Gullah communities are located where enslaved Africans once lived and worked on Sea Island plantations that were owned by American colonists. Native Americans were also part of these communities. The unique blend of the West African culture, combined with European and Native American influences, resulted in the distinct culture that is known as Gullah.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, slaves were freed. Since most plantation owners were not able to produce crops without slave labor, some of the land was sold to plantation workers. Most of those who remained on the islands made a living by farming and fishing. They had little contact with the mainland because the only way to travel off the island was by boat. Given this geographic isolation, Native Islanders were able to maintain their folkways and language.
In the 1950s, bridges were built to connect some of the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands to the mainland. The bridges provided access to the new resorts that had been developed in the coastal area. Island communities became more modern with the arrival of outsiders and the introduction of new technologies, such as radio and television.
The development of the land and increased tourism caused the decline of farming and fishing. Many Native Islanders now work at the local resorts or in the coastal towns and cities. Although many feel that their traditions and language are endangered, the Gullah have survived change and held onto their past.
PICTURED ABOVE: One of St. Helena's inhabitants during the early part of the 20th century. From the Penn School Collection. Permission granted by Penn Center, Inc., St. Helena Island, SC.
slave (slave) n. - a person who is owned by someone else and works without pay.
Sea Islands (sea is.lands) - a group of islands off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and North Florida.
Native American (na.tive a.mer.i.can) n. - a descendant of any of the peoples who lived in North, Central or South America before European explorers and colonists arrived.
cultural heritage (her.i.tage) n. - things handed down from generation to generation, such as traditions and languages that have cultural importance.
Civil War (civ.il war) n. - the war in the United States between the Union and Confederacy that lasted from 1861 to 1865; also, any war within a country.
Native Islander (na.tive is.land.er) n. - one of the original inhabitants or lifelong residents of the Sea Islands.
folkway (folk.way) n. - a practice, custom or belief shared by the members of a group as part of their common culture.
tourism (tour.ism) n. - the business of providing services for tourists, including organizing their travel, hotels, entertainment, etc.
endangered (en.dan.gered) adj. - likely to be harmed, damaged or destroyed.