Feel the ancestral connection in blended cuisine, intricate sweetgrass baskets, heartfelt songs and church services that mix Christian tradition with African spice in an 18th century Praise House. It’s a semi-tropical place were locals describe addresses by saying “It’s just down the road a little ways” or by a street name that takes you to one house. See folks that look like old relatives and greet you with the smile of kin. More at home than you realize, even the ground says welcome.
The region consisting of broad islands and flat coastal plains extending miles inland called “Lowcountry” was originally inhabited by Native Americans and became home to African slaves and their descendents. You won’t find “Gullah Islands” on a map, but like veiled treasure it’s almost beneath your nose.
They line the Atlantic Coast from southern North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to northern Florida. The terms “Gullah Islanders” or “Gullah People” describe descendants of African slaves born on these islands. It is said that the word “Gullah” is a derivative of the word Angola, which is one of the prime African countries where enslaved people were brought.
Many tribes, speaking different languages, worked the rice, cotton, and indigo plantations. Forbidden by plantation owners to speak their tribal tongues, they developed their own derivative language mixing words from their native languages and their European overlords to form Gullah. The language uses many African words such as gumbo, goober and yam to a Swahili-like purpose, uniting many African tribes in their new country of challenging circumstance.
Three times a year, Gullah Islanders heed the hypnotic call home to celebrate their heritage festivals. In these festivals, aromatic scents whet your appetite to indulge their award-winning Lowcountry cuisine. The food is often so delicious, it will give you bragging rights back at the office.
Don’t envy the tales of others who quickened their spirits by touching the sweet pain and joy of our heritage. Discover Gullah Islands treasure for yourself. Sojourn to the towns of Beaufort, St. Helena Island, Bluffton, Hampton, Hilton Head Island, Daufauskie Island and Georgetown, which are south and north of Charleston. Each has its own idiosyncrasies, each its own flavor, yet splendidly woven into the same Gullah cloth. And yes, each is on a map of South Carolina.