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Hilton Head Marsh View, as seen from the Coastal Discovery Museum
Hilton Head Island marsh view, as
seen from the Coastal Discovery Museum.

The Gullah Language and Sea Island Culture
Part II:
Sea Island Culture

Brick Church, built in 1855. This was the original location of the Penn School Campus
Brick Church (1855) was the original
location of the Penn School campus
and is adjacent to the current main campus.
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 13, 2002)

by
Dennis Adams
Information Services Coordinator
and

Hillary Barnwell

Assistant Library Director

 

For basic geographical facts about Beaufort County's Sea Islands, see:
Sea Islands: Erosion Remnant Islands and Barrier Islands

Go back to the Gullah Language (Part I).

Historical Background

At the time of the slave trade, people who lived on the west coast of Africa were in an agricultural stage of civilization. They were accustomed to physical labor, grew crops (okra, rice, yams), and lived in a semi-tropical environment. They knew how to fish using nets and also how to navigate creeks and waterways. West Africans were familiar with the sub-tropical vegetation and how to hunt game in the woods and fields. The organization of their work was based on every member of the group doing a part, the distribution of the product was fair, and the desires of the people less developed. This viewpoint was in sharp contrast to that of the Europeans, who looked at hard, continuous work as a great moral duty.

In 1708, slaves and whites equaled each other in number in South Carolina. After the Revolutionary War, however, Pierce Butler of the Beaufort District met opposition from other states' delegates when he tried to get a provision legalizing slavery put in the Constitution. The majority opinion was that slavery would be phased out as an institution, and no enslaved Africans were legally imported from 1787 through 1804.

According to Daniel C. Littlefield (in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery), "South Carolina’s proprietors envisioned slavery in the colony at its inception 1663", seeking "to attract settlers from, among other places, Barbados …" Littlefield tracked the escalating populations of slaves , beside numbers of whites and free blacks in South Carolina:

Slaves, Whites and Free Blacks in South Carolina:
1700-1860

Year

Number
of
Slaves

Number
of
Whites

Number
of
Free Blacks

1700

2,444

3,260

None Reported

1710

5,768

5,115

None Reported

1720

11,868

6,525

None Reported

1730

20,000

10,000

None Reported

1740

39,155

20,000

None Reported

1750

40,000

25,000

None Reported

1760

53,000

36,740

None Reported

1770

75,178

49,066

None Reported

1780

97,000

83,000

None Reported

1790

197,094

140,178

1,801

1800

146,151

196,255

3,185

1810

196,365

214,196

4,554

1820

258,475

237,440

6,826

1830

315,401

257,863

7,921

1840

327,038

259,084

8,276

1850

384,984

274,563

8,960

1860

402,406

291,300

9,914


By 1795, the Sea Island economy was devoted to cotton (William Elliott of Hilton Head had grown the first successful crop on the islands in 1790). Two hundred people lived in the town of Beaufort in 1796, and at least five new mansions were built by rich cotton planters. Warehouses, taverns and shops clustered on the waterfront. Needing more labor, Sea Island planters petitioned the South Carolina legislature to reopen the slave trade, and as a result 40,000 new Africans were imported between 1804 and 1808. Between 1800 and 1810, the slave population in St. Helena Parish grew by 86%. By 1860, the white population on St. Helena Island was 350, and there were more than 2,000 enslaved people. The Beaufort District as a whole had 33,339 blacks and 6,714 whites.

There were four classes of slaves on the Sea Island plantations (in order of their economic and social importance):

  • Drivers, who, subject to their white masters and overseers, controlled the field hands, dealt out rations and even inflicted corporal punishment on the laborers. Drivers possessed a considerable degree of judgment and knowledge of plantation economy (the owners spent relatively little time on their lands).

  • Tradesmen, who were often carpenters, wheelwrights and other skilled workers whom their owners could also hire out to neighbors.

  • House servants, who performed the domestic work reserved for slaves unable to do a full day's work elsewhere.

  • Field hands, who made up one third of the slave work force. These were "Swonga people" in the Gullah language.

    Field hands labored under the "task" system (a "task" was 105 square feet and contained 21 or 22 rows), and each worker was required to "list" a task and a half (one fourth or three eighths of an acre). Field hands got about a quarter of an acre to cultivate corn and potatoes on their own. They were allowed pigs, chickens and ducks (generally sold to the owners), could shrimp and oyster, and were relatively free to do as they please once they had finished working their "tasks".

Urban life for enslaved Africans and free blacks was a little different than for those living on the plantation. In the towns and cities, there were generally more opportunities to learn skills and to have business negotiations. There was more day to day contact with their owners. On the other hand, city life for slaves was governed by restrictions on movement, employment, education and worship, although these were often ignored by white owners. Most urban slaves worked as domestic servants and were usually not hired out. Owners generally had only one or two slaves in their urban dwellings as opposed to the hundreds working on a large plantation.

On November 7, 1861, this history changed forever. After the Battle of Port Royal Sound, 12,000 Northern troops landed on Hilton Head Island and the landowners fled from Beaufort and the Sea Islands, leaving 33,000 slaves behind. United States Treasury officials were able to sell the abandoned property for non-payment of taxes, and, though Northerners bought most of the land, former slaves who had struggled to save enough to afford the low prices now bought property, too. The opportunities for African-Americans to buy land was far greater in Beaufort than elsewhere in the state. By controlling their own land and crops, the freed people of St. Helena's Parish were able to avoid the hardships of sharecropping and tenant farming.

 

"Steady Gettin' It Lane" road sign on farmland along Eddings Point Road on St. Helena Island

Farmland on St. Helena Island
(along Eddings Point Road).
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 13, 2002)

In 1868, almost half of Beaufort County land was owned by African-Americans, and the 1870 census shows that 98% of the St. Helena population of 6,200 was black and that 70% owned their own farms. Blacks owned only 39% of the property, however, mostly in ten-acre lots, while whites owned 61%.

Population trends vary greatly from island to island. For instance, the population of Sea Islanders on James Island increased from 2,709 in 1940 to 6,173 in 1980. The number of Sea Islanders on Wadlamaw Island remained at about 1,800 during the same period. The more recent arrival of European Americans to the Sea Islands has also brought change: 80 percent of the residents of Johns Island were Sea Islanders in 1940, but that proportion had decreased to only 40 percent in 1990.

• Barnwell, Hillary, Beaufort County Library Assistant Director. "Vignettes of African-American History" [Paper given at the "Lowcountry Traditions and Transitions Symposium at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort, October 4, 1997]. 1997

• Dunkelman, Mark H. "A Bold Break for Freedom." American History Illustrated, December 1999.

• Guthrie, Patricia. "Sea Islanders"in Volume II of American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation. Macmillan Reference, 1997).

• Macmillan Encyclopedia of World Slavery (Macmillan Reference, 1998).

The Penn School
(Land's End Road on St. Helena Island)


In 1862, Penn School was founded on St. Helena Island as a school for freed slaves. Its mission to promote African-American education, heritage and welfare continues through Penn Center, Inc.

Brick Church (1855) was the was the original location of the Penn School, which also served as a farm bureau, health clinic and, during Reconstruction, as a center for community action for freed slaves and Northern abolitionists.With the exception of Darrah Hall (1882), the buidlings on the actual Penn campus were built in the early twentieth century.

In 1963 --- just over one hundred years after the founding of the school -- Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Penn Center to plan the March on Washington. The campus is now recognized as the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District.

Darrah Hall
Darrah Hall (1882), the oldest building
on the Penn School campus, was
originally used as a gymnasium.
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 13, 2002)
 
The Cope Building
The Cope Building (1922) once housed
cobbling, wheelwright, carpentry and
other shops for Penn students. It now
houses the York W. Bailey Museum.
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 13, 2002)

Source:

• Historic Resources of the Lowcountry: A Regional Survey. Lowcountry Council of Governments, 1979.


Economy

Below: A number of Gullah-related businesses in The Corners area (Intersection of
U. S. Highway 21 and Martin Luther King Drive) on Saint Helena Island
. The Corners are a commercial and social center of the local Sea island community.

Gullah Crub Restaurant at The Corners, St. Helena Island  
Ms. Natalie's Workshop on Highway 21
 
South Carolina Coastal Development Corportation sign at The Corners on St. Helena Island. Included in the sign are Coastal Community Incubator, Coastal Community Kitchen, Gullah Gifts, Ibile Indigo House, Jayreece Therapeutic Services, Gullah Grub and Southern Low Country Cooking and Catering
       
 
Gullah Island Welcome Center on St. Helena Island
 
 

Photographs by Dennis Adams
(October 20, 2002)

After the Civil War, Islanders farmed and fished for subsistence, selling surplus produce to the markets of Charleston and Savannah and taking seasonal "mainland" jobs as commercial fishermen, loggers, and dock workers. The extra work was necessary to pay taxes and to buy staples (rice and grits) that were not produced locally. Phosphate mining was another major source of employment until the hurricane of 1893 devastated the industry.

In the present day, the service industry (especially resorts) has become the main source of income for many members of the Sea Island community. Restaurants now provide Sea Island specialties. Groups like Beaufort's Hallelujah Singers perform and record traditional Gullah music, and Ron and Natalie Daise (known for their live presentations of Sea Island folklore) recently created a children's series, Gullah Gullah Island, for the Nickelodeon television network. The annual Gullah Festival and Penn Community Services of the Sea Islands Heritage Days celebrate the African-American culture of the Sea Islands.

Source:

  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Volume I: North America. (G. K. Hall & Co., 1991).


Sweetgrass Baskets

( More information on the baskets )

Coiled, handmade baskets of sweetgrass (sewn with longleaf pine needles and strips of palmetto leaf) command good prices at roadside stands or on the City Market and streets of Charleston. Slaves had been making coiled baskets (an African technique different from the European weave) since the late 1600s, and the Sea Island baskets were related to those of Angola, Senegambia, and the Congo.

The most common material was formerly black rush (a marsh grass) bound with strips of white oak or saw palmetto stem. Sweetgrass became popular only at the beginning of the twentieth century, when a black community in Mount Pleasant (across the Cooper River from Charleston) began making "show baskets" from the material. These baskets provided welcome income in the aftermath of recent hurricanes and boll weevil infestation. Tourists bought so many of the baskets that sweetgrass won out over more traditional choices.

 
Sweeetgrass basket with lid
Photograph by Dennis Adams

On St. Helena Island , however, rush work baskets continued into the first half of the twentieth century. Though the Penn School offered training in "Native Island Basketry" for fifty years, today black rush is used mainly to strengthen and decorate certain types of sweetgrass baskets.

The early rice industry in the Lowcountry owed its success to a particular type of black rush basket, the "fanner". Slaves "fanned" threshed rice into the air from the baskets to let the wind separate the chaff. On the plantations, the male slaves wove fences, granaries, traps, and heavy field baskets, while the women made the smaller, fancier baskets for the households.

(More information on the baskets )

Sources:

  • Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry by Dale Rosengarten. The McKissick Museum (University of South Carolina, 1986.

  • "Spirits of Our Ancestors: Basket Traditions in the Carolinas" by Dale Rosengarten, in The Crucible of Carolina: Essays in the Development of Gullah Language and Culture, edited by Michael Montgomery. The University of Georgia Press, 1994.)

Social and Political Organization

Praise house on St. Helena Island

Praise house on St. Helena Island,
(on U. S. Highway 21, across from
St. Helena Elementary School).

Photograph by Dennis Adams
(October 20, 2002)

The former plantations of Saint Helena Island in Beaufort County are centers of community activity, with citizenship determined through membership in a particular community. Membership is not gained by birth but through "catching sense" in a given plantation community ("catching sense" has roots in relationships forged in childhood and in the unique shared memories of the community). Community members take their grievances and disputes to the churches and praise houses, where ministers, deacons and leaders work to resolve the problems. The goal is not punishment, but reconciliation between the parties. Islanders who take cases to secular courts outside of the community face the disapproval of their community. Other social control exists in the form of respect for elders, belief in the power of recently deceased relatives to punish wrongs, and the force of gossip, concern for reputation and for respect among other in the community.

See another photograph of a praise house.

Source:

  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Volume I: North America. (G. K. Hall & Co., 1991.)


Marriage and Kinship

The Sea Island community expects each of its members (except those who are unsound of body or mind) to marry and to raise a family. A husband will bring his first bride to the house where he grew up, and the couple will build their own house in the "yard" of the man's parents as soon as possible (or nearby, if the "yard" property is not available). A "yard" may contain the houses of the parents, several sons and even the parents' grandchildren in many cases. Adult children may return to the yard for financial reasons, after a divorce, or when a spouse dies.

Before funds from banks became readily available in the 1960s, many couples had to wait for a considerable time to build their own houses. Because a dwelling needs only a stove (and a wife to cook) to become a social unit, many Sea Islanders prefer the less expensive option of a mobile home. Houses and trailers form clusters based on kinship.

Men and women enjoy equal rights to "heir's property", land that is passed on from generation to generation. It is the parents who bequeath the land, and children who inhabit the "yard" receive land for their houses as an inheritance in advance (for the sake of "love, one dollar, and affection" , as is the case on St. Helena Island). The "one dollar" makes the inheritance legally binding by Sea Island tradition.

See also Social and Political Organization.

Source:

  • "Sea Islanders" by Patricia Guthrie, in Volume II of American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation. Macmillan Reference, 1997.)


Folk Medicine

Freed slaves lived off the land, and in their isolation on the Sea Islands, they depended on plant remedies in childbirth, sickness and emergencies. Medicinal plants came from gardens or simply from the woods. Some African habits seem to have survived, such as the use of chewsticks made of black gum wood.

In the earlier half of the twentieth century, displays of local medicinal plants were common in the Charleston City Market and on the streets and grocery stores. Perhaps the most highly-regarded remedy on sale was "Life Everlasting" (Gnaphalium obtusifolium), a bitter herbal cold medicine. A chest-rub made from "Life Everlasting", whisky, lemon and turpentine was popular during the big influenza epidemic of 1941. The plant was put into a pillow or smoked as an inhalant to treat asthma. As more and more land became private property over the years, however, it became harder to gather enough medicinal plants to bring to market.

State medical regulations have restricted the practice of midwives and "grannies" (community healers, who could "put you on your feet out of the woods" with their traditional herbal remedies). Phoebe Taylor, a Johns Island healer, reported that she "boiled medicine for black and white for many years." Sentiment exists that the white physicians use the same "plants" in their pills as the old grannies, but at much higher prices.

People skilled in healing are also assumed to have abilities to harm others through inflicting illness, but grannies are in no way to be mistaken with "root doctors". These Lowcountry "witch doctors" made "roots" of graveyard dirt to cast and remove hexes. They may also , help repel an enemy or attract a lover, cure all kinds of illnesses, predict the future, and "conjure" spirits both good and evil. Most famous of the root doctors was Doctor Buzzard (Stepheney Robinson), whose encounters with Sheriff James Edwin McTeer are told in McTeer's book, High Sheriff of the Lowcountry.

Sources:

  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Volume I: North America. G. K. Hall & Co., 1991.

  • Folk Remedies of the Low Country by Julia F. Morton.

  • "Sea Islanders" by Patricia Guthrie, in Volume II of American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation. Macmillan Reference, 1997.)


Religion

Church membership is largely Baptist or Methodist, although many smaller congregations do without a full-time minister. "Praise houses" were once common on the Sea Islands, where spontaneous local meetings during the week supplemented Sunday services in the larger churches. Within these praises houses, "wise men" would lead "ring shouts" (a religiously-inspired dance that bridges African culture with later later spirituals and secular blues music). Many of the houses are now in poor repair and regular meetings ended in most communities during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The "structure" of the praise house and church survives, however, as a means to redress grievances within Sea Island communities. Preachers and "wise men" simply ask the guilty party to confess his or her transgression and to return any ill-gotten gains. A "taking of hands" (shaking of hands) among the parties then restores peace within the community.  
First Jericho Baptist Church on Port Royal Island
1st Jericho Baptist Church
on Port Royal Island (SC Hwy 280)
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 20, 2002)

An important departure from mainstream Christian belief is the Sea Islanders' belief in multiple souls: the "soul" leaves the body and returns to God at death, but the "spirit" stays on earth -- still involved in the daily affairs of its living descendants. Funerals are elaborate, and mourners decorate graves with prized possessions of the newly deceased. The spirit of a dead (or dying) older woman may become a "hag", though in a great many of the stories, the a hag is not a ghost or a dead spirit, but a living member of the community. A hag will "ride the chest" (sit on top) of her victims as they sleep (usually the victim has given the "hag" some sort of trouble). In many of the "hag" tales, the women are very much alive. They keep their human form during the day, but either leave their bodies or shed their skins at night before they go out to find their victims.

Another praise house on St. Helena Island

Praise house on St. Helena Island,
(on Eddings Point Road).
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(October 20, 2002)


See another photograph of a
praise house.

Sources:

  • Daise, Ronald. "Early One Mornin’, Death Come Creepin’ in M’Room!" in Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage: Legacy of Freedmen on St. Helena Island. Sandlapper Publishing, 1986.

  • Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Volume I: North America. G. K. Hall & Co., 1991.

  • Hare, Mildred and Chalmers S. Murray, "Hags" and Murray, Chalmers S. "Boo-Hags" in South Carolina Folk Tales: Stories of Animals and Supernatural Beings. (Compiled by Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of South Carolina.) University of South Carolina Press, 1941.

  • "Sandstorm: St. Helena Natives Upset over Plans for Development" by Tony Bartelme. The Post and Courier [Charleston, SC], November 9, 1997, p. 1-A; "Sea Islanders" by Patricia Guthrie, in Volume II of American Immigrant Cultures: Builders of a Nation. Macmillan Reference, 1997.


Burial Customs

A number of Sea Island burial customs are West- and Central African in origin.

Concrete grave marker of Elizabeth Evans at Sixteen Gate Cemetery, Beaufort
The concrete grave marker of Elizabeth Degen Upjohn Smith Evans (1907-1981) at Sixteen Gate Cemetery (Boundary St., across from Jean Ribaut Square, Beaufort) resembles the wooden graveyard sculptures of Cyrus Bowens of Sunbury, Georgia. Bowers' (ca. 1900-1961)
creations used the natural shapes of the wood and evoked African-American woodcarving traditions.
Photograph by Dennis Adams
(August 7, 2002)

 

John Michael Vlach (in The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts) compared the same east-west alignment to the Central African custom of laying the coffin with the face of the deceased looking eastward. "The continuity here is obvious," he added, "and it results from a shared concept of the cosmos – that the world is oriented east to west following the sun."

Vlach wrote that African-American "graves are often indistinguishable from African graves … because the religious systems which shape the attitude toward death, and therefore the way death is treated, are not very different."

Though the graves of black and white children appear much the same, the adult grave sites show the differences of each tradition. White families rarely break dishes and earthenware vessels left at the grave, but African Americans have done so in keeping with their own ancestral traditions. In Lay Down Body: Living History in African American Cemeteries, Roberta Hughes Wright and Wilbur B. Hughes III cited the beliefs that breaking dishes releases the spirit and "breaks the chain of death" (preventing other family members from following in death).

Vlach dismissed the theory that this practice began to discourage theft: no sane person would dare to steal "goods (left as) a statement of homage … to keep a tempestuous soul at rest." Wright and Hughes mentioned that these shattered gifts are placed on the grave to keep the deceased from coming back to claim them. So even coins may be safely left out in the open.

Graveside items are mostly containers (pitchers, cups, bowls, tureens, medicine bottles, even toilet tanks), which keep their shape when broken. They appear on graves with sea shells as ancient African water symbols, tokens of the belief that the dead reside in a realm beneath river bottoms. Mirrors are also water symbols. Many other objects are white (china, porcelain, light bulbs, bits of plaster, pebbles). Vlach noted the belief in lower Zaire that "deceased ancestors become white creatures called bakulu " who may return "without being seen and can then direct the course of the living" (figures carved from white stone guard the grave sites).

White sand may sometimes cover the whole graveyard in white communities as well.

Since the 1920s, clocks have appeared on rural African-American graves (more recently as floral pieces with clock faces). The hands on the faces may be set at twelve (for Judgment Day) or to mark the exact hour of death. As at the graves of white Southerners, other kinds of objects may also reflect the personal needs or preferences of the deceased.

Sources:

  • Vlach, John Michael. The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts. Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.
  • Wright, Roberta Hughes and Wilbur B. Hughes III. Lay Down Body: Living History in African American Cemeteries. Visible Ink Press, 1995.

Ghost Stories:
Hags

Some African-Americans of the Sea Islands still believe in multiple souls: the "soul" leaves the body and returns to God at death, but the "spirit" stays on earth -- still involved in the daily affairs of its living descendants. The spirit of a dead (or dying) older woman may become a "hag", though in a great many of the stories, a hag is not a ghost or a dead spirit, but a living member of the community. The Lowcountry hag surpasses the modern meanings of the word in The American Heritage Dictionary, "an ugly, frightful old woman" and "a witch; sorceress", to attain an older sense of "a female demon". Any old woman who practices witchcraft and who bears a grudge against one of her neighbors can be a hag. Hags with the greatest powers of witchcraft are sometimes called "boo hags". A third party can pay a hag to harry someone unknown to the witch herself.

When night falls, the hag is free to leave her body (or to shed her skin, depending on who is
telling the story) to wander unseen on land, underground or through the air. The hag is invisible,
but her presence is warm to the touch, and feels like raw meat.

When a hag chooses to ride to her victim’s house, she will choose a horse and almost never a
mule. The hag drives the horse nearly to death, and tangles the poor beast’s tail into
impossible knots. In the morning, the owner finds his horse in a heavy lather, all but crippled
from the ghastly ride.

What does a hag do when she gets to her victim? She "rides" that person as well! The hag sits
on a sleeping person’s chest and face, weighing the sleeper down and meaning to choke or
smother her victim. The victims struggle, never fully awake, as the hag "swallows" their voices
so that not even the screamers themselves can hear their calls for help. The hag’s flesh is said
to have the bounce of rubber whenever her victim strikes out at her in the dark.

A hag can pass through any door, but there are measures to prevent her from entering a room:

No hag will pass a broom placed by the door. Hags will avoid brooms night or day, in
human form or in their demonic shape.

Hags share a compulsive nature and must count every hole in a sieve hung on a doorway
or each bristle of a brush. One reason for their dislike of brooms is that they must count
each and every straw in any broom that they encounter. It may take the whole night to
count some objects left by a doorway -- and by daylight (the second "fowl crow") the hag
must go back to the body or the skin she has left behind. But beware! Some hags have
learned to count quickly over the years and so can manage to get past the obstacles set
in their way.

Because the smell of gunpowder terrifies hags, some people have put a loaded gun at
the head of their beds at night!

Others have stuck match sticks in their hair before going to bed.

To get rid of a hag once and for all, a victim should throw salt at the demon to keep her
from getting back into her shed skin. A hag will soon die without her skin.

Praying or cursing will kill a hag, too, if done fervently enough.

Of course, there are skeptics, too. Many Sea Islanders dismiss the whole idea of hags and
blame the "victims’" troubles on health problems like bad nerves or poor circulation of the
blood.

But how to explain the tired-out horses with those impossible knots in their tails?

Sources:

Daise, Ronald. "Early One Mornin’, Death Come Creepin’ in M’Room!" in Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage: Legacy of Freedmen on St. Helena Island. Sandlapper Publishing, 1986.

• Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Volume I: North America. G. K. Hall & Co., 1991

Hare, Mildred and Chalmers S. Murray, "Hags" and Murray, Chalmers S. "Boo-Hags" in South Carolina Folk Tales: Stories of Animals and Supernatural Beings. (Compiled by Workers of the Writer’s Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of South Carolina.) University of South Carolina Press, 1941.

"Gullah 101"
College Courses in Gullah Language and Sea Island Culture

Virginia Mixson Geraty studied Gullah for over 50 years as a resident the Edisto Island area, near Charleston (she died in 2004, at the age of 84). Geraty received an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters at the College of Charleston, in recognition of her research and efforts to preserve the Gullah language. She taught courses in Gullah language at the College in the 1980s and 1990s.

Each year, Joseph Opala teaches two courses on Gullah language and culture through the James Madison University Honors Program in Harrisonburg, Virginia: "Gullah Language and Oral Literature" and "Gullah History and Culture through Film." In a January 26, 2004 letter to the editor of the Beaufort Gazette, Opala wrote that Penn Center "now offers a "Gullah Institute" during the summers with a whole series of college-credit courses on the Gullah taught by professors from a dozen universities."

The January 18, 2007 issue of the Beaufort Gazette reported that an accredited course in Gullah culture began in the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Winter 2007 semester. In a Beaufort Gazette article, Professor J. Herman Blake said that, although his class was "an exploratory, embryonic venture," his students can expect a rigorous academic experience as they learn about the language, history and culture of Beaufort County's native Sea Islander community. The weekly class is a full, three credit-hour course in the liberal arts.

"I hope to work toward an understanding of the enduring values of the Gullah culture and promote scholarship," said Blake, who holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of California Berkeley. His research, dating back to 1967, has centered on the Gullah people of Daufuskie Island in the southwestern corner of the county. Blake's hundreds of first hand interviews and a small handful of essays, books and films provide the content for the course.

Blake founded the University of South Carolina's Sea Islands Institute to promote research on Gullah culture. The class was a result of the Institute's activities.

More and more college students are learning about the unique culture of the Sea Islands. Opala concluded that "the fame of the Gullah people has gone so far now that individual college courses on the subject are no longer a novelty."

Source:

• Geraty, Virginia Mixson. "The Gullah Creole Language" (Charleston County Library web page http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=15717&catID=6042&action=detail&parentID=5748), © Copyright 2007, Charleston County Public Library.

• Walsh, Sandra. "College Course in Gullah is Nation's First," Beaufort Gazette, January 18, 2007; p. 1-A.

• Opala, Joseph. "Blake's Gullah Course Is Not First of Its Kind" (Letter to the editor), Beaufort Gazette, January 26, 2007; p. 6-A.

Recipes!

 

Gullah Bibliography

 

Classroom Activities
Sea Island Adventures for Students & Teachers

For Students

1. Food: Choose a Gullah recipe and plan a Sea Island Lunch with your teacher and classmates. Explain why your recipe would have been popular among African-Americans in the South Carolina Lowcountry and Georgia coastal areas (cost, availability, African traditions -- as with rice and sesame seeds).

2. Folklore: Go on a "field trip" to the media center for books on African folktales. Compare an African story to a similar African-American tale, or one found in the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen collections. Maybe there are folktales like your story from other parts of the world: China, Native-American tribes, the Appalachian Mountains, etc.

3. Daily Life: Choose a type of slave worker (drivers, tradesmen, house servants, and field hands) and write a "journal" describing a typical workday from this person's point of view. Read your journal to the class as if you really were the worker.

4. Sweetgrass Baskets: Using pine straw and thread, make a coil (the bottom and starting point of a basket) like the coil found in sweetgrass baskets using the African tradition. Compare your coil to a woven basket common in European cultures.

5. Ghost Stories: Get together with other students and write a skit based on the hag legend! Perform the skit for your classmates (with costumes and props to make it even scarier!).

For Teachers

Visit Jennifer Donaldson McKenzie's (Robert Smalls Middle School, Beaufort, SC) Gullah Web Quest (http://www.eduwebs.org/Webquests/gullah/gullahquest.html), for ideas in organizing a unit on Gullah and Sea Island culture!

For Everyone!

Explore Gullah Culture in South Carolina with Aunt Pearlie-Sue! Children and adults can listen to the Gullah language, and hear stories and music on this SCETV Commission Web page.


Return to Part I, The Gullah Language , or
go to our
Gullah Bibliography
.


 
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