Gullah Language & Culture
The Gullah language, a Creole blend of Elizabethan English and African languages, was born
of necessity on Africa's slave coast, and developed in the slave communities of the isolated
plantations of the coastal South. Even after the sea islands were freed in 1861, the Gullah
speech flourished because access to the islands was by water only until the 1950's. Today,
one hears phrases like
Come Jine We.
Ketch ob de Day
Lok Ya Wantem Shrimps
But, Gullah is more than a language or dialect.........
................it is a culture.
Thousands of enslaved Africans survived the middle passage to reach the sea island shores. The majority of the slaves, 40,000, came from a section of Africa known as Angola. With the people --Mende, Kisi, Malinke, and Bantu-- came the soul of Africa. Their ancestral traditions survived as well. The words "Gullah" and "Geechee" have come to describe that legacy.
Gullah is a language of cadence and accents, words and intonations. The Gullah "shout" is a rhythmic translation of forbidden drums and the oldest of plantation melodies. Old spirituals and songs spoke of storms and other events in the lives of the slaves and were used as codes for meeting times and places and as messages for freedom.
Still standing are the Praise Houses, with a sacred past and present. The culture of the African elders met its people here, combining religious worship, consolation, and hope.
This rich culture flourishes today; in their language, their music, their art, their skills and their foods. Storytellers spin their tales, entwining fun and wisdom. Choirs preserve the haunting songs and the old rhythms. Sweetgrass basket weavers, "long strip" quilters, and fabric artists combine their modern materials and ancestral skills in ancient ways to produce remarkable wares. Chefs create the magic of the old recipes. This is the heritage of a Gullah.
The Gullah Festival is held each May and the Penn Center Heritage Days celebration takes place in November.