Gullah culture, cuisine rich with history

May 25, 2011 

  • The 25th annual Original Gullah Festival will be held Friday through Sunday at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort. There will be free admission for students and their chaperones for "Family Day" from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday. The festivities will begin at 10:30 a.m. with entertainment by school choirs and bands, dance ensembles and Anita Singleton-Prather telling stories as Aunt Pearlie Sue.

    The three-day festival also will include Gullah cuisine, a tour of the area and a Miss Gullah Teen Pageant. Bern Nadette Stanis, who played Thelma Evans on the hit 1970s TV show "Good Times," will serve as honorary chairperson.


Each year when the Original Gullah Festival comes around, it is a time of study for me. I marvel at my people, and I mean this with all the admiration of my heart and soul.

But I do not know my ancestors' exact connection to the Gullah people. My lineage on both sides of my family hails from Fairfield County. I want to trace my line to see if any of my folks were among the 750 slaves led by Harriet Tubman across the Combahee River. Wouldn't it be something to find out that I am truly Gullah, thus understanding my love for this place and its people?

Mason Crum, in his 1940 book "Gullah," wrote about the isolation of those people who live among the Sea Islands and the coastal region of South Carolina, saying that nowhere on the continent can a purer African culture be found.

The term "Gullah" is thought to be a corruption of the names of the Gola or Gora African tribes in Liberia. Their unique form of speech is a distinctive characteristic of the Gullah people. It constitutes one of the most curious dialects to be found anywhere in America.

The true Gullah language is now mostly spoken by the elderly who speak it as their "language of the home." This manner of speaking is soft and musical and sometimes quite rapid. Many times older Gullah speakers will read from an English text in such a way that it has a beat, accenting every word. It has even been noted that there are different regional accents within the Gullah language. You'll find that the older the Gullah person, the more his speech has been seasoned by time and circumstance.

The Gullah Festival is a celebration of a culture like no other. Scholars take time to share their research into the people and their desire to preserve and share the culture. Storytellers will tell of the way of life and survival of the area.

Virginia Mixson Geraty's book "Bittle en T'ing': Gullah Cooking With Maum Chrish" is a collection of recipes from South Carolina's Lowcountry written in Gullah with English translations. More than a cookbook, it is a tribute to the language and to the people of the Lowcountry. Next time you're in the kitchen try Geraty's recipe for Shrimp and Gravy, shown here in Gullah and the English translation.

Gullah Version: Swimp en' Graby

2 medjuh ub swimp wuh done bin clean en' cook

2 pot-spoon ub flowuh wub bin mix wid salt en' peppuh

2 pot-spoon ub baking greese

1 medjuh onyonwuh bin chop

1 medjuh ub wathu

Roll de swimp 'roun'een de flowuh 'tell dem kibbuh same lukkuh de fros' done fall'puntop'um.

Fry 'um een de bakin greese 'tell dem browning.

Pit de onyun in de pan 'long de swimp en't' row de watuh 'cross' um. Set 'um back fuh cook en'mek graby fuh gone 'long wid hom'ny eeduhso cawbread.

Dis gwi' mek 'nut bittle fuh six head.

English Version: Shrimp and Gravy

Makes: 6 servings

2 cups of shrimp, cleaned and cooked

4 tablespoons of flour, mixed with salt and pepper

4 tablespoons of bacon drippings

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup water

Roll the shrimp around in the flour until they look as if frost has fallen on them. Fry them in the bacon drippings until they are browned.

Put the onion in the pan with the shrimp and add the water. Set the pan back on the range to cook slowly while the gravy thickens; eat the gravy with hominy or cornbread.

Port Royal resident Ervena Faulkner is a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at

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