The Charleston Boo Hags.  

The legend of the Boo Hags originally comes from South Carolina’s rich Gullah culture. According to the myth, Boo Hags are similar to vampires, except they steal your breath by “ridin” you. They are also supposedly much more frightening in appearance. An expression sometimes used in South Carolina is “don’t let de hag ride ya.” This expression obviously comes from the Boo Hag legend.

If you were ever to meet a Boo Hag, you would recognize them because they have no skin at all and are blood red in color. The Boo Hags are flaxen, which makes them appear raw and also makes them hard to hold on to, and their skin is also very warm. Due to their appearance, they tend to disguise themselves in others’ skins. As they wear the skin as we might a costume, they freely go about their business to find people to “ride.”

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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.]

Eddie Grant Jr. tends his mother’s garden as new condominiums rise along her property line. While Grant’s family has managed to hold onto their land, many other Gullah/Geechee residents have been forced to sell their property due to rampant development and escalating taxes.

A Unique African-American Culture, Hundreds of Years Old, That Could Go Extinct
How Gullah Cuisine Has Transformed Charleston Dining
Exploring the line between shared history and appropriation. by Hillary Dixler, March 22, 2016.
By Hillary Dixler

But while Charleston restaurants are heaped with praise upon praise, award upon award, there’s a deeper story here than just an American city with an outsized food scene. “With the attention given to Mike Lata and Sean Brock, none of the places that people go to first in Charleston are African-American owned,” says DC-based culinary historian Michael Twitty. Indeed the rise of the Charleston restaurant scene in the last 20 years has coincided with a gentrification that’s brought with it higher residential and commercial rents, and changed the demographics of the city from being over 60 percent black in the ‘80s to being only roughly 30 percent black as of the 2014 census. Amid these changes, there’s been a vital constant: the cuisine of the Gullah people, the local descendants of West Africans brought to South Carolina as slaves.


In spite of the work of Gullah cultural advocates like Dennis and Ofunniyin, there’s no denying that when it comes to Charleston cooking, the attention is still largely focused on the work of downtown restaurant chefs; and the buzz surrounding local ingredients is inextricably linked to the fact that award-winning chefs are working with them. Twitty understands that appropriation can be a “dirty word,” but he isn’t shy about using it. “I’ve noticed only certain people get pissed off over this appropriation [conversation],” he continues, “and it’s usually the people who make money off of the transaction of selling the culture.”

When it comes to cuisine, Twitty warns of a pattern he sees of white chefs “projecting ownership and making it about them, not even considering the people who have been marginalized and exploited.” Conversations about the subject often focus on the idea of cooking with local, historically “accurate” ingredients as opposed to the fact that slavery was the genesis for said ingredients arriving and thriving in the South.

The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved Africans who live in the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. Most young Americans will recognize the term ‘Gullah’ from Nickelodeon’s children show Gullah Gullah Island, which starred Ron and Natalie Daise, who also served as the shows cultural advisors, and was inspired by the Gullah culture of Ron Daise’s home of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, part of the Sea Islands.

The name “Gullah” may derive from Angola, where ancestors of some Gullah people likely originated. They created a new culture from the numerous African peoples brought into Charleston and South Carolina. Some scholars have suggested it may come from Gola, an ethnicity living in the border area between present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa, where many of the Gullah ancestors originated. This area was known as the “Grain Coast” or “Rice Coast” to British colonists in the Caribbean and the Southern colonies of North America. The name “Geechee”, another common (emic) name for the Gullah people, may come from Kissi, an ethnicity living in the border area between Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

Because of a period of relative isolation in rural areas, the Gullah developed a culture that has preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage from various peoples, as well as absorbing new influences from the region. They speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and influenced by African languages in grammar and sentence structure. Properly referred to as “Sea Island Creole,” the Gullah language is related to Jamaican Patois, Barbadian Dialect, Bahamian Dialect, Trinidadian Creole, Belizean Creole and the Krio language of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Gullah story-telling, rice-based cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming, and fishing traditions all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures.

The Gullahs have struggled to preserve their traditional culture. In 1979, a translation of the New Testament in the Gullah language began. The American Bible Society published De Nyew Testament in 2005. In November 2011, Healin fa de Soul, a five-CD collection of readings from the Gullah Bible was released.


Although I grew up watching Gullah Gullah Island, I never made the connection between the show, its stars, and the culture of the Sea Islands. It wasn’t until I studied legal pluralism in law school that I would be reintroduced to the Gullah and their customary ways centered on restorative justice.

In a piece titled, Gullah Island Dispute Resolution: An Example of Afrocentric Restorative Justice, the author focuses on the informal dispute resolution processes of the Gullah still living in the region. He examines the Gullah’s approach to justice by breaking down their drastically different ideology. Rather than focusing on the individual, for example, as American and European law tend to do Gullah customary law borrows an ‘Afrocentric’ perspective in that it retains the focus on balancing the local community.

I highly recommend the read if you’re interested in learning about how a stateless society can function.

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. 

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.

The Gullah Geechee’s fight against ‘cultural genocide’

How some descendants of slaves are challenging the assumption their African culture was lost during the slave trade.

By Allison Griner

The cicadas’ song is rising with the midday heat, and Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine flits from one canopy tent to the next. The fish fry is well under way. There are guests to greet, conversations to be had, and help to offer.

Tall, with a head crowned with cowry shells and robes that flow to the ground, Goodwine looks every bit like a head of state. And that is in part because she is one. The Gullah Geechee Nation in the southeast United States elected her as its head pun de bodee: its queen mother, chieftess and spokesperson.  [Continue reading article at Al Jazeera.]

See also:


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.
This page has extra links that are worth looking at too!

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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Film about South Carolina’s Gullah history picked up by PBS

By Abigail Darlington

A film produced in the Lowcountry about the origins of Gullah culture in South Carolina was recently picked up by PBS stations nationwide.

“Circle Unbroken: A Gullah Journey from Africa to America” is a part musical, part documentary film produced by Ron Small.  [Continue reading article at The Post and Courier.]

My Beef With Kwanzaa.

Before anybody starts, ALL HOLIDAYS ARE MADE UP. There is no tree or river from which we harvest holidays. But while I do think Black American/African American/descendants of enslaved Africans need our own holidays, Kwanzaa isn’t the one for me. It’s nice, but it kind of misses a key point. 

Kwanzaa was created out of a desire to connect with the cultures we lost in the centuries of kidnapping and oppression. That, I can completely sympathize with. But aside from the problems with appropriating East African traditions when most of us hail from West Africa, simply skipping over our enslaved past and ignoring the remnants we were able to preserve is something I have a problem with. 

The Gullah/Geechee culture has been a living repository for the remnants of the languages and customs we have lost, yet there is no holiday for us to celebrate them. Kwanzaa skips over our enslaved past as if it is something to be ashamed of. If anybody needs to be ashamed of our enslaved past, it’s the people who did it, and the people who continue to benefit from it. And I’ll give you a hint: those are not the folk who get followed around stores.

I like the example of many Jewish holidays, that celebrate the times when they survived oppression and near genocide. I wish we had holidays that honored the survivors of Slocum and Greenwood. I wish we had an annual celebration of the Underground Railroad. I wish Black parents would send their kids down to the Sea Islands for the summer so they can learn their culture, the way that immigrant families have kids spend summers in their ancestral country. While stitched together from the torn remnants of cultures long lost, Black American culture is so vibrant and sustaining that people have spent centuries copying it, from the white mistresses who copied their male slaves hairstyles to, well, Ignant Australia. Instead of just complaining when it gets appropriated, let’s celebrate ourselves throughout the year.