The Gullah were able to keep parts of their African culture, but were also influenced by North American culture. The Gullah people speak a creole language that is based on English, but has many African loanwords.
The name "Gullah" may come from Angola, where the ancestors of some Gullah people likely came from. They created a new culture from the numerous African peoples brought into Charleston and South Carolina. Other scholars think that it came from the name of other ethnic groups in Africa.
Origin of Gullah cultureEdit
Along the western coast of Africa, the people had cultivated African rice for 3,000 years. When British colonial planters discovered that rice would grow in the American South, they wanted enslaved Africans from this region. Africans were taken as slaves from the Western region of Africa (in what is today Sierra Leone), transported to the Americas, and were traded in Charlestowne, South Carolina. These African farmers brought their skills for farming and irrigation.
According to British historian P.E.H. Hair, Gullah culture had elements of many different African cultures. The Gullah people were able to keep much of their African culture because the climate and geography of this area were similar to Africa, and because slaves lived in large groups and had little interaction with whites.
The slaves also brought the diseases malaria and yellow fever. These diseases spread to English and European settlers because of the subtropical climate, and became endemic in the region. Africans had more immunity to these diseases. Many white planters left the area during seasons when the diseases were more common. The European or African "rice drivers", or overseers, were left in charge of the plantations.
Civil War periodEdit
In the U.S. Civil War, white planters on the Sea Islands were afraid of an invasion by US naval forces. They left their plantations and went to the mainland. When Union forces arrived on the Sea Islands in 1861, the Gullah people wanted freedom. Many Gullahs served in the Union Army. The Sea Islands were the first place in the South where slaves were freed. Long before the end of the War, Unitarian missionaries came to start schools for the newly freed slaves.
After the Civil War ended, the Gullah became more isolated from the outside world. This happened because the rice planters on the mainland left their farms and moved away from the area. The Gullahs continued to practice their traditional culture with little influence from the outside world until the 20th century.
In 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the "Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act". This act will provide $10 million over 10 years to preserve Gullah historic sites. The Heritage Corridor will extend from southern North Carolina to northern Florida.
The Gullah people still have their traditional culture. Their traditions have survived in the Lowcountry mainland and on the Sea Islands, and also in urban areas such as Charleston and Savannah, Georgia. Gullah people who have moved far away have also preserved their traditions. In the summer, they usually send their children back to rural communities in South Carolina and Georgia, where they live with grandparents, uncles, and aunts.
Representation in art, entertainment, and mediaEdit
- "Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor". National Park Service. 2006. "Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida in the south."
Notable Americans with Gullah rootsEdit
- "Geechee and Gullah Culture", The New Georgia Encyclopedia
- "Joseph A. Opala, "Bunce Island in Sierra Leone"". Archived from the original on 22 April 2015. Retrieved 25 September 2014.
- "Africa Update, Summer 1997, Pan-African Language Patterns Revisited, Central Connecticut State University". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
- Joseph A. Opala, "The Gullah: Rice, Slavery and the Sierra Leone/American Connection," University of South Florida Archived 2016-02-14 at the Wayback Machine, Africana Heritage
- West, Jean M. "Rice and Slavery: A Fatal Gold Seede". Slavery in America. Archived from the original on 2012-02-06. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
- Bill Will Provide Millions for Gullah Community. National Public Radio. October 17, 2006.
- "Michelle Obama's Family Tree has Roots in a Carolina Slave Plantation". Chicago Tribune. December 1, 2008.
- "Supreme Court Justice Clarance Thomas a Gullah Speaker". New York Times. December 14, 2000.[permanent dead link]