Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gullah, Sweet Grass and History




Learning about a destination's culture and history are important aspects of the travel experience for me. I enjoy gathering insight into a place from a cultural perspective. One of the most fascinating culture's I've ever encountered is Gullah culture. This week, I have a feature story about Gullah culture in Travel Muse. The piece focuses on Gullah history in Hilton Head and St.Helena, South Carolina but the culture extends way beyond that.

The Gullah trace their heritage directly to the skilled rice farmers of Sierra Leone, West Africa. They were enslaved specifically because of those skills and were transported to work on rice plantations in South Carolina, Georgia and parts of Florida. The swampy conditions and malaria that went with it, made it uncomfortable for the plantation owners to live so they left the Gullah people to work the plantations mostly unattended. The isolation allowed Gullah dialect, customs and art to survive undiluted for 100 years. One of the hallmark's of Gullah culture is sweet grass basket "sewing" which mirrors Sierra Leone's centuries-old basket weaving tradition. Jery Taylor, pictured above, represents the fourth generation of her family to create sweet grass baskets. Jery has had her creations displayed at the Smithsonian and I quickly bought one of her designs, not just for the beauty but for the significant culture and history that it symbolizes.

12 comments:

Jacqueline Smith said...

You and Stephen mentioned the Gullah people to me before, this extends my education. I'll be checking your story.

Jacqueline Smith said...

Great virtual tour, those are some fab pics, article worth more than a three to me. How come they want me to fill out a form in order to rate an article? Where they come from with that?

PlantaSeedNow said...

Thanks for stopping by.

I enjoyed reading today's post on my way to the Travel Muse link. Last year my cousin and I were taking our children to SC. I was interested in learning to make Sweet Grass Baskets w/my daughter... We didn't make it, we'll have to make it happen in 2009.

As always, Thanks for sharing.

Fly Girl said...

Jackie, Travel Muse is a travel web site and they want people to register so that they can count their members and bring in ads. They want you to register to comment in hopes that you'll come back. Thanks for reading my story and dropping by.

Plant, thanks for visiting. There is a very child-friendly sweet grass festival in June in Beaufort.

Ebony Intuition said...

I've read about the Gullah culture etc, beautiful culture.

Lola said...

Very cool. I'd wanted an episode of Anthony Bourdain where he explored some Gullah culture down south.

Fascinating.

Catherine said...

Beautiful baskets...is there a language and music dimension to Gullah culture as well??

Fly Girl said...

Ebony and Lola, yes, it's a very fascinating culture, on of the U.S. oldest.
Catherine, yes, the Gullah dialect bears a very close resemblance to the Sierra Leonan Krio language. It has a very Caribbean cadence and combines English words with African terms. THe music also draws for African folk tales and rhythms. I'll have another post exploring that.

Gennaro said...

Interesting article. It's often difficult to find a connection between a specific West African country and its direct influence on an African American community. When I was studying abroad in Ghana, I was doing some research the effects.

Fly Girl said...

Nice to see you again Gennaro, yes it's unusual to find a direct link to a specific West African country with African American culture. Gullah culture is exceptional because the people were isolated for so long and they were able to maintain so much of the culture unchanged. Researchers easily trace Gullahs to Sierra Leone because the language, basket weaving and rice growing practices almost mirror the country's traditions.

Dominique said...

Thanks so much for these posts about the Gullah culture and language.
We heard a bit of the language when we visited Charleston, SC a few years ago.
We also drove out to Mt. Pleasant to eat at a place called Gullah Cuisine. http://www.gullahcuisine.com/index.html At that time, they offered a lunch buffet...all you could eat for about $7! Great food. We knew to arrive hungry, and that we wouldn't need but that one meal all day.
I also bought one of the beautiful sweet grass baskets in the Charleston Market...a medium-size covered work basket.

Fly Girl said...

Thanks for dropping by Dominique, I know Gullah Cusine well!I got my first taste of Gullah there and interviewed Charlotte, the owner. I'll be doing a post on Gullah food soon, so stay tuned!