Educational CyberPlayGround ®


Gullah Culture: Book

Gullah GeecheeGullahKidsClarence ThomasGullah Bible

GULLAH/GEECHEE NATION BOTH ARE PEOPLE from Jackson North Carolina to Jacksonville FL. The nation encompases all the Sea Islands and 35 milies inland to the St. Johns River. GULLAH is also a language and from that language you also have a DIALECT AND Geechee is essentially a dialect of a language it is also what linguists would call a pidgin, or a bridge language.

Interview with Chieftess Queen Quet Penn School for Freed men in America



Who held the first Memorial Day celebration?

When the Civil War came, the response of the Gullah people was to use their knowledge to further the cause of freedom: from the heroic acts of Robert Smalls to the enthusiasm of the Port Royal Experiment to the call for 40 Acres and a Mule, it was these uniquely cultured and empowered people who perhaps most enthusiastically embraced both resistance to the planter regime while yearning for the American dream. And, on 1 May 1865, they performed an act of gratitude to the country that had first enslaved and finally freed them, firmly based both in their African and American heritage that became part of what we now celebrate as Memorial Day.

Gullah Geechee Sea Islanders Tradition

Gullah on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia.


Family Across the Sea
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. Ethnic & Immigrant Cultures, Foodways, Festivals/Customs, African American Culture / South / 1990\



A ring shout is a religious circle dance done without crossing the feet (so it's not "really" dancing, which good church people don't do.) Just about any spiritual can be made into a ring shout. One characteristic is polyrhythmic "double-time" once the Spirit comes down.

Gullah-Geechee Ring Shout from Georgia

The McIntosh County Shouters is a ten-member Gullah-Geechee group that began performing professionally in 1980. The “ring shout,” is a compelling fusion of counterclockwise dance-like movement, call-and-response singing, and percussion consisting of hand claps and a stick beating the rhythm on a wooden floor. African in its origins, the ring shout affirms oneness with the Spirit and ancestors as well as community cohesiveness. The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Its practice continued well into the 20th Century, even as its influence was resounding in later forms like spiritual, jubilee, gospel and jazz. By the late 20th century, the ring shout itself was presumed to have died out until its rediscovery in McIntosh County in 1980; thus, the beginning of the McIntosh County Shouters. The group was awarded the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1993, and were selected as Producers of Distinction and Founding Members of the “Georgia Made Georgia Grown Program,” in 2009. Their performances include the National Black Arts Festival, of Smithsonian Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, and Sound Legacies at Emory University. The group has been featured in magazines and documentaries, including HBO's Unchained Memories.


Sea Island shout


Bessie Jones' Sea Island song "Sometimes" has been redone in a house music format. Moby had earlier used a sample from if for his song, "Honey," which not as funky as this most recent effort by Enzo Siffredi. Thank God Ms. Jones agreed to let Lomax record her version. hear Jones' original

"Way Down Yonder, Sometimes" and the ring play that it accompanies is discussed in more detail (and with lyric transcription) on page 100 of Bessie Jones' & Bess Hawes' 1972 book Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage. go to page 100.

or "ring games"

Another point to consider about her traditional performances of such "play-party" or "ring games" is that Bessie Jones was born and grew up, not on the Georgia coast, but inland near Dawson, Georgia, which is actually in southwestern Georgia. Such ring games, along with related hand-clap games, are, or were, relatively common among African-American children all across the Piedmont and Coastal Plains regions of Georgia and Alabama, northern Florida, and the Carolinas. In contrast, however, ring shouts proper are probably now extant only along the coastal areas of Georgia and possibly South Carolina.


Q & A with the director of the Anacostia Community Museum about their exhibition, "Word, Song, Shout"

The museum's current exhibit, Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities Through Language is no exception. Installed through July 24, Word, Shout, Song showcases the Gullah culture and its unique dialect, whose very existence is a testament to the strength and breadth of the African diaspora. Largely found along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, Gullah songs and traditions survived a trans-Atlantic journey, a century of slavery, and years of modernization. It was Lorenzo Dow Turner, perhaps the first African-American linguist, who first realized the “baby” English of these coastal communities was rooted in African ancestry. The exhibit documents Turner's research in the 1930s, and the field work he conducted in the South, Africa, and South America, often lugging a hundred-pound recording device along with him. To learn more about the bridge between language, culture, and community, we spoke by e-mail with Alcione Amos, who curated the exhibit, and Portia James, the senior curator at the Anacostia Community Museum.

NEA: This exhibit traces the generational, cross-continental survival of both language and song. What do you think this says about the power of words and music?

AMOS: I think the words we have heard from our elders and the songs we learn in childhood stay with us forever. I personally have experienced this as I remember what I heard from my mother in Brazil—where I was born and grew up—to this date. But I think the exhibit transcends even that. It shows that people who were subjected to the dehumanizing process of slavery were able to keep some of the culture from which they were taken against their will. One of the sections of the exhibit, perhaps the most emotional to me, is called the “The Song that Made the Roundtrip to Africa.” It tells the story of an African song that survived for generations in a family in Harris Neck, Georgia, being passed from generation to generation by the women. After a while they did not know what the words meant, but they knew the song was important. It was a link to their past that could not be snatched from them, even by the horrors of slavery. The song was recorded in 1933 by Dr. Turner, rediscovered by scholars in the 1990s, and finally went back to its origins in Sierra Leone. Think about the power of this song!


Gullah Culture
by Cecile McHardy
Independent Scholar

AAVE - West Indian English Creole, African American Vernacular. Any language used by isolated groups of people is likely to split into various dialects.


Creolized forms of Black English found in Jamaica, Guiana, coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina, etc carried back to West Africa - Sierra Leone Colony by 1800, middle of l9th C - Afro-American colony of Liberia; removal of Jamaican Maroons to S.Leone, the extraordinary role of fugitive slaves/Maroons incorporated into British military establishments as garrison troops in West Africa, the role of Blacks as mariners.etc.
Hancock's work tells us a great deal about the historical development of these creoles but also the physical contacts between different points of Africans in diaspora. He demonstrates for eg the close link between Sranan [black English of Surinam], West African Krio=creole of Sierra Leone, Gambia, Cameroons and Gullah [Geechee]. A detailed investigation of the movement of people of African descent in both directions across the atlantic and within the caribbean. Former captives settled Sierra Leone by 1800, and there was continued forced migration of Africans in the reverse direction to the southern states of the USA until 1850's. Monica Schuler's Alas Alas Poor Congo gives account of captures as contraband aboard slaving vessels, settled in refugee camps in Sierra Leone recruited as 'apprentices [a species of indenture] to meet the labor demands in the Br. Caribbean after emancipation in 1833 when freed slaves refused to work without wages`. A great problem arose - what to do with contrabands at the end of their apprenticeship.

These were CHILDREN / YOUTH including young women some 8,000 absorbed into British Military establishment - the West Indian Regiments - [a sobering fact considering contemporary events of RUF use of children soldiers - we need to unearth/propagate these facts of history] Linguistic history - Akan for eg. exerted important influence in creole of the Caribbean, as did Ewe-Fon in the l7th/19th C and a parallel for Bantu as result of large scale captive labor from Congo Angola. [NB the l3 American colonies secured captive labor mainly via the Caribbean before the revolutionary war, before the disposession of Creek/Cherokee lands for establishment of Tennessee. extension of Georgia, Indian genocide and removal [ethnic cleansing] the Florida acquisition [Seminole wars] and the Louisiana purchase]. All these events resulted in population displacement, refugees, marronnage. Yoruba is a late impact -19th C. Dalby argues the creole spoken by the freed population of Sierra Leone has influences from Mandingo and Mende loan words in the Gullah results from transportation of captives from Sierra Leone to the US in the period immediately before the Civil War. [The subsequent emancipation and physical isolation of the Gullah preserved its distinctive character]

Historical circumstances led to transportation of captives from particular areas of Africa to the new world. e.g Louisiana /lower Mississippi where a large part of labor force brought by the French from Senegambia beginning of l8th C - Wolof, Mandingo, Bambara - famous for rice cultivation in the Casamance used on rice plantations in the delta.

It is said that Loan words from Wolof have a big influence in American English generally, jive, juke, honkey nup, OK, boogie woogie, rap, hep, cat, whup - but this is a source of controversy because you can find these exact words in the Irish dictionary written by Dan Cassidy. ** [[ Karen Ellis: The Etymology of JAZZ, jism, jive, juke, honky, boogie woogie, hep, cat, are Irish American Vernacular English derivations.]]

More importantly they posessed a rich minstrel tradition, including a professional caste of bards or 'griots' who have much influenced the development of 'jazz'. A much neglected area of enquiry in this regard is religion, the provenance of these people Islamized by the 9th century with traditions of both scholarship and literacy worthy of serious exploration.

Reprinted with permission from Cecile McHardy May 23, 2000


To frame the issue re: big lens - recommend inter alia - Hans Wolff, Morris F. Goodman, Ian F. Hancock 'English derived Atlantic Creoles: a comparison' African Language Review, 8, 1969; F.G. Cassidy & R.B LePage, P.E.H Hair and particularly David Dalby's 'Black Through White: Patterns of Communication' African Studies Program, Indiana UP 1970.


It is Dalby's thesis that a Black Portuguese developed as a lingua franca in West Africa in the 15th century and spread around the globe as a maritime creole. That it was an African construct for communication not only between black and white but a trade language between indigeneous coastal people who spoke different languages. It set a pattern. Even today for every European or American able to speak an African language, millions of Africans are able to speak a European language. [Also even today a great number of people in West Africa are multi-lingual] Black Portuguese had a full century of development before the Dutch displaced the Portuguese in the slave trade. A similar phenomenon - Black Dutch = Afrikaans characterised speech communities in the Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and Surinam, it is the mother tongue of Cape Coloureds, not only of Afrikaners of SA. [ consult Dalby for linguistic arguments re phonological, grammatical and semantic structure reminiscent of many African languages though vocabulary derived from European language]. So too Black French which developed by the middle of the 17th C around the French bases and colonies on both sides of the Atlantic. Goodman points out the African features of Creole French dialects in the Caribbean - Guadeloupe, Martinique, Trinidad, Haiti, etc & Louisiana in N.America, [Gumbo], Cayenne in S. America but also half a world away, in Mauritius, Reunion and the Seychelles. Black French survives in West Africa, the Wolof of Senegal has left an imprint on the creole of Mauritius.


First recorded English voyage to WA, Capt. Towerson in 1554 took five Africans from Gold Coast/Ghana to England to learn English & to become Interpreters.
The English West African companies became active at the end of the l6th C - first English fort was built in Gambia in 1618 , 1631 in the Gold Coast and by the end of the 17th C English privateers settled on off shore islands around Sierra Leone, their Afro-English descendants played important role in maritime trade/communication [Liberia - Kru = Crew].
By the 18th C Black English was spoken along the whole Guinea coast, from Gambia to the Bight of Biafra
. An African/Efik trader of Calabar/Nigeria kept a diary - extracts survive c 1780. Black English was carried around the Cape to the Indian Ocean and beyond and helped set the pattern for a further chain of oriental English [China coast pidgin and Neo-Melanesian are examples]

The most distinctive forms of Black English survive among the Maroons of Surinam and the Djuka achieved renown in developing the Afaka script an original syllabic form of Black English. [I have examples of this as well as tapes of speech made in 1964]. Bridges, branches, roots & braids its a rich tapestry!