Gullah Festival returns with Sierra Leone, Native American ambassadors

emoody@beaufortgazette.comMay 21, 2014 

  • If you go

    The 28th Annual Gullah Festival runs from Friday through Sunday at the Technical College of the Lowcountry, 921 Ribaut Road, Beaufort. A related event precedes the festival on Thursday at the Penn Center.

    A full schedule of festival events is available at Some events require tickets in addition to gate fees.

    Thursday: The Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Soccer Association will perform a drum and dance routine as part of a welcoming and educational program at 11 a.m. at Penn Center, 16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island. The presentation is free; a Gullah lunch follows at 1 p.m. The lunch costs $10.

    Friday: Festival from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., with neo-soul and jazz jam music beginning at 9 p.m. Gate fee: $5.

    Saturday: Festival from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., with official welcoming ceremony at 12:15 p.m. Gate fee: $15.

    Sunday: Festival from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with Gospel Hour of Power at 9 a.m. and a Port Royal rededication service at 11 a.m. Gate fee: $10.

The 28th Annual Gullah Festival returns this weekend with a focus on the varied people -- near and far -- who shaped the Sea Islands' culture.

The festival runs from Friday through Sunday at the Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort.

"I think it's time for people to be educated on the richness of the history of this area and all that Gullah includes," said Pazanta Byars, who has taken the torch from her aunt -- Charlotte Pazant Brown -- who previously organized the festival.

Byars is most excited about the emphasis on the native heritage that influenced Gullah culture. Her grandmother discovered at last year's festival that she shares a relative with the current grand matriarch of the Yamassee Native Americans in Allendale. Byars said she was fascinated to learn how dark-skinned Native Americans helped escaped slaves and how the cultures intertwined.

A grand entrance at Saturday's official welcoming ceremony will include representatives from American Indian nations.

From half a world away, another culture historically linked to Beaufort through the slave trade will also join the festivities.

The Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Soccer Association will perform a drum and dance preview at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island on Thursday.

The organization is sending a message of world peace by playing soccer and raising money to build schools and clinics in its home country. It also seeks to create jobs for Sierra Leonean amputees, according to Shirley Kablan, director of the Empowered Living Initiative, which is sponsoring the SLASA visit.

The group is made up of amputees who participate in sports, perform musically and discuss amputee concerns.

Delegates from Sierra Leone have corresponded with Penn Center officials for about two decades after the center's former president traced the trail of slavery from that country to Beaufort County, according to Victoria Smalls, Penn Center director of history, art and culture.

SLASA's performances are inspiring, Smalls said.

"It's really heart-wrenching because they're not just amputees from disease; they're amputees from war and violence," she said. "We're so very honored to have them come to our sacred grounds and bless us with their presence."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

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