Growing up in the low country and with many visits to Charleston, Beaufort, and the islands of Saint Helena, Lady, and Edisto, I have always been exposed to a little of the Gullah language and its traditions. For those of you uneducated in this wonderful but dying speak of the sea islands, this is a language that was born from a confluence of Western and Central Africa and Creole by the slaves living in the South. Although, once present on the coast from North Carolina into Florida, now, one can only find it on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia. In the deep recesses of these beautiful places if you listen carefully, you will hear the lyrically lilts from the fisherman and the basket weavers, the grocers and the farmers.
In researching another project I came upon Queen Quet, Head of State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, or in their words, "head pun de bodee". The Gullah/Geechee Nation was established in 2000. The "About Us" page on their official web site (or Disya who WEBE) states the Nation "being the ONLY and TRUE keepers of the Gullah/ Geechee cultural legacy, upon us falls the responsibility to promote in an accurate and positive manner all aspects of Gullah/ Geechee culture by emanating knowledge and healing souls." And, it is great to know that people have come together to preserve their history, language, and culture before it dies out. Few of us have such a rich culture and past to preserve.
Most folks have only been exposed to the Gullah language in "Porgy and Bess". And, I would wager that the majority of those took the words to be poor English. I beg to differ. Gullah is a beautiful language, combined from many other languages by people thrown together under unpardonable conditions. It is full of love of people and the land. It is a cadence of religion and humor.
When I hear it, it is a language of survival and strength. It is words of poetry of the south, romance of the Caribbean, and rhythm of Africa. Here are a few examples of the Gullah language. However reading it yourself, does it little justice. One needs to experience hearing it from a true island person brought up in the world of Gullah who can speak it with all the expression and rhythm it deserves.
- All a we hab cajun fuh meet um. (We are glad to meet you.)
- Wuh fuhr do? (How are you?)
- Oonah helf cud-dah betta do-um. (Your health could be better)
- Wuh cum fuh see? (What are you looking for?)
- Weh e be gwine? (Where were you?)
- Ub bin saach fuhr de los chillun cum fuh back home ! (I've been looking for the lost children to come back home !)
- Wuh ya gwi do? (What are you going to do?)
- Co'se uh gwine home fuhr trute. (Of course, I'm going home for sure.)
- Dat's up tuh duh notch. (That's delicious!)