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Gullah People of the Low Country

Gullah people are African Americans who live in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah Culture is unique to these African-Americans of the Sea Islands in this region. Gullah refers to several things: people, language and culture.

The Gullah People and Gullah Language

gullah people
Gullah Storyteller

The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African-American community in the United States. They speak an English-based Creole language containing many African loanwords.

Gullah history states that for more than 300 years this rhythmic language has survived, partly because of the geographic isolation of the Gullah people who speak it.

Today the local African-Americans of this area can understand the Gullah language and some still speak it. During the Gullah Festival of Heritage Days on St Helena Island SC, storytelling is done through this rhythmic language that is musical to the ears.

The Gullah Culture, Gullah Festival
and Sweetgrass Basket-Making

gullah people
Gullah Woman

Gullah history also tells us that Gullah culture descended from thousands of slaves who were imported by planters in the Carolinas and Georgia during the 18th century. Maintaining not only their dialect but also their heritage, Gullah culture remains strong and can be traced back to the African rice-coast culture which survives today in the art form of sweetgrass basket-making.

Back in the colonial period, Africans that worked in the rice fields and had basket-making skills were extremely valuable because baskets were needed for agricultural and household use.

Throughout the South Carolina and Georgia Low Country sweetgrass basket-making can be found and the baskets are sold in stores or by street vendors. These sweetgrass baskets are made of marsh grass smelling sweet and hay like. Look for these at the Gullah Festival of Heritage Days on St Helena Island which takes place every November.

Sweetgrass Baskets

Gullah Culture is also celebrated through their foods. Rice is in nearly every meal. Low Country dishes use okra, peanuts, benne, field peas and hot peppers. Also included in their dishes is shrimp, crabs, oysters and fish because Gullah men still go shrimping with hand-tied nets.

Most often dishes are prepared in one pot, similar to stew. Be sure to try these tasty dishes at the Gullah Festival of Heritage Days on St Helena Island and look for Frogmore Stew which combines shrimp, potatoes, sausage and corn. A New YearÂ’s Day Gullah tradition is to serve HoppinÂ’ John Stew which is a mixture of rice and field peas.

On St. Helena Island SC, near Beaufort South Carolina, Penn Center is the official Gullah headquarters. Here they preserve the Gullah culture and develop opportunities for Gullah people also educate its visitors on Gullah history.

The first school for freed slaves was established at Penn Center back in 1852. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. met here with the Southern Christian Leadership Council to organize civil rights activities.

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