gullah-culture

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A Unique African-American Culture, Hundreds of Years Old, That Could Go Extinct 

By Jordan G. Teicher

Growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, in the 1970s, Pete Marovich often overheard locals speaking “a rapid-fire language that sounded similar to English.” At the time, he had no idea then that it was a dialect that had been passed down from their enslaved African ancestors, or that it was just a small piece of the distinct and rich culture of the Gullah people, who’d maintained a strong connection to their roots as, generation after generation, they remained along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia (where they’re known as Geechee).

When Marovich moved to Hilton Head Island in the 1990s, he started meeting Gullah people and learning about their history and culture. Brought to America from “the primarily rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa,” the Gullah/Geechee people worked the plantations of the American southeast, where they “developed a separate creole language and distinct culture patterns that included more of their African cultural traditions than the African-American populations in other parts of the United States.”

[Continue reading article and view more pictures at Slate Magazine.]

McIntosh County Shouters

Georgia

A shout or ring shout is an ecstatic, transcendent religious ritual, first practiced by African slaves in the West Indies and the United States, in which worshipers move in a circle while shuffling and stomping their feet and clapping their hands.

Despite the name, shouting aloud is not an essential part of the ritual.

The ring shout was practiced in some African American churches into the 20th century, and it continues to the present among the Gullah people of the Sea Islands.

Beauty, Her Basket (2004) by Sandra Belton, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera.

In this book, a young girl is spending the summer with her Nana and cousin out on the Sea Islands. No particular island is named, but for those uninitiated, the Sea Islands are a chain of 100+ islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. The Gullah culture and language still survives there to this day. According to wikipedia: “The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African-American community in the United States” and “Gullah storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures.”

Beauty, Her Basket is an story of cultural resistance to slavery and the importance of passing down and preserving Gullah culture over generations. Our young protagonist wants to learn how to weave sea grass baskets and know the story of Beauty, Her Basket. Her Nana tells her.

Nana’s voice is quiet. “The old blacks. The ones made to slave. Like the father before my father and the father before that. They bring the secrets of growing the rice with them from Africa and know Beauty, Her Basket will help.”

… “They bring the knowing of how to make nets for catching the fish. Like Uncle Richard make the nets on this side.”

… “The old blacks bring a lot of knowing with them. How to carve the wood and build the boat and make the pots for carrying the water from the sea.”

…Nana touches the flower in my hair. “Every morning I put a flower in my basket. Beauty from this side. Something to go with beauty from the other side. Beauty, Her Basket.”

I look into Nana’s face. I want to understand. 

Her voice is soft. “So much ugly in the slave times. Much too much ugly. But the basket like the flower— always a child of beauty. No matter what.”

I haven’t come across Cozbi Cabrera before so I was in for a gorgeous surprise. Her illustrations are lyrical and sway with the ocean breeze of the story, creating a perfect counter-point to the beauty that grows and survives the harshest of times. In fact, there are five double page illustrations without any print at all so that we can stop and absorb all the richness of the artwork alone. 

Beauty, Her Basket is a triumph. It is a prayer. Belton and Cabrera weave their words and art together like master basket-makers. We all can be thankful. 

youtube

No matter how many things you want to do, you can only do one thing at a time. -Gullah proverb

This week’s #WeeklyTongue is Gullah/Geechee, in light of US Independence day on the 4th. Gullah is also called “Sea Island Creole” by academics. It’s an English-based creole similar to Jamaican Patois, Trinidadian and other English-based Carribean Creoles. Gullah speakers are found on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah are descendants of West African slaves. The Gullah and their language are referred to as Gullah in South Carolina whereas they’re called Geechee in Georgia. The Bible has been translated to Gullah too, yet they have little online presence. 

Check out this beautiful video of Caroline speaking Gullah and English from our channel. 

The Gullah are well known for their sweetgrass baskets and their storytelling. One of the stories explains why a cat doesn’t wash his face before breakfast and it goes something along the lines of this…

"Why Bro Cat na da wash e face of e eat e brekwas"

Bro rat fell into Bro Cat’s breakfast and Bro Cat wanted to eat him. Bro Rat saved himself by saying “Maan a nina way roun de edge ob de barrel fa lok ten an a skip an a faal een. Eef you hep me fa git outa ya, I let you eat me fa brekwas” = “Man, I was curious about what was inside the barrel and slipped and fell in. If you help me out, I’ll let you eat me”.

Once Bro Rat was out of the barrel, Bro Cat wanted to eat him but he said that Bro Cat would choke on his wet hairs, so he should sit in the sun to dry. In the mean time, Bro Cat should wash his face. While Bro Cat was washing his face, naturally Bro Rat ran away. This is why cat’s don’t wash their face before breakfast anymore. [Source: Gullah Culture in America]

The origin of the word Gullah is vague, but most historians agree that the Gullah language has African roots.

Here is an impressive collection of Gullah words. http://gullahtours.com/gullah/gullah-words
This page has extra links that are worth looking at too! http://studysc.org/elementary/gullah-culture

Let’s celebrate the beauty of Gullah for this week’s #WeeklyTongue!

Boo Hag
- Ghosts, Ghouls and Demons

- Origin: Folklore of South Carolina’s Gullah culture.

Description: Skinless, so, red in its natural colour. They shroud themselves in human skin and use this cover until it starts to rot.

Legend has it that Boo Hags are similar to vampires. Instead of blood, they suck a humans breath, by riding the chest of their victim. There is a South Carolina term – ‘don’t let de hag ride ya’. The hag will enter the victim’s home through a small crack or crevice. Then the hag will make her way to the victim’s room and position herself over the sleeping victim and begin to suck their breath. As the victim is pinned down they are rendered helpless, suffocating in their dream state, or nightmare state. If a victim struggles, instead of leaving them to regain energy, the Boo Hag will strip their skin and use it as her shroud.

The Boo Hag experience is very similar to Old Hag Syndrome. To ward off the Boo Hag it is said that a straw broom beside the bed will apparently distract her, as she can’t help but count the strands of straw.

(As always there will be varations in the telling from group to group.)

Written by Nic Hume of APPI - Australian Paranormal Phenomenon Investigators
Put together by Ashley Hall

Photo: Depiction of the Boo Hag waving a victims skin.

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The “Gullah” is a name given to slaves who were brought to the South to work on the rice plantations. During the 1800s, lowcountry rice was known as “Waccamaw Gold.” The South Carolina Lowcountry from Georgetown area to Beaufort was the one of the largest producers of rice in the world, second only to China.

They came from places that are now known as Angola, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, and Senegal. They brought their folklore, traditions, and beliefs with them. Gullahs practice a unique blend of Christianity, herbalism (herbal medicine), and folk magic (some call this black magic or hoodoo, also known as Lowcountry Voodoo). Many of the descendents of these men and women still call the lowcountry home. It is believed that roughly 250,000 Gullah still live on sea islands on the northern tip of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. In Florida, and Georgia, they are also known as Geechee. But some dispute the accuracy of this count, citing a much smaller population.

It is uncertain where the name “Gullah” came from. Some believe that “Gullah” was shortened from “Angola,” a region on the West African Coast. Some believe that the term derives from a Liberian group, the “Golas,” who also come from the West African Coast. Still others believe Gullah was the language spoken by slaves and that the term later came to encompass their culture and way of way, as well.

Most of the Gullah are deep in the Lowcountry but there is a Gullah community on Sandy Island, which is thirty miles southeast of Myrtle Beach. The 12,000-acre island is mostly state-owned, but twenty-five percent of it remains privately owned by Gullah descendents. Electricity didn’t reach the island until 1967 and there was no running water until 2001. Many attempts have been made to develop this lovely island both for residential and commercial use, but that has not happened and hopefully never will. Kids are transported by the only remaining public school boat in South Carolina over to the mainland where they attend school. They live in three island settlements: Mount Arena, Annie Village, and Georgia Hill. The largest population of Gullah descedents, about 30 families, live in Mt. Arena. Wildlife includes lots of deer, bear, reptiles, and birds, such as ospreys and eagles. The island, which sits just three miles west of the Atlantic Ocean, is full of maritime forests and wetlands. The Gullah collected healing herbs from the marshes and forests and many of the inhabitants still rely on these remedies.

Shrimper & Son, circa 1978

Fiber print

20” x 24”

61 black-and-white photographs by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, featuring Daufuskie Island, a unique, national landmark off the South Carolina coast inhabited by a community whose distinctive language and culture remained strongly influenced by their African heritage. The collection, an important historical record of the last bastion of Gullah/Geechee tradition, will be installed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in late 2015.

kickstarter

Gullah Girl Tea - A Brooklyn based loose leaf tea company dedicated to creating delicious, healing tea blends while honoring Gullah culture. - http://kck.st/1A3YGOO