The recent rise in Black consciousness has created an extraordinary interest in the study of Black heritage and the preservation of Black culture in America. Many scholars and students are turning their attention to A frican-American cultural patterns, which have been long ignored and often scorned. Black people are realizing more and more that these patterns exemplify key features of their heritage and may offer not only clues into the past, but also provide guides to survival in the future.
As this interest gains momentum, African-Americans are looking toward the South, particularly to its rural and isolated islands where so many of the unique elements of contemporary Black culture have their roots. The culture of the Sea Islands is such a special case. The lack of contact with the mainland helped to preserve some of the important features of their African culture. Because the Africans that were brought to these islands were not sold and resold as often as those on the mainland, some of their ancestral family patterns remain even to this date. ——————————————————————————- A. Sea Islands Begin just north of Georgetown, South Carolina, and continue to the Florida border. It is estimated that there are approximately 1,000 islands along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia separated from the mainland by marshes, alluvial streams and rivers. 1. Some of the islands are bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and are as far as twenty miles or more from the mainland. 2. They range in size from the uninhabitable ones to John’s Island South Carolina, the second largest island in the United States.B. European settlement 1. The Sea Islands have formed the basis of a very profitable agriculture. 2. During slavery, the long staple cotton grown here was considered the best available anywhere and brought very favorable prices on the world market 3. The economy of the region was based almost entirely on slavery, and because of the labor intensity of the crops, very large plantations developed in this area. a. Some Whites owned entire islands containing thousands of acres of land and maintained hundreds of slaves to till the soil. C. Isolation 1.The isolation of the islands and the large numbers of slaves meant that the influence of American White culture upon African and slave culture was minimal. 2. To further enhance the development of a unique Black culture, there was the continual importation of slaves directly from Africa. a. The overwhelming number of slaves entering South Carolina during the 18th century came directly from Africa. b. The isolation of the islands made them a prime location for slave traders to land illegal cargoes of Africans after the Slave Trade Act of 1808. c. Africans were imported into the islands as late as 1858.D. Cultural formations 1. There was a geographical, social and cultural basis for the retention of many elements of African culture in the Sea Islands and the development of a distinctive African-American culture. 2. The word “Gullah” was once defined as the way of speaking of Blacks on the Sea Islands. In recent years, Gullah has come to mean not only the speech of Black islanders but also their culture and way of life. a. Food- traditional seafood and rice dishes “Hoppin John” and “Frogmore Stew” b. Arts-basket weaving, donning fishnets, pottery, and quilting. . The first American cowboys were the Blacks in the Carolina low country (Sea Islands). d. Contributions to American music are also evident. e. Tradition of fishing passed from one generation to another. f. During the slave period many of the customs the people developed clearly reflected African culture and post-bellum conditions enhanced their retention. Basket weaving is one of the dominant crafts of the region, and one of the oldest crafts of African origin in theUnited States. Crabbing and fishing are a very important part of the Sea Island culture.Sea Island children are intimately familiar with the ocean and learn the art of casting and netting as early as the age of three. E. Development of survival patterns 1. Philosophy and utilization of time. Older Blacks have a different relationship to time than many younger and “up to date” Blacks. 2. Environment coping a. Dealing with atmospheric changes F. Psychological and sociological issues. 1. Many Sea Island Blacks may have different self perceptions and attitudes as compared to Blacks raised in other areas. 2. The Sea Island Blacks frequently owned their land since the years before Reconstruction.Many of them do not know what it means to pay rent or a mortgage and to some the very concepts are meaningless. 3. The fact that the people were very isolated from mainstream culture, they could only survive by developing a posture of self-sufficiency and independence. 4. Many elderly Sea Island Blacks had very limited interaction with Whites. 5. Black activism of Sea Island Blacks a. Some of the earliest support for the civil rights movement came out of the Sea Island and Martin Luther King developed some of his major campaigns during retreats to the area. . Local independence and activism has its roots in the Reconstructionist Era and the Black majority in the area. c. A large portion of the elderly Sea Islanders registered to vote before 1910. G. Uniqueness of Sea Islands 1. They are home of a West African people called Gullah. They were captured from this area because the Europeans needed technology and labor to build their empires and America. The Gullah captives possessed skills (technology) in agriculture, science, animal farming, construction, navigation, government, and teaching. 2.The knowledge and need for farming and building in the Sea Islands required specialized skills that were found in abundance in West Africa 3. The isolation of the Gullah from mainland whites and other Africans allowed the Gullah to maintain a high degree of African culture. Also, the high concentration of Africans allowed a Gullah community to form an Afrocentric cultural entity within a European American cultural context. H. Gullah Dialect 1. The Gullah “accent” is much more than just an accent on the English language. Gullah, as a language, uses distinct African language patterns, and conceptual meanings.In other words, the Gullah language is uniquely African, with English words added to it. 2. One study says that the origin of the term Gullah and the Blacks came from the West Coast of Africa, but exactly where has not been agreed upon. a. One is that Gullah is a shortened form of Angola, the name of an African West Coast district lying south of the Equator and the mouth of the Congo River. b. A second suggestion is that Gullah comes from the name of the Liberian group of tribes known as Golas living on the West Coast between Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. . Gullah has been called the most African of any of our Black dialects, yet it can be traced back in practically every detail to English dialect speech. There has been an interchange of cultural values between the Black and White communities who have lived and worked together on the Sea Islands from the first days of settlement. The dialect was nourished in isolation and has survived with little change because of the continued isolation of its native area. The Parable of the Lost Sheep, Luke 15:2-3 King James VersionAnd the Pharisees and scribes murmured saying, this man receiveth sinners and eateth with the them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness and go after that which is lost, until hefind it? Gullah Version En de Pharisee en de law teesha dem saat ta mek cumplain,say “Dis man sociate widsinna en ebn eat mong am. Now den Jesus done know dem binna nek cumplain bout am. So e tell am one parryubble, say “Supposin a hondad sheep blonks ta one a oona.Ef one a dem sheep done loss een de wood wa you fa do? Sho nuf, you gwain lef de ninety-nine oddares safe een de pasta. You gwain saach fa de one wa loss tel you fin am eni? ” I. Sea Islands Today 1. Today, an estimated 270,00 people along the Georgia, Carolina, and northeastern Florida coasts speak of Gullah. The dialect survived primarily among rural Blacks who largely depended on farming and fishing. Many of these people are now moving into jobs in the various resort industries, which are springing up on the islands, thus ending their isolation.Nonetheless, Gullah has a way of surviving even in small clusters in New York City where its speakers are often mistaken for Barbadians. 2. Because many corporations are now building their resorts on the islands and the United States Marine Corps has established a training base on Paris Island, many sociologists theorize the Gullah culture will soon die out. Nonetheless, although the pressures on the Gullah culture to disintegrate and assimilate are great, there are a number of people who are making valiant attempts to maintain, and preserve this treasured culture.