etymology form of the word "sangaree". Therefore, it's the word "sangaree" whose origin/s and meaning/s that I'm most interested in.

I've read the statement that "i>The word [sangaree] itself may have originally been "sangari," an African term" in several sites that weren't quoting the Step It Down book. That statement probably refers to the work of Lorenzo Dow Turner who pioneered the research into the retention of African words among the Gullah people of the Georgia Sea Islands. Click for information about Lorenzo Dow Turner and his now classic 1949 book Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. Read the entry given as #3 below for more on what may be "the African term" that is alluded to in that statement.

2. From Lyr Req: Sangarie
The word "sangaree is a referent for the [alcoholic drink] "sangria".

3. From i>Slave Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands
"One ring –play uses “sangaree” for its refrain, and in so doing gives a clue of its age. Few people today know that ante-bellum planters were refreshed by this West Indian drink which consisted of a chilled mixture of wine, sugar, nutmeg, and water [note 14]

[book note #14] Julep sangaree was in use before 1840, Dr. L. D. Turner believes however that the song got its refrain from the African word “sangari” meaning a ring dance.
In the first part of that excerpt, Lydia Parrish refers to "sangria". In the second part of that excerpt, she unfortunatly doesn't identify which African language or even which African nation the word "sangari" comes from. I recall reading that Dr. Turner attributed the word "sangari" to the West African nation of Sierra Leone. From the little bit of reading of his work that I've done, I gather that Sierra Leone was the African nation where Dr. L. D. Turner did most of his research. However, I can't find that citation so I'm not sure about that.

4. From Google Book edition of The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Wiencek ["Sangaree is a children's singing game]
That book "is a biographical history which chronicles the racially intertwined Hairston clan of the noted Cooleemee Plantation House which is located between Mocksville and Lexington, North Carolina, at the terminus of SR 1812 on the Yadkin River in Davie County, North Carolina. and the Wikipedia eentry for the Cooleemee Plantation House.

A passage from that book [beginning on p. 233] indicates that the Black Hairston family were as familiar with the children's game "Sangaree" as they were with the game "Ring Around the Rosies". Henry Wiencek writes that the famly didn't know what "sangaree" meant, but that he eventually learned of a Ghanaian folktale which includes the refrain "Sangaree". The author includes that Ghanaian folktale in his book.

5."Sangaree" is a adaptation of a Mali, West Africa
surname from the Bambara language

Among those persons with that last name is the renown Malian vocaist Oumou Sangaré. Click for a pancocojams post which showcases examples of that vocalist's recordings. Another person with that last name happens to be cited in the summary of one of those videos.

I think that it's likely that the word "sangaree" -and the words "sandy ree" may have come from one or more African langagues and that word or words may have also been used for the alcoholic drink known as "sangria". However, I also think that it's likely that most people who sung the song "Sangaree" and later "Sandy Ree" just thought of that word or those words as as nicely sounding rhythmic refrain that has no literal meaning.

Although Elizabeth Cotton's song "Shake Sugaree" is different in structure, lyrics, and most likely tune, than the other two songs that are discussed here, it occurs to me that the word "sugaree" looks and sounds a lot like "sangaree" and "sandy ree".

Neither Elizabeth Cotton nor her granddaughter who sung that song in that record, explained what "shake sugaree" meant. I've presented a number of theories about the meaning of that phrase in an earlier pancocojams post

I now believe that "shake sugaree" pertains to the "favorite dance
["Sandy Ree"/"Sangaree"] to which [the Gullah islanders] seemed to reserve their fanciest footwork and their hottest clapping" [quoting Step It Down].

Prior to doing research for this "Sangaree"/"Sandy Ree" post, I favored the theory that "shake sugaree" came from the word "shavari" meaning a loud community serenade or gathering in celebration of the bride and groom.

The fact that Elizabeth Cotton was an African American from North Carolina [parts of which historically were considered Gullah country] adds further support to the theory that "shake sugaree" and "sangaree" are one in the same. Also, note the use of the word "sangaree" as the name of a North Carolina elementary School, and a North Carolina middle school, and a city in Georgia. All of those locations are in what historically was considered Gullah country.

That a city would name itself "Sangaree" and that school districts would use that word as the name of public schools suggests to me that either the meaning of that word isn't known, or, that word doeesn't have any literal meaning (or no longer has any literal meaning"), or that those people who decided on that city's namee and those schools names didn't think that "sangaree" meant the alcoholic beverage kbown as "sangria".

"Sangaree" was also a title of a 1953 American movie about ante-bellum Georgia. That name could have been chosen because of its lyrical nature, but using that word suggests to me that someone who was affiliated with that movie's production was familiar with the fact that that Black dance song "Sangaree" is documented as being from Georgia [if not also from any other state such as North Carolina].

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  1. Hello. Lorenzo Dow Turner says in 'Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect' that 'sangar' is a Kongo word, which is a language spoken in Angola (despite the similarilty to 'Congo'.) Iti's on page 156 of the 1974 University of Michigan reprint. Hope this helps.

    1. Hello, anonymous.

      Thanks for that information. I don't have that book. Does it say what "sangar" means?