Southern Exposure

December 31, 2010

 
 

The few trips I have had to the South were mostly pleasant experiences, such as meeting my maternal grandmother’s family in South Carolina at a reunion in 2000.  There were some unpleasant experiences as well that I will address in the following blog:  ” Southern Discomfort”.

This year, for my summer vacation which did not occur until November, I had the pleasure of spending some time in Savannah, Georgia and Sea Islands (Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina) known for their beauty, but less well-known for the exquisite culture of the Gullah people.  

My grandmother would try her best to distance herself from this massive group, but I suspect that our heritage is closer to theirs than she really wanted to admit.  Some of the language she used was just too similar and some of the recipes were EXACTLY the same when I looked in Gullah cookbooks.  I think the close linkage to Africa that is clearly accepted in Gullah culture and maybe some of the religious differences and beliefs may have been the point of concerns for my grandmother and her family who were trying very hard to just be “American”.

Africans in this region during slavery, were often left without a Caucasian presence, to tend  land in the “lowcountry” where their Caucasian owners found the weather difficult to bear.  This made it possible for them to retain many aspects of their African language and culture.  To this day, many are able to trace their history directly to Africa, many from Sierra Leone. 

The language is what many linguists would call a” pigeon” which is a mixture of languages, like Creole, or West Indian dialects.  The culture is also mixed and this is evidenced in the religious practices which tend to be Christian, but outside of the church sustain a African based belief structure on healing and how to learn life’s lessons.  These beliefs coexist in the same way they do for those who practice Santeria (which is fundamentally African) in Latin cultures.

There was representation of this culture in 90s cinema and on television with the movie Daughter’s of the Dust by independent filmmaker, Julie Dash which was a story about a Gullah Island family at the turn of the last century.  I think the movie has some of the most beautiful cinematography I have ever seen.  Take a look: 

Ronald Daise and his wife Natalie have shared about Gullah culture through their very popular 90s children’s television show: “Gullah Gullah Island” which continues to air on Nick Jr. in the middle of the night.  The videos are available through their website http://gullahgullah.com/, and on Amazon.  Their delightful show focuses less on the language and more on the way of life and spirit of community in Gullah culture.  Ronald Daise also has some children’s books that I find beautiful in their presentation of this little talked about and little understood area of the world.  These books have positive Black imagery and relationships for African American youth.  They would make great Kwanzaa gifts.

The power in all of this is the recognition that we come from somewhere, and there is a link to whence we came, as much as we try to deny that at times.

For more information on the subject see: http://www.penncenter.com/

I also like this blog about the subject:

http://www.rosalindcummingsyeates.com/blog/labels/Gullah%20Culture.html

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One Response to “Southern Exposure”

  1. […] There were some unpleasant feelings that came up in terms of my summer vacation South in November 2010. I was concerned about returning to the only place I had ever been where I was called a “nigger” to my face. Surreal for me. ” No thanks, I’ll pass”, I thought when the opportunity arose, but then as you read in my last post I found some really beautiful things in the South (Southern Exposure: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/southern-exposure/). […]

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