Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the Heart of the Gullah Culture

What a wonderful surprise we encountered when we set out to explore the area around Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. I found a website that describes the area far better than I can. The  following is from the website :

"This area is home to one of the country’s most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southeastern United States from the primarily rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa. That culture continues today by their descendants, known as Gullah Geechee people.

Brought to the New World and forced to work on the coastal plantations of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, Gullah Geechee people developed a separate creole language and distinct culture patterns that included more of their African cultural traditions than the African-American populations in other parts of the United States. Gullah Geechee people retained many aspects of their creole culture due to the geographic barriers that isolated these sea island communities. Although Gullah Geechee people traveled between nearby islands and the mainland, few outsiders entered the Gullah Geechee communities, particularly after the Civil War. After their emancipation from slavery, the Gullah Geechee people’s isolation became more of a choice, as people returned to their homes, communities, and their way of life. In these rural communities, Gullah Geechee people continued their language, arts, crafts, religious beliefs, folklore, rituals and food preferences, and a strong sense of place and family. The Gullah Geechee peoples’ traditional economic practice of farming, fishing, hunting, and small-scale marketing of subsistence products also continue today, yet many areas that once supported these activities have been replaced by coastal development."

St Helena Island (beside Hunting Island, where we were parked) is at the heart of the Gullah Geechee culture. 

The weekend we were there a Heritage Days Cultural Celebration was happening. We decided to take in Saturday's events - a parade in the morning and a food cook-off and arts and crafts demonstrations in the afternoon. 

The parade was fun, very simple and local - high school bands, cheerleaders, church groups (lots and lots of church groups), the high school King and Queen, etc.

 It also appeared to be a celebration of Obama's return to the White House. Everyone cheered when floats expressing joy at his win went by.

I took lots of pictures but my camera was dying and they did not turn out well so I am afraid the above is all I have.

In the afternoon we headed out to the food, arts and crafts demonstrations. It was at the Penn Centre - the site of one of the country's first schools for freed slaves and one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today.

As we arrived at the street where the Penn Centre is located we were surprised to find it closed. But, as it was lined with local crafts people, artists and food vendors selling their wares, we figure that it was closed for the event. So we wandered down the street admiring the art, sampling the food and chatting with the people. 

In front of The Red Piano Art Gallery
Until we came to a police barricade. 

The road was closed because a young man driving a SUV came careening down it, struck a police motorcycle (the police person was not on it) and then continued on, hitting a child about 100 yards on. Although the youngster was knocked 10 feet into the air he was able to get up and walk to the ambulance. The driver of the car leapt out and ran off into the marsh so the police closed the road and brought out the canine unit.

We waited about an hour, wandering around, taking in the atmosphere and eating more. The event was to run from 11 am to 3 pm so about 2 pm, when it became apparent they weren't going to open the road to the Penn Centre any time soon, we left. We were really sad to miss this opportunity to learn more about Gullah Geechee arts and crafts, but did have lots of other opportunities to learn about the cuisine. But that is another blog post - coming soon. 

Artist along the road


  1. Hi Anne & Archie: Love that area. If you get a chance purchase a sweetgrass basket. Made by the locals, it is said to be a dying art. We purchased ours over 5 years ago and just love it. You should see wayside stands selling them or in the market in Charleston. Happy travels.

  2. Hi Anne & Archie: Love that area that you are visiting. If you get a chance get a sweetgrass basket - it is a dying art. We purchased one 5 years ago and love it. Look for wayside stands or else in Charleston at the market. Happy travels.


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