Who Is The Gullah Geechee Nation In South Carolina? 7 Things To Know

Many Americans know little about the Gullah Geechee Nation and people, descendants of Africans who were enslaved on rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast as far back as the 17th century.

The Gullah Geechee developed a new language and kept their African traditions which, over time, incorporated elements of Southeastern culture, according to the Mount Pleasant Historical Commission.

“The nature of their enslavement on an isolated island and coastal plantations created a unique culture with deep African retention that is visible in the Gullah Geechee people’s distinctive arts, crafts, foodways, music, and language,” according to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.

The Gullah Geechee Nation lives along the coast of the Southeastern U.S. from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, encompassing all of the sea islands and to the St. Johns River, according to the Ocean Conservatory. Many members are found in South Carolina.

Over the years, there had been a loss of Gullah Geechee residents in the region and some Gullah Geechee activists say there is fear of the heritage being lost. So on July 2, 2000, the Gullah Geechees officially came together to declare themselves a nation.

Who are the Gullah Geechee Nation in South Carolina? Here are seven things to know.

1. Descendants of numerous African ethnic groups

The Gullah Geechee Nation came to be by the mingling of enslaved people from numerous African ethnic groups linked with indigenous Americans, according to the Queen Quet website. They created the unique Gullah language and traditions and later came to be “Geechee.”

2. Nation within a nation

The Gullah Geechee people had been considered “a nation within a nation” from chattel enslavement until they officially became an internationally recognized nation on July 2, 2000. They also confirmed the election of their first “head pun de boddee”– head of state and official spokesperson and queen mother. A Queen Quet was elected as chieftess and head-of-state for the Gullah Geechee Nation.

3. Who is Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation?

Marquetta L. Goodwine was elected Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation, on July 2, 2000, when this nation within a nation was formally established in the presence of international observers.

She is a native of South Carolina’s St. Helena Island, and double-majored in mathematics and computer science at Fordham College at Lincoln Center. She worked in computer science during college and for a few years after graduating. But she changed direction in 1996, founding the Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition. Queen Quet has written books about the Gullah Geechee Nation.

Queen Quet helps the Gullah Geechee people with land rights and other issues, such as how climate change is affecting the fisheries that are central to Gullah Geechee lives and livelihoods. “Gullah Geechee culture is inextricably tied to the land and the water,” she said. “The land is our family, and the waterway is our bloodline.”

4. Population is aging

The Gullah Geechee Nation is an aging one.

“Most of the Gullah people around here are between 60 and 80 years old,” said Mary Rivers Legree, who maintains the Coffin Point Praise House in St Helena Island, South Carolina, in a The New York Times interview. “The young people here don’t understand the historical significance of being landowners. They don’t even know how they got their land.”

There is an effort to maintain the tradition and culture as well as get younger people involved. “Almost all of the people involved in the preservation efforts are middle-aged or older, and they recognize the need to bring younger people into the effort,” National Geographic reported.

5.Designated by Congress

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated by Congress in 2006. It is one of 40 congressionally designated National Heritage Areas.

The corridor extends from Wilmington, N.C., in the north to Jacksonville, Fla., in the South.

Geographic barriers along with a strong sense of family and community are factors that have helped to maintain Gullah Geechee culture. Mount Pleasant residents and visitors engage Gullah traditions daily through vivid cultural exchanges.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was created to recognize the significant contributions made to American culture and history by Gullah or Geechee people as well as help federal, state and local governments, grassroots organizations, and public and private entities in interpreting the story of the Gullah Geechee culture and preserving Gullah Geechee folklore, arts, crafts, and music. It was also created to assist in identifying and maintaining sites, historical data, artifacts, and objects associated with the Gullah Geechee culture for the education of the public.

6. African traditions live on

The ancestors of the Gullah Geechee people brought with them a heritage of African cultural traditions in art, foodways, and music. Gullah Geechee arts and crafts today are “products designed by their ancestors out of necessity for daily living, such as making cast nets for fishing, basket weaving for agriculture, and textile arts for clothing and warmth,” according to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.

7. Gullah Geechee food traditions

The Gullah Geechee Nation also have a unique diet. The traditional Gullah Geechee diet is made up of locally available items such as vegetables, fruits, game, seafood, livestock and items imported from Europe and Africa during the slave trade (okra, rice, yams, peas, hot peppers, peanuts, sesame “benne” seeds, sorghum and watermelon), according to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. The diet also incorporates food items introduced by Native Americans such as corn, squash, tomatoes, and berries. Rice became a staple crop for Gullah Geechee people.

Photo: Traditional Gullah Geechee basket weaver Mary Jane Manigault. Born June 13, 1913, outside Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, she was a 1984 National Heritage Fellow. Photo from Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission Facebook page.https://www.facebook.com/gullahgeecheecommission/photos/3128652437260142

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