Gullah Geechee, Descendants of African Slaves in South Carolina Who haven’t abandoned their Cultural Roots

The Gullah people, also referred to as the Geechee, reside in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina within the United States. They are located within the Coast and the Sea Islands – which are a series of minute Islands along the Atlantic Ocean. They aggregate to over 100 Islands.

According to report by Farida Dawkins, Face2face Africa, originally the Gullah people inhabited the Cape Fear region of North Carolina extending to Jacksonville, Florida area. They eventually populated the South Carolina and Georgia.

They differentiate themselves by referring to one another as saltwater Geechee or Freshwater Geechee; this describes the Mainland and Sea Island settlers.

Gullah or Geechee, are the names of language spoken by the African natives. Geechee is said to derived from the Ogeechee river within the vicinity of Savannah, Georgia.

The Gullah originate from Angola, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Bight of Benin which is a bight in the Gulf of Guinea on the Western African Coast.

Slaves from this portion of Africa were brought for the chief purpose of profit for slave owners and colonizers.

Two British trading companies operated the slave castle at Bunce Island, formerly known as the Bunce Island in the Sierra Leone River. Henry Laurens, a slave agent was based in Charleston H.C. His colleague, Richard Oswald was based in England. Any slave taken from West Africa passes through the Bunce Island. It was the principal spot for slaves being shipped to Georgia and South Carolina.

Along the western coast of Africa, the natives grew and harvested rice. The rice was initially planted and grown in the inner delta of the Upper Niger River. British colonizers realized that the African rice could be cultivated in the southern parts of the U.S. Hence while slaves were captured from Western Africa, they were needed to build irrigation and dam system would aid in growing the rice.

By 18th century, large acres of land in the lowlands of South Carolina had become fields for African rice. And it proved very lucrative for American at the time.

The Gullah people have been able to preserve much of their African culture due to similarity in the climate of their origin and their new world. Many slave overseers were Africans which enabled a fusion of African cultures and preservation of customs. In addition, because malaria and yellow fever became endemic, white slave owners, rice field owners, plantation overseers were forced to migrate from their homes to the city. This development gave rise to increase in the number of African who became Rice Overseers.

The !861 Civil War forced White planters, who were afraid of invasion by the U.S Naval Forces to abandon their lands. The Union Forces who soon arrived were introduced to the Geechee. The Gullah been eager for their own freedom willingly joined forces with the Union Army as the First South Carolina Volunteers.

The Sea Island became the first place in the South where slaves were freed. Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania also formulated schools for freed slaves – even before the end of slavery.

At the end of the war, the rice fields were badly damaged and chances of labour were very low. Rice planters gradually abandoned their lands. In 1891, hurricanes obliterated the crops all together. The Gullah became the main inhabitants of the low lands which isolated them from their former owners and the greater population. This allowed for the practice of their culture undisturbed from external influences.

There was awesome mending of customs and traditions from the Mende, Baga, Fula, Mandinka and Wolof tribes and a few others.

Worthy of mention are some of these customs which have passed from African traditions to Gullah are the Gullah word, Guber which is derived from the Kikongo and Kimbundu word, N’guba. The Geechee version of Gumbo comes from the Angola dish of okra called Umbundu.Gullah herbal medicines are highly comparable to traditional African remedies. Gullah strip quilts are made in the same fashion as Kente cloth from the Ashanti and Ewe people of Ghana as well as the Akwete cloth from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria.


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