The Gullah People
Preserving an American culture
History of the Gullah people
The Gullah people were brought over from Africa during the slave trade and used for their ability to farm rice in Georgia and South Carolina. Their culture began in the 1700's and 1800's and has kept many African cultures alive. Much of their language is English-based creole, with influences from the African "rice coast". Many slaves from this part of Africa were sold for a higher price, because of their ability to farm rice. They were considered valuable because the planters could not figure out an effective way to farm the rice, even though Georgia and South Carolina had the right conditions for it.
Freedom and Discrimination
Many slaves escaped slavery by heading West or North, or by going to Florida and creating their own tribes. They also found a home with the Seminole Indian tribes. Many slaves fought for both sides in the Revolutionary War and were promised freedom when it was all said and done. They also fought for the Union, and freedom, in the Civil War. During reconstruction, African Americans were snubbed by the Jim Crow laws and by other forms of discrimination in the North. The Gullah have long been discriminated against because of they way they talk. They were scared into speaking proper English because their language was misunderstood as bad grammar.
The Gullah Culture
During the summer months in the South, the plantation owners would fall ill to diseases prone in the heat and swamps of Georgia and South Carolina, unlike the slaves who could live in these conditions. Often the owners would head north for the summer, and leave the plantations to a few white workers and some trusted slaves. During this time is when the Gullah culture took root. Many of the crafts made by the Gullah are unrecognizable next to those from West Africa. You can often still see women taking part in sweet grass basket making in local craft markets and along side the roads in South Carolina. They also make boats and still use farming techniques they used when they first came to America. They also have created their own religion, following communal prayer, singing and dancing much like Christianity. They also have their own practices traditional to their African beliefs such as the work of "root doctors" and the belief in juju.
The picture above is a collection of sweet grass baskets made by Gullah women.
What is heritage?
Heritage is the unique qualities, genes, traditions, passed down over time. Weather its nationally, culturally, or just within a family. Heritage is important because it tells where we've been over time. If you know it or not, decisions made in the past have effected your life today! Its important to know where you came from so you can know where you're going.
Even though the Gullah culture is still relatively well preserved for its age, it is dying out slowly. Many young people aren't seeing the point in learning the culture and crafts of the Gullah people because many of them are unpractical in todays world. Its important to preserve their culture because its a huge, unknown part of African American History.
When Barrack Obama was on the campaign trail, a genealogist was hired to find out about Michelle's heritage. They traced her history all the way back to a slave cabin before the civil war! She in fact does have Gullah roots and wants to bring pride to the culture. This is good because it gives her a face to go with the culture.