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Gullah celebration dances its way back to Hilton Head Island

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  • Umahawa Diaby dances with other members of Savannah's Ayoluwa African Dance Theatre during A Taste of Gullah at last year's Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration. This year's festivities kick off Tuesday.
    Umahawa Diaby dances with other members of Savannah's Ayoluwa African Dance Theatre during A Taste of Gullah at last year's Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration. This year's festivities kick off Tuesday. File/The Island Packet

    All things Gullah -- rich history, unique cuisine and vibrant arts -- will be on display next month on Hilton Head Island.

    The annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration began in 1997 as a way for native islanders to promote their businesses and preserve their heritage at the same time.

    Now in its 15th year, the celebration, hosted by the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, draws crowds from all over the Lowcountry and beyond. Organizers expect more than 15,000 people to attend the various events held in February.

    Celebration chairman Charles Young III said in addition to helping the local economy and keeping Gullah traditions alive, the events also give the general public an opportunity to learn more about the Gullah community.

    "It gives us a chance to show off our culture," Young said. "(Allowing others) to experience the culture and cherish the legacy."

    This year's activities will kick off Tuesday with an opening reception and art exhibit titled "De Aarts Ob We People XIV" at the Walter Greer Gallery at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Over the next month, events will include gospel music, arts and crafts and the popular Marsh Tacky Run.

    Organizers have added something new to this year's lineup -- a parade through Mitchelville, an area off Beach City Road that was once a planned village for freed slaves. Gullah Celebration coordinator Tracy Brown said the association decided to include a parade this year to get more native islanders involved in the activities. The parade's grand marshal will be Richard Oriage, one of the association's founders. Brown said Miss Gullah Celebration 2011 will be crowned at the kickoff event.

    Prominent Gullah entertainers Natalie Daise, Louise Cohen and The Voices of El Shaddai will perform at this year's A Taste of Gullah on Feb. 12, where guests will get to sample some traditional Gullah cuisine -- conch stew, deviled crabs, fried shrimp, gumbo, cornbread and bread pudding.

    While the parade and several other Gullah Celebration events are free to the public, other activities range from $5 to $20 for adult admission. The net proceeds of the various events will go to the association, which will use the money for outreach programs.

    "Come celebrate with us," Brown said. "We want you to be able to taste the culture, to hear the culture, to see it, to experience the entire culture."

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