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More on the Gullah People (wikipedia)
Blog Posted:1/13/2013 3:21:00 PM
This is several articles long and is more than I thought would be. One might wish to scan down and catch the parts of interest. I myself have read it all and find fascinating. Even though I have known of the Gullah for a long time I have never taken the time to read about in detail. Somewhere down the way is a list of famous people with Gullah roots. I was surprised to see Michelle Obama listed there.
The Gullah are the descendants of slaves who live in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands.
Historically, the Gullah region extended from the Cape Fear area on the coast of North Carolina south to the vicinity of Jacksonville on the coast of Florida; but today the Gullah area is confined to the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry. The Gullah people and their language are also called Geechee, which some scholars speculate is related to the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. The term "Geechee" is an emic term used by speakers (and can have a derogatory connotation depending on usage). "Gullah" is a term that was originally used to designate the language spoken by Gullah and Geechee people, but over time it has become a way for speakers to formally identify both their language and themselves as a distinctive group of people. The Georgia communities further identify themselves as either "Saltwater Geechee" or "Freshwater Geechee" depending on their proximity to the coast.
The Gullah have preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage. They speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and significant influences from African languages in grammar and sentence structure. Properly referred to as "Sea Island Creole," the Gullah language is related to Jamaican Creole, Barbadian Dialect, Bahamian Dialect, and the Krio language of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Gullah storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures.
• 1 History
o 1.1 African roots
o 1.2 Origin of Gullah culture
o 1.3 Gullah customs and traditions
o 1.4 Civil War period
o 1.5 Modern times
o 1.6 Celebrating Gullah culture
o 1.7 Cultural survival
• 2 Gullah cultural topics
• 3 Gullah historical topics
• 4 Gullah historical figures
• 5 Gullah leaders, artists, and cultural activists
• 6 Famous African Americans with Gullah roots
• 7 Further reading
• 8 Other media
• 9 References
The name "Gullah" may derive from Angola, where some Gullah people may have originated. Some scholars have also suggested it comes from Gola, an ethnic group living in the border area between Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa, another region where many of the Gullah ancestors originated. The name "Geechee", another common (emic) name for the Gullah people, may come from Kissi, an ethnic group living in the border area between Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
Some scholars have also suggested Native American origins for these words. The Spanish called the South Carolina and Georgia coastal region Guale after a Native American tribe. The Ogeechee River, a prominent geographical feature in coastal Georgia, takes its name from a Creek Indian word.
Most of the Gullahs' early ancestors in what is now the United States were brought to the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry through the ports of Charleston and Savannah as slaves, making their way from Sierra Leone by way of Brazil. Charleston was one of the most important ports in North America for the transatlantic slave trade. Up to half of the enslaved Africans brought into what is now the United States came through that port. A great majority of the remaining flowed through Savannah, which was also active in the slave trade.
The largest group of enslaved Africans brought into the port cities of Charleston and Savannah came from the West African rice-growing region, centered primarily in present-day Sierra Leone, through Bunce Island, the most significant castle for slaves transported to the modern day United States. The people had cultivated African rice in this section of West Africa for possibly up to 3,000 years. South Carolina and Georgia rice planters once called this region the "Rice Coast", indicating its importance as a source of skilled African labor for the North American rice industry. Once planters discovered that rice would grow in the southern U.S. regions, they believed that enslaved Africans from rice-growing regions would be useful, given their knowledge of rice-growing techniques.
In 1750, Henry Laurens and Richard Oswald, British-American colonists, opened a major slave castle just up the Sierra Leone River on what was then called Bance Island (now Bunce Island). The ancestors for up to 80 percent of African Americans in the United States whose heritage comes from the slave trade are believed to have been transported from here.
Origin of Gullah culture
The Gullah region once extended from SE North Carolina to NE Florida.
The Gullah people have been able to preserve much of their African cultural heritage because of geography, climate, and patterns of importation of enslaved Africans. Taken from the Western region of Africa in primarily the Krio and Mende populations of what is today Sierra Leone as slaves and transported to some areas of Brazil (including Bahia) the Gullah-Gheechee slaves were then sold to slave owners in what was then Charlestowne, South Carolina. However, according the British historian P.E.H. Hair, Gullah culture, although formed in large part by Sierra Leonean customs, seems be a mixture to elements of different African cultures. So, the Gullahs' ancestors must have been from many different tribes, or ethnic groups, in Africa. Those from the Rice Coast, the largest group, included the Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Baga, Susu, Limba, Temne, Mende, Vai, Kissi, Kpelle, etc.—but there were also slaves brought from the Gold Coast, Calabar, Congo Republic, and Angola. 
By the middle of the 18th century, the South Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry was covered by thousands of acres of rice fields. African farmers from the "Rice Coast" brought the skills for cultivation and tidal irrigation that made rice one of the most successful industries in early America.
The subtropical climate that made the Lowcountry such an excellent place for rice production also made it vulnerable to the spread of malaria and yellow fever. These tropical diseases, endemic in Africa, were carried by slaves transported to the colonies by slave ships. Mosquitoes in the swamps and inundated rice fields of the Lowcountry picked up and spread the diseases to English and European settlers, as well. Malaria and yellow fever soon became endemic in the region.
Because of having built some immunity in their homeland, Africans were more resistant to tropical fevers than the Europeans. In addition, because planters devoted large areas of land to plantations for rice and indigo, the white population of the Lowcountry and Sea Islands grew at a slower rate than the black population. More and more enslaved Africans were brought as laborers onto the Sea Islands and into the Lowcountry as the rice industry expanded. By about 1708, South Carolina had a black majority. Coastal Georgia later acquired its own black majority after rice cultivation expanded there in the mid-18th century, and malaria and yellow fever became endemic. Fearing disease, many white planters left the Lowcountry during the rainy spring and summer months when fever ran rampant. Others lived mostly in cities such as Charleston.
They left their African "rice drivers," or overseers, in charge of the plantations. Working on large plantations with hundreds of laborers, and with African traditions reinforced by new imports from the same regions, the Gullahs developed a culture in which elements of African languages, cultures, and community life were preserved to a high degree. Their culture was quite different from that of slaves in states like Virginia and North Carolina, where slaves lived in smaller settlements and had more sustained and frequent interactions with whites.
Gullah customs and traditions
African influences are found in every aspect of the Gullahs' traditional way of life:
• The Gullah word guber for peanut derives from the KiKongo word N'guba.
• Gullah rice dishes called "red rice" and "okra soup" are similar to West African "jollof rice" and "okra soup". Jollof rice is a style of cooking brought by the Wolof people of West Africa.
• The Gullah version of "gumbo" has its roots in African cooking. "Gumbo" is derived from a word in the Umbundu language of Angola, meaning okra, one of the dish's main ingredients.
• Gullah rice farmers once made and used mortar and pestles and winnowing fanners similar in style to tools used by West African rice farmers.
• Gullah beliefs about "hags" and "haunts" are similar to African beliefs about malevolent ancestors, witches, and "devils" (forest spirits).
• Gullah "root doctors" protect their clients against dangerous spiritual forces by using ritual objects similar to those employed by African medicine men.
• Gullah herbal medicines are similar to traditional African remedies.
• The Gullah "seekin" ritual is similar to coming of age ceremonies in West African secret societies, such as the Poro and Sande.
• The Gullah ring shout is similar to ecstatic religious rituals performed in West and Central Africa.
• Gullah stories about "Bruh Rabbit" are similar to West and Central African trickster tales about the clever and conniving rabbit, spider, and tortoise.
• Gullah spirituals, shouts, and other musical forms employ the "call and response" method commonly used in African music.
• Gullah "sweetgrass baskets" are coil straw baskets made by the descendants of slaves in the South Carolina Lowcountry, and are almost identical to coil baskets made by the Wolof people in Senegal.
• Gullah "strip quilts" mimic the design of cloth woven with the traditional strip loom used throughout West Africa. The famous kente cloth from Ghana is woven on the strip loom.
• The folk song Michael Row the Boat Ashore (or Michael Row Your Boat Ashore) comes from the Gullah culture.
Civil War period
When the U.S. Civil War began, the Union rushed to blockade Confederate shipping. White planters on the Sea Islands, fearing an invasion by the US naval forces, abandoned their plantations and fled to the mainland. When Union forces arrived on the Sea Islands in 1861, they found the Gullah people eager for their freedom, and eager as well to defend it. Many Gullahs served with distinction in the Union Army's First South Carolina Volunteers. The Sea Islands were the first place in the South where slaves were freed. Long before the War ended, Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania came down to start schools for the newly freed slaves. Penn Center, now a Gullah community organization on Saint Helena Island, South Carolina, began as the very first school for freed slaves.
After the Civil War ended, the Gullahs' isolation from the outside world actually increased in some respects. The rice planters on the mainland gradually abandoned their farms and moved away from the area because of labor issues and hurricane damage to crops. Free blacks were unwilling to work in the dangerous and disease-ridden rice fields. A series of hurricanes devastated the crops in the 1890s. Left alone in remote rural areas in the Lowcountry, the Gullahs continued to practice their traditional culture with little influence from the outside world well into the 20th Century.
In recent years the Gullah people—led by Penn Center and other determined community groups—have been fighting to keep control of their traditional lands. Since the 1960s, resort development on the Sea Islands has threatened to push Gullahs off family lands they have owned since emancipation. They have fought back against uncontrolled development on the islands through community action, the courts and the political process.
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. This collection includes Scipcha Wa De Bring Healing ("Scripture That Heals") and the Gospel of John (De Good Nyews Bout Jedus Christ Wa John Write). This was also the most extensive collection of Gullah recordings, surpassing those of Lorenzo Dow Turner. The recordings help people develop an interest in the culture because people might not have known how to pronounce some words.
The Gullahs achieved another victory in 2006 when the U.S. Congress passed the "Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act" that provides $10 million over 10 years for the preservation and interpretation of historic sites relating to Gullah culture. The Heritage Corridor will extend from southern North Carolina to northern Florida. The project will be administered by the US National Park Service with extensive consultation with the Gullah community.
Gullahs have also reached out to West Africa. Gullah groups made three celebrated "homecomings" to Sierra Leone in 1989, 1997, and 2005. Sierra Leone is at the heart of the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa where many of the Gullahs' ancestors originated. Bunce Island, the British slave castle in Sierra Leone, sent many African captives to Charleston and Savannah during the mid- and late 18th century. These dramatic homecomings were the subject of three documentary films—Family Across the Sea (1990), The Language You Cry In (1998), and Priscilla's Homecoming (in production).
Celebrating Gullah culture
VOA report about an exhibit about Gullah culture
Over the years, the Gullahs have attracted many historians, linguists, folklorists, and anthropologists interested in their rich cultural heritage. Many academic books on that subject have been published. The Gullah have also become a symbol of cultural pride for blacks throughout the United States and a subject of general interest in the media. This has given rise to countless newspaper and magazine articles, documentary films, and children's books on Gullah culture, and to a number of popular novels set in the Gullah region.
Gullah people now organize cultural festivals every year in towns up and down the Lowcountry. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, for instance, hosts a "Gullah Celebration" in February. It includes "De Aarts ob We People" show; the "Ol’ Fashioned Gullah Breakfast"; "National Freedom Day," the "Gullah Film Fest", "A Taste of Gullah" food and entertainment, a "Celebration of Lowcountry Authors and Books," an "Arts, Crafts & Food Expo," and "De Gullah Playhouse". Beaufort, South Carolina hosts the oldest and the largest celebration "The Original Gullah Festival" in May, and nearby Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina holds "Heritage Days" in November. Other Gullah festivals are celebrated on James Island, South Carolina and Sapelo Island, Georgia.
But Gullah culture is also being celebrated elsewhere throughout the United States. Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana recently held an event to showcase the Gullah culture. Purdue's Black Cultural Center maintains a bibliography of Gullah publications as well. Metro State College in Denver, Colorado recently hosted a conference on Gullah culture, called "The Water Brought Us: Gullah History and Culture", which featured a panel of Gullah scholars and cultural activists. These events in Indiana and Colorado are typical of the attention Gullah culture now receives on a regular basis throughout the United States.
Gullah culture has proven to be particularly resilient. Gullah traditions are strong not only in the rural areas of the Lowcountry mainland and on the Sea Islands, but also in urban areas like Charleston and Savannah. But some of the old fashioned ways have persisted even among Gullah people who have left the Lowcountry and moved far away. Many Gullahs migrated to New York starting at the beginning of the 20th century, and these urban migrants have not lost their identity. Gullahs have their own neighborhood churches in Harlem, Brooklyn, and Queens. Typically they send their children back to rural communities in South Carolina and Georgia during the summer months to be reared by grandparents, uncles and aunts. Gullah people living in New York also frequently return to the Lowcountry to retire. Second- and third-generation Gullahs in New York often maintain many of their traditional customs and sometimes still speak the Gullah language.
Gullah cultural topics
• Gullah Gullah Island
• Daughters of the Dust
• Golden Isles of Georgia
• Boo Hag
Gullah historical topics
• List of topics related to Black and African people
• Lorenzo Dow Turner
• Gullah Language
• Ambrose E. Gonzales
• Virginia Mixson Geraty
• Peter H. Wood
• Joseph Opala
• Bunce Island
• Bilali Document
• Stono Rebellion
• Black Seminoles
• Port Royal Experiment
Gullah historical figures
• Gullah Jack
• Joseph Rainey
• Philip Reid
• Denmark Vesey
Gullah leaders, artists, and cultural activists
• Emory Campbell
• Natalie Daise
• Ron Daise
• Sam Doyle
• Marquetta Goodwine
• Jonathan Green
• Mary Jackson
• Vermelle "Bunny" Rodrigues
• Cornelia Walker Bailey (Sapelo Island)
Famous African Americans with Gullah roots
• Robert Sengstacke Abbott
• James Brown
• Jim Brown
• James E. Clyburn
• Charlene Dash
• Julie Dash
• Joe Frazier
• Harvey Gantt
• James Jamerson
• Jazzy Jay
• Greg Jones
• Michelle Obama
• Condoleezza Rice
• Connie Rice
• Clarence Thomas
• Dan Driessen