Nov 24 2009

Punkah: “The Wing of the Female”

Oakland Plantation

Oakland Plantation

The “punkah” is a ceiling fan worked by pulling a cord to stir the breeze and to “shoo-flies”. In the South it was often called a “shoo-fly“. It is usually rectangular in shape and varies in width from 2 to 4 feet and length from 3 to 5 feet, tapering toward the top. It is suspended from a gear bolted to the ceiling or to a beam. A ring at the top of the “punkah” allows a cord to be connected and run to the ceiling enabling the operator (often an enslaved child) to keep the “punkah in motion. It was usually located above the table in the center of the dining room. (Plantation Memo: Plantation Life in Louisiana 1750-1970 and other matter by Francois Mignon).

The word “punkah” comes from Hindu and literally means “a feminine wing“. It “flapped” its way to popularity westward from India to the New World.

The Tippler Toppled

The “Punkah” could represent a social hazard. Francois Mignon tells of a Mississippi physician, who jotted down in an unpublished journal just such an event. In 1804  the doctor was dining at Windy Hill Manor, the plantation home of Colonel Benjanica Osman, friend of Aaron Burr.  According to his journal, the gentlemen lingered over their port following dinner, and as the host leaned forward as he stood up, the “punkah” struck him across the forehead sending him sprawling and unconscious under his own table.

You can see a wonderful “Punkah” at Oakland, the French Creole Antebellunm Plantation that was the home of the Prud’homme family for nine generations and now a National Park. When you contact Barbara, ask for the Plantation Tour. She will be happy to schedule Oakland and Melrose Plantations when you Tour Natchitoches with BarbaraMelrose Plantation is where Francois Mignon lived as well as the folk artist Clementine Hunter. See the Yucca House where Mignon lived and worked. Hunter’s house is there as well.

Melrose Plantation on Plantation Tours

Melrose Plantation on Plantation Tours

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Natchitoches Travel Back In Time

Natchitoches Travel Back In Time


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