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FACT. Approximately 75% of
enslaved Africans came to America
through these shores making
Gullah historically significant
for most African Americans in
the United States.
~ Food, Crafts, Art, Religion and DNA:
Gullah is a way of life
originating from the introduction of the vibrant West African
culture into the nuances of southern plantation life.
intermingling produced a rich diversity of language, food, art
and music with its epicenter being Beaufort and the surrounding
Sea Islands of South Carolina.
Gullah thrives to this day and
has extended beyond South Carolina into Georgia, Florida and
Today they can
trace their ancestral roots to this community; often referred to
as the “Queen of the Sea Islands.”
"Gullah" is a term that was originally used to designate the
variety of English spoken by Gullah and Geechee people, but over
time it has been used by its speakers to formally refer to their
Creole language and distinctive ethnic identity as a people. The
Georgia communities are distinguished by identifying as either "Saltwater
Geechee" or "Freshwater Geechee," depending on their
proximity to the coast.
"The Old Plantation,"
South Carolina, about 1790. This famous painting shows
Gullah slaves dancing and playing musical instruments derived
Joseph Opala states: "The Gullah people are the descendants of
the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina
and Georgia. They still live in rural communities in the coastal
region and on the Sea islands of those two states, and they
still retain many elements of African language and culture.
"Anyone interested in the Gullah must ask how they have managed
to keep their special identity and so much more of their African
cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans.
answer is to be found in the warm, semitropical climate of
coastal South Carolina and Georgia; in the system of rice
agriculture adopted there in the 1700s; and in a disease
environment imported unintentionally from Africa. These factors
combined almost three hundred years ago to produce an atmosphere
of geographical and social isolation among the Gullah which has
lasted, to some extent, up until the present day."
Before reading more below about Gullah religion, food, crafts
and art, you will want to
watch this short video (1:39) and then
order the Gullah History DVD
for your organization...
story of virtually every
African American and should be a
must-viewing for all ages and races.
Order Circle Unbroken DVD --
History Education. Family Reunions. Juneteenth Events.
Birthday. Church Events.
Gullah cuisine is considered as one of
the oldest traditions practiced in
America today. If you consider the
history of Gullah and its ties to
slavery, it would be no surprise that
Gullah recipes have their roots in
“need, availability and environment” as
much of the resources had to come from
the land or surrounding waters.
not uncommon to find much of Gullah food
centered around one-pot dishes,
especially using rice, boiled and
steamed seafood and a prolific use of
standard and natural seasonings. Deep
frying is also quite popular and you
will often hear reference to a
“distinctive taste” when describing
Gullah cooking. There is typically a
passion and creative expression that can
only come from strong ancestral ties,
thus making Gullah Cuisine a cultural
Perhaps nothing is as representative of
Gullah Crafts as the iconic sweetgrass
basket. This exquisite art form was
brought to the lowcountry of South
Carolina in the 17th century
by enslaved Africans from West Africa,
primarily from the regions today
referred to as the Mano River Region,
Senegambia and Agola-Congolesse.
basket making in the United States went
hand in glove with rice
cultivation on the Southeastern coast
and the intricate network of
plantations. It is noteworthy that
typically enslaved African men made the
baskets for use on the plantations and
often basket making was relegated to the
men who were no longer able to work the
fields due to age or infirmity. Baskets
were made from bulrush (also known as
Emancipation sweetgrass baskets
transformed from the larger baskets used
in rice cultivation to small baskets
made by women. These smaller baskets
were used in various environments for
storing and serving food and this is
believed to have been the turning point
from an agricultural craft to a
Gullah art is distinctly African.
Enslaved Africans and those Gullah who
lived in the period of isolation that
followed Emancipation, made a wide
assortment of artifacts bearing great
similarity to from West African art.
Wooden mortars and pestles, rice
“farmers,” clay pots, calabash
containers, baskets, palm leaf
brooms, drums, and hand-woven
cotton blankets dyed with
Gullah men continue the tradition
of wood carving, making
elaborate grave monuments, human
figures, and walking sticks.
Gullah women sew quilts
organized in strips like African
country cloth, and keep the
tradition of the sweetgrass
basket alive today, especially
in the Mount Pleasant community
just outside of Charleston,
Gullah painting is traditionally
very vibrant and colorful with subjects
typically centered around community
life, as is very evident in the works of
Jonathan Green and Diane Britton Dunham.
Click here to learn more about this authentic Gullah
Tales From The Land Of Gullah
-- Kids DVD
say 90 percent of the people on St.
Helena go to church weekly. An
impressive figure, considering Gallup
recently found only 42 percent of
Americans regularly attend church.
The descendants of African slaves, the Gullah have preserved significant
elements of their West
African culture, such as
their African-based Creole
language and their expertise
“Like in Africa, we
[Gullah] have always centered
our lives around faith,” says
one resident. "For example,
until not too long ago, the
religious and community leaders
of the island resolved most
quarrels among themselves.
recount an incident in
the 1950s when two men
involved in a shooting
on the island were
brought to the local
Praise House — a small
building used for local
religious meetings — to
resolve the dispute.
When the shooter agreed
to pay for the wounded
man’s injuries, all was
forgiven and the men
became friends again.
“The Bible tells us
don’t go to bed angry,”
which became the
practical manner in
which they resolved the
House back then was our
community center,” the
“where we regularly met,
danced, stomped our feet
and shouted out to the
Lord. But today we have
our modern churches.
With God’s help, the
Gullah culture will
endure. “Our roots run
Joseph Opala writes: "The
seems to emphasize elements
shared by Africans from
different areas. The Gullahs'
ancestors were, after all,
coming 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, and Angola.
slaves adopted beliefs and
practices that were familiar to
Africans from these widely
separated regions. In most
cases, therefore, we cannot say
that a particular Gullah custom
is from a particular African
tribe; but we can often point
more generally to West Africa,
the Western Sudan, the Rice
Coast, etc. And Gullah
traditions are not, of course,
all purely African.
slaves borrowed practices from
their white masters, but they
always gave these an African
spirit. The Gullah became
Christians, for instance, but
their style of worship reflected
their African heritage. In
slavery days they developed a
ceremony called "ring shout" in
which participants danced in a
ritual fashion in a circle
amidst the rhythmical pounding
of sticks and then, at the
culminating moment, experienced
possession by the Holy Spirit
while shouting expressions of
praise and thanksgiving."
research article was published by BMC
(Authors: Bert Ely, Jamie Lee Wilson,
Fatimah Jackson, and Bruce A. Jackson,
2006) titled: "African-American
Mitochondrial DNAs Often Match mtDNAs
Found in Multiple African Ethnic Groups."
This comprehensive research
paper states that the
Atlantic slave trade resulted in the
forced migration of an estimated 11
million Africans to the Americas. Only 9
million are thought to have survived the
passage, and many more died in the early
years of captivity. Historical accounts
indicate that virtually all enslaved
Africans brought to North America came
from either West or West Central Africa.
A recent comparison of mtDNA sequences
from 1148 African Americans living in
the US with a database of African mtDNA
sequences showed that more than 55% of
the US lineages have a West African
ancestor, while fewer than 41% came from
West Central or South West Africa.
In North America,
different constellations of African
groups were brought to various staging
areas. Among the important staging areas
for the arrival and distribution of
enslaved Africans were the ports of
Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC.
Estimates of the origin of enslaved
Africans received at these sites are
presented in the figure below, with the
largest African regional contributions
coming from West Central Africa (40%;
contemporary Angola, the Congos,
Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon), and the
West African regions of Senegambia (23%;
contemporary Senegal, Gambia, and
northern Guinea), and Upper Guinea (18%;
contemporary Guinea and Sierra Leone and
northwestern Liberia). Africans in the
Carolina coast region were intentionally
mixed to reduce the possibilities for
successful revolts and to facilitate
their assimilation into plantation-slave
society. The contemporary Gullah/Geechee
culture emerged from these Africans.
Proportions of enslaved Africans
brought to historic Carolina
coast ports from the 17th to
19th centuries (Jackson, 2004)
Click below to learn more about
this authentic Gullah
Tales From The Land Of Gullah
African-American samples, a sample of
African Americans who self-identified as
Gullah/Geechee and a sample of
African-American DNAs obtained from the
Armed Forces DNA Identification
Laboratory (AFDIL), were
compared with both the original and the
expanded databases to provide a sense of
how increasing the database size impacts
the distribution of exact matches.
people are an African-American
microethnic group residing in the
Georgia/South Carolina Lowcountry and
coastal islands whose numbers are now
estimated between 200,000 and 500,000 in
the Sea Islands of South Carolina,
Georgia, North Florida, and beyond.
Gullah/Geechee language and culture
include unique practices and artifacts (e.g.,
coiled basketry, Brer Rabbit
stories, praise houses)
including a distinct linguistic style
with roots among the Mende peoples of
Sierra Leone, West Africa.
When a sample of
74 Gullah/Geechee mtDNA sequences was
compared with the sub-Saharan database,
approximately half of the mtDNAs were
identical to two or more mtDNAs in the
database and only seven mtDNAs matched
mtDNAs from a single ethnic group.
majority of African-American mtDNAs that
were identical to database mtDNAs
matched mtDNAs from ethnic groups that
were scattered throughout sub-Saharan
Africa. However, 41% of the Gullah/Geechee
and 37% of the AFDIL mtDNAs that matched
database sequences were identical to
mtDNAs found only in western (West plus
West Central) Africa. Only one Gullah/Geechee
mtDNA and one AFDIL mtDNA matched mtDNAs
that are found exclusively in eastern
Africa in the sub-Saharan database.
of matches is consistent with the
historical information that most North
American slaves were originally from
western Africa. Most of the single
region matches to both the Gullah/Geechee
and the AFDIL mtDNAs occurred with West
African samples. This result is
consistent with the historical records
indicating that West Africa was a major
source of American slaves
A Gullah Journey from Africa to America Audio CD
trade jim crow
There are many
historical reasons why people have been and continue to be challenged by the
accompany racism, prejudice and bigotry. Those hardships can be
likened to the claustrophobic
concrete that gradually seek to nullify all viable
options available to an individual under such weight.
But as Russian historian and
novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn once remarked, "If the
a single blade of grass would sooner or
later break through."
A truth-centric view of history will graphically describe
the concrete as a metaphor for the Slave Trade,
slavery, fugitive slave laws, reconstruction, lynching, Jim Crow and
the struggle for civil rights.
However, there are many examples of people who, like
blades of grass, have broken through and defied the
power of the concrete. These are the stories we will tell.
The thicker the concrete, the more inspirational the story.
Blades of grass cracking the mighty concrete from beneath.
Can't keep the entrepreneurial spirit down.
So many stories to tell. Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass. Sojourner
Truth. Solomon Northrop. Annie Malone. Madam CJ Walker. And more...
THE THICKER THE CONCRETE THE
MORE INSPIRATIONAL THE STORY
Institute Black History Collection and Freeman Galleries
will be dedicated to sharing some of the most powerful
wisdom lessons gleaned from the many "blades of grass" who
have patiently worked their way through the concrete.
© 2010 - NOW by Joel A. Freeman, Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
Note: Reproduction of any kind, including copying and
pasting, is strictly prohibited unless given written
With People Who Drive You Crazy!"®
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