The Gullah culture is one of the oldest and most fascinating cultures in existence in the United States. For those who have been to the Southeastern part of the United States must have heard about the Gullah Geechee culture. Living off of the coast of South Carolina, this tribe holds a very important part in the history of South Carolina and Georgia as they are one of the oldest cultural groups still thriving as a “nation within a nation”!
Where it began
For a 500 mile stretch between Jacksonville, North Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida today, nearly 500,000 Gullah Geechee people inhabit the region. Tracing back to their root, these people are descendants of African slaves who were brought to Charleston in the late 1500’s. The slaves continued to do their jobs on the rice plantations and by the early 1700’s, the population of white people was overwhelmed by the black slave population.
But soon these enslaved people developed their culture not only from their distinct African roots, but also because they had little contact with their masters. In the 1700’s, the Gullah people were beginning to develop their unique culture which included developing their own traditions, language, cuisine, rituals, music, and more but all of these were derived from their African roots.
In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Gullah/Geechee Coast on its list of most threatened places.
Gullah Arts, Customs, and Traditions
There’s no denying that most traditions and customs of Gullah geechee culture came from places such as the West Africa, Rice Coast, and the Western Sudan. The Gullah people inculcated these traditions and made them their own by adding African twists to them. The “ring shout” ceremony is one of the many such traditions. Participants of this tradition are said to have been possessed by the Holy Spirit while they chanted, danced in a circle, and pounded sticks together. the Gullah believe in witchcraft and paint their doors “haint blue” which is said to ward off evil spirits and witches.
Talking about the Gullah Geechee culture, these people are well-known for their sweet grass baskets. They are seen at festivals or even on the highways selling their beautiful creations. Although today most women weave the baskets, during the plantation days, the men would make them. After emancipation, though, women took to making smaller baskets meant for both household things and decoration.
Long before the rice plantation days, the tribes were heavily on rice diet. And because their communities lie in the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia, and as far down as Florida, they also have huge gastronomical impact coming from the seafood. While the indigenous dishes tend to be more on the simplistic side, Gullah people formed their cultural cuisine from African roots, making do with what they have through creativity, and adaptability.
Gullah is a unique creole language spoken along the Sea Islands. The vocabulary and grammatical roots come from European and African languages and speaks distinctly African creole language. Today, after centuries, they can be seen to have a traditional Southern vocabulary influence and speech patterns.
Maintaining community cohesion, social structure and conflict resolution needs proper preservation and it is not just the responsibility of the tribes themselves but also of the locals and government to take care of their existence.