Origins of Gullah Geechee
The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of enslaved West Africans on the rice, indigo and cotton plantations throughout the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Since the mid-1700s, the isolated nature of the Sea Islands allowed Gullah Geechee people to preserve a unique culture with deep African roots that are clearly visible in their distinctive arts, crafts, food, music, and language.
Gullah people and their language are also called Geechee, which may be derived from the name of the Ogeechee River near Savannah, GA. Gullah is a term that was originally used to designate the creole dialect of English spoken by Gullah and Geechee people.
Gullah is an English-based creole language spoken in the coastal areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Creole languages develop when people who speak different languages come together in situations (such as slavery) and a form of communication is needed for these diverse groups to speak with one another. There are many types of Creole languages spoken throughout the world and each is a unique combination of various languages.
Keeping Gullah Language Alive
For generations, racial prejudice from outsiders stigmatized Gullah speakers, regarding their language as a sign of ignorance and low social status. Some Gullah parents encourage their children to speak standard English in public in order to succeed, which also drastically reduced the number of Gullah speakers over time. As a result, Gullah people speak their language primarily at home and in local communities to avoid discrimination.
Some believe this prejudice helped maintain the language, while others suggest it insulated the language from obliteration.
Today, Gullah is proudly spoken by about 250,000 people in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Fortunately, the shame has been replaced by a growing pride as Gullah culture has become more widely known and appreciated.