Gullah/GeeChee Culture

Gullah Geechee

The Gullah are a distinctive group of Black Americans from South Carolina and Georgia in the southeastern United States. They live in small farming and fishing communities along the Atlantic coastal plain and on the chain of Sea Islands which runs parallel to the coast.

Because of their geographical isolation and strong community life, the Gullah have been able to preserve more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans. They speak a creole language similar to Sierra Leone Krio, use African names, tell African folktales, make African-style handicrafts such as baskets and carved walking sticks, and enjoy a rich cuisine based primarily on rice.

Indeed, rice is what forms the special link between the Gullah and the people of Sierra Leone. During the 1700s the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia discovered that rice would grow well in the moist, semitropical country bordering their coastline. But the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia had no experience with the cultivation of rice, and they needed African slaves who knew how to plant, harvest, and process this difficult crop.

The white plantation owners purchased slaves from various parts of Africa, but they greatly preferred slaves from what they called the “Rice Coast” or “Windward Coast” – the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa, stretching from Senegal down to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The plantation owners were willing to pay higher prices for slaves from this area, and Africans from the Rice Coast were almost certainly the largest group of slaves imported into South Carolina and Georgia during the 18th century.

The Gullah people are directly descended from the slaves who labored on the rice plantations, and their language reflects significant influences from Sierra Leone and the surrounding area. The Gullahs’ English-based creole language is strikingly similar to Sierra Leone Krio and contains such identical expressions as bigyai (greedy), pantap (on top of), ohltu (both), tif (steal) yeys (ear), and swit (delicious). But, in addition to words derived from English, the Gullah creole also contains several thousand words and personal names derived from African languages – and a large proportion of these (about 25%) are from languages spoken in Sierra Leone. (African Heritage.com)

Sweetgrass BasketsTraditional Sweetgrass Baskets

Additional Information:

Gullah Net – In the past, people have described the Gullah culture as quaint and the language as unintelligible. A closer look reveals a complex history and language with direct links to West Africa that survived slavery and thrived on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah experience has many variables that make it unique to each family and community. Gullah Net was designed to introduce Gullah culture and language to children on the Web.

Origin of the Gullah – Yale University

Study Guide – Gullah History & Culture – Arts Midwest Worldfest

Ultimate Gullah

Gullah Music – PBS LearningMedia

Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor – National Park Service

Charleston’s African American Heritage

Gullah Culture & History (Pinterest)

Family Across the Sea (Documentary on FolkStreams.net) – Family Across the Sea shows how scholars have uncovered the remarkable connections between the Gullah people of South Carolina and the people of Sierra Leone. The ancestors of the Gullah were African slaves brought to the Sea Islands because of their expertise in rice cultivation. Family Across The Sea documents how the Gullahs incorporated many aspects of African culture in the daily life of the plantations. The Gullah language contains over 3,000 words of African origin and resembles the Krio language of Sierra Leone. One woman speaks what many African Americans will feel: “Now, I know that I have really come home.”

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