ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Decoration Day . . . with an emphasis on education and preservation. . . . evolved into
what has become the Gullah Festival. The festival is an unabashed celebration
of Gullah history, its African roots, its unique culture and legacy.
Gullah Festival in Beaufort South Carolina
Friday May 23 through Sunday May 25
This past weekend I traveled with the Cheyney University National Alumni Association to the annual Gullah Festival in Beaufort South Carolina. This was my first trip to South Carolina. I had heard about the Gullah people years ago and the festival. Last fall one of my fraternity brothers mentioned he was thinking about sponsoring a tour to the Gullah festival. To make a long story short, I didnt hear anything more from him and when my alumni association announced it was sponsoring a tour I jumped on the chance.
The Gullah people are the direct descendants of West Africans who were kidnapped, captured and stolen from their native soil and brought to this hemisphere to work the cotton, sugarcane and rice plantations, clear the land, till the soil, to make it bloom and profitable for whites, most of whom were absentee owners. Because of their location and isolation on the islands off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, that is, their extremely limited contact with Europeans, the most interesting aspect about the Gullah people is that they retained much of the culture, folkways, and traditions of their immediate African ancestors. You probably have heard the term Geechee. That was the name given to Gullah people, which when I was growing up was an extremely pejorative word. To call someone a Geechee was an insult, on the order of calling you “black” before black became positive, or calling you “trifling” or a “nigger.”
Geechees are the Gullah people who spoke a blended language comprised of African and European words but with a distinctly African syntax and flow. While the Gullah people used European words, the sounds, phrasing and order were entirely different from the way Europeans, their imitators, and surrogates sounded. As with all things African in this country, Gullah culture and language was viewed as less than, backward, and inferior by whites. It was also denigrated, derided and made fun of by black people who had no idea what Gullah culture was.
To their credit however, the Gullah people steadfastly refused to acquiesce to white notions of what proper language was or what it meant to be human.
Nana Yaa Asantewa performs
The Gullah people are fiercely proud of their heritage and background. Over the centuries, even though they too were enslaved they developed a different approach to bondage. They were more self-sufficient and they were the first to be liberated when the Union troops invaded the area. It was in South Carolina where General Sherman, in attempting to deal with the contraband (which is what they called our ancestors) took it upon himself to order the Gullah people be given up to forty acres of land vacated by the whites who had fled the area. (This is where the term forty acres and a mule originated.) The Gullah people of South Carolina were the first large group of Africans to be landowners and to be given the opportunity to purchase land for themselves.
During the brief period following the US Civil War called “Reconstruction,” Africans in South Carolina as well as other parts of the South played a monumental role in shaping the reorganization of America with regard to how it treated all its citizens. Alas the democratic idealism and zeal of Reconstruction was short lived. The ruling elites in both the North and South reverted to their oppressive ways. Ironically, they devised even more pernicious forms of peonage. But folks on the islands, because they were still isolated from whites and close knit, experienced more autonomy and self reliance then their mainland brethren. Because of this, the Gullah people tend to have more pride in who they are, their past and their potential albeit still living in a virulently racist country. It wasnt until they ventured off the islands or as more and more whites infiltrated the coastal regions that the Gullah people experienced overt contacts with racism and a blatant denigration of their culture. In recent decades as more and more whites came to the coastal islands, as usual they brought their psychosis and greed with them. Over the years many Geechee families have lost their lands due to a myriad of reasons and whites have eagerly gobbled up thousands of acres.
In the 1980s a few descendants of the Geechees decided to do something to celebrate themselves, venerate who they were and honor their unique heritage.
Mrs Rosalie Pazant who worked at Savannah State College at the time was retiring soon but she wanted to get involved in something positive to remain active. Some friends encouraged her to rekindle the spirit of a local tradition called Decoration Day but with an emphasis on education and preservation. So she and several others set out to plan what has evolved into what has become the Gullah Festival.
The festival is an unabashed celebration of Gullah history, its African roots, its unique culture and legacy. This year the festival was held from Friday May 23 through Sunday May 25. The 2008 festival (the twenty-second year) featured plays, panel discussions, artistic creativity, and assorted edutainment. But more importantly the Gullah Festival serves as a homecoming celebration an initiation and baptism into Gullah culture,.
Seretha M. Tuttle, tour guide
Most of the festivals activities are held on the newly renovated waterfront area of the Beaufort River in downtown Beaufort. This is prime land. Naturally there are elements in Beaufort that dont want a festival that unashamedly celebrates being African held at that location even though the festival brings in major tourist revenue for the hotels and restaurants in the region.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Pazant and her supporters remain steadfast and undeterred. They plan to keep having the festival far into the future. If you want to experience what it genuinely means to be proud to be an African on a daily basis, attend the Beaufort Gullah Festival. In November the historic Penn Center in St Helena Island, across the bridge from Beaufort, also sponsors a Heritage Festival. This celebration is another opportunity to discover the richness and revitalizing power of the Gullah people. It is an opportunity to see first hand the Geechee peoples uncompromising pride in their African heritage.
I was just as energized attending the Gullah Festival this weekend as I was in 2000 when I went to Kemet and saw for myself the wonders created by our ancient African ancestors. For facilitating this experience for me, I thank the Cheyney National Alumni Association but I especially appreciate Mrs. Rosalie Pazant who is now 91 years old. Mrs Pazant is still the president of the festival. I thank Mrs Pazant, her daughters who support her and their board for holding fast to the vision despite the myriad obstacles theyve faced over the years. Thank you Mrs. Rosalie Pazant!
From the Ramparts
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#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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By Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”
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By Robert Hass
The Apple Trees at Olema includes work from Robert Hass’s first five booksField Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, Sun Under Wood, and Time and Materialsas well as a substantial gathering of new poems, including a suite of elegies, a series of poems in the form of notebook musings on the nature of storytelling, a suite of summer lyrics, and two experiments in pure narrative that meditate on personal relations in a violent world and read like small, luminous novellas. From the beginning, his poems have seemed entirely his own: a complex hybrid of the lyric line, with an unwavering fidelity to human and nonhuman nature, and formal variety and surprise, and a syntax capable of thinking through difficult things in ways that are both perfectly ordinary and really unusual. Over the years, he has added to these qualities a range and a formal restlessness that seem to come from a skeptical turn of mind, an acute sense of the artifice of the poem and of the complexity of the world of lived experience that a poem tries to apprehend. Hass’s work is grounded in the beauty of the physical world. His familiar landscapesSan Francisco, the northern California coast, the Sierra high countryare vividly alive in his work. His themes include art, the natural world, desire, family life, the life between lovers, the violence of history, and the power and inherent limitations of language. He is a poet who is trying to say, as fully as he can, what it is like to be alive in his place and time.
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posted 14 December 2011