Meet the Gullah People

The Gullah people, sometimes known as Geechee, are a group of descendants of African people in enclaves scattered around Georgia and South Carolina and into Florida around the coastal plains, and in sea-island towns such as Bluffton, Daufuskie and Hilton Head. This unique subpopulation of African Americans has retained the customs, traditions and mores of the mother countries in West Africa.

Captions by Gary Lee

Aunt Pearlie Sue

Anita Singleton Prather, a Gullah storyteller, educator, singer and historian, is part of a new generation of Gullah cultural ambassadors. She carries on the culture's rich tradition of oration under the stage name of Aunt Pearlie Sue, a character styled after her grandmother. Prather frequently performs at gatherings and festivals, regaling audiences with Gullah folktales.

The Gullah Tongue

The Gullah tongue evolved out of a mix of English and various African languages. An ongoing movement to preserve it includes a long and inspired translation of the Bible into Gullah, completed in 2005. The Gullah Bible is now sometimes used in churches in Beaufort, S.C., and other Gullah strongholds. Here Emory Campbell, a prominent Gullah community leader, is reading from Da Nyew Testament.

Gullah Cuisine

Gullah food, drawing strongly from African cooking traditions, frequently includes rice and fish or seafood. Delicious low-country fare includes the fried rice dish and the shrimp dish served at Gullah Cuisine Restaurant in Mt. Pleasant, S.C. Great Gullah cuisine is available at various restaurants around Charleston, Beaufort and other cities in South Carolina.

The Penn Center

Located on St. Helena Island, S.C., the Penn Center is dedicated to preserving the cultures of the sea-island and coastal areas, including Gullah cultures. The Pine Cottage, built in 1921, is one of several residential buildings sprawled across center's bucolic 50-acre campus.

Heritage Days Festival

These dancers from Sierra Leone are performing at the Heritage Days Festival at the Penn Center, St. Helena Island, S.C. A celebration of Gullah cultural history, the annual event — scheduled in 2011 for Nov. 10-12 — helps keep the strong bond between the Gullah people of the Southern U.S. and natives of Sierra Leone and other African countries where the Gullah have roots.

Transatlantic Traditions

Gullah dancers blend traditional dance moves from Sierra Leone and other African countries with contemporary styles, like this Gullah dancer, appearing at the Heritage Days Festival at the Penn Center. Dance, singing, storytelling and food, all key aspects of Gullah culture, are common elements at the Heritage Days Festival and similar events staged throughout Gullah Country.

Sweetgrass Baskets

Sweetgrass basket making, a tradition that Gullah people brought from Africa in the 18th century, remains a strong part of the culture. These coiled, handmade sweetgrass baskets are at a crafts market in Charleston, S.C. Besides various crafts markets, the baskets can be found for sale from Gullah women along Route 17N near Charleston, as well as in shops in Beaufort, S.C., and other Gullah strongholds.

The Beaufort Basket

Jery Bennett Taylor, one of the most well-known Gullah basket weavers, seeks to bring the soul of the weaving techniques of her ancestors into her work. Her work is prized by art collectors. "The Beaufort Basket" was the centerpiece of a recent exhibition on basket making at the Penn Center's York W. Bailey Museum.

Heyward House

Heyward House is an antebellum mansion, built as a summer home for a plantation owner around 1841 in the South Carolina town of Bluffton. The well-preserved home, including the intact slave quarters out back, offers visitors an insight into the lives of Gullah people during their enslavement.

Gullah Girl Tea

Gullah people often turn to teas as herbal remedies and to promote healing and wellness. Beaufort native Charmaine Bee founded Gullah Girl Tea, which offers a variety of herbal teas, to honor her Gullah grandmother. One favorite is their Vanilla Rooibos with Coconut tea, made from the red bush plant, grown in South Africa.

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