The Gullah People in South Carolina, USA
During the 1600s, most English colonizers in the new settlements required more workers to cultivate thousands of hectares of land on the Sea Island plantations. Even though some workers were from the American communities, most of them were from the African communities. Southern Carolina is one of the main areas that provided ports for the European vessels that transported people from Africa and the West Indies. Since most of the western Africans had skills in farming and building, the white plantation owners took people from these regions to do farming on their land. They used to work on rice plantations in Georgia and Southern Carolina. These people’s culture was extensively isolated from the white community as well as other slave communities. They are famous for having been retained a remarkable amount of their African language and customs elements. Therefore, the Gullah communities originated from a unique blend of the slave’s descendants from Africa who were valued for their capability of growing crucial crops like rice, combined with the Native American and European influences (Opala, 2011).
Currently, the Gullah people are working to ensure that future generations, as well as general citizens, understand and value the Gullah history. The Gullah communities have inhabited most parts of the Sea Island that extends along the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina, United States of America, where the enslaved Africans used to live and work on plantations owned by the American colonists. When the Civil War came to an end in 1865, the slaves were released. Since many plantation owners could not cultivate the land without slave labor, they sold some land to the plantation workers where most of them remained and made a living through fishing and land cultivation. They had limited movement outside the mainland because there were no other means other than by boat. This geographic restriction made the Native Islanders maintain their language and folkways. They have been able to retain their unique identity, especially that of the African traditions as compared to other black American groups. This is due to the temperate, the semitropical weather of South Carolina, a good system of rice farming adopted there since the 1700s, and diseases that originated from African communities. These aspects combined about two hundred years ago to form an environment of geographical as well as social segregation among the Gullah communities, and have lasted up to date (Geraty, 2013).
On the other hand, the climate in South Carolina used to be good for growing rice and proved favorable for some tropical diseases to spread. In this case, the African slaves would bring yellow fever and malaria, which thrived well on the marshy coastal plain and so much more around the swamped rice farms. The slave masters were very susceptible to these diseases, but slaves had hereditary resistance. This caused the population of white people in the region to decrease while the importation of slaves enlarged as the rice farming system developed and produced more profits (Schulz, 2012).
The Gullah societies in South Carolina lived in an extremely different condition from that of slaves in other parts of American colonizers. For instance, the Gullah people had little contact with the whites. They faced a largely isolated society life on rice agriculture and their segregation as well as numerical power allowed them to safeguard most African cultural beliefs. At the beginning of the 1700s, the Gullah people were already coming with unique language, customs, rituals, crafts, music, and diet drawn from cultures of different African ethnic groups they represented. Therefore, the Gullah emergence was mainly due to the isolation of the black slaves in a diseases environment, which was unfriendly to the whites as well as their numerical prevalence in the area. Another important factor was due to the continued slaves’ importation directly from the African communities and rice-growing regions. The South Carolina cultivators realized that the unique nature of their crops needed a constant invasion of slaves from Africa, but not from West Indies or the bordering colonies. Thus, a black society already segregated from the whites was constantly renewed through forced migration from Africa (Ramon, 2013).
The segregation of the Gullah people lasted throughout the slavery period and progressed even after the United States Civil War during 1860-1865 and the liberation of the servants. The Gullah people on the mainland continued working in rice agriculture as wage employees after obtaining their freedom, however, the rice market in South Carolina collapsed after 1890 because of competition with other rice farmers from Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana. Consequently, the Gullahs were left in a region limited of commercial significance and of little concern to the exterior world. Later, after the Civil War, cotton and rice farming was abandoned leaving the Gullah people in the most geographically segregated region in the U.S. Until the 1920s, the first bridges were not constructed and a decade later, there were adults in the regions who had never gone to the United States mainland. However, World War II and other major transformations in American life made an intense effect on the Gullah people. Most of them have found economic openings outside the region and return occasionally for holidays and family meetings (Clyburn, 2013).
Clyburn, E. (2013). We must preserve and protect Gullah Gechee culture. Retrieved from http://www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org/?Itemid=102
Geraty, V. (2013) the Gullah Creole language. Retrieved from http://www.ccpl.org/content.asp?id=15717&catID=6042&action=detail
Opala, J. (2011). The Gullah: Rice, Slavery and the Sierra Leone-American Connection. Retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/glc/gullah/04.htm
Ramon, J. (2013). Gullah cultural traditions: Origins and practices. Retrieved from http://www.africanamericancharleston.com/gullah.html
Schulz, K. (2012). The Gullah or Geeche people of South Carolina and Georgia. Retrieved from http://geography.about.com/od/culturalgeography/a/The-Gullah.htm