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Gullah Geechee Skies are Haint Blue

Updated: May 19

Published in Northend Agents 2/17/22 View Here

Written by Dawn Felder Boren

Moss draped on oak trees sway with the sounds of drums in the sweet grass air. Spices from crab cracks and the smell of marsh linger all year. Our survival was aided by secrets sewn in blankets and rice braided in cornrows. Dirt roads and LowCountry street lights lead you to the wata and to us, unnuah, yennah, we, The Gullah Geechee people.

There was never a time in my life that I didn’t recognize the uniqueness of my culture. I’ve traveled so many places and I would honestly miss it. I mean, who doesn’t eat two types of rice for dinner with a side of fush. Yes, I said it, “fush”. If you know anything about Gullah Geechee people it’s probably the culinary influences and our African-Creole-English dialect. These are things that make us who we are and if you are African- American, it probably makes you who you are. It is clear that over half of enslaved people entered this country through the harbors of Charleston, South Carolina. Therefore, up to 60% of African- Americans can trace their roots to here. As a matter of fact, you can simply take a stroll down Philadelphia Alley in downtown Charleston and place your palm over the hands imprinted in stones that were molded by enslaved children. Or take a trip to the shores of Sullivans Island and walk the very shores that met our ancestors as at they embarked into a journey under the blood moon and hanging trees. We’ve heard people say this for years, “Are you all not tired of talking about slavery? This is a new day!” To that we say, “Hunnah must tek cyare de root fa heal de tree.”

We come from a place where the elders are given the utmost respect and you dare not walk into a room without speaking first. Some of these rooms were slave quarters where ceilings and current day porches are painted in haint blue. Haint blue is a symbol of protection. A mixture mainly of indigo, which was another crop tended by our family, enslaved Africans. This is a place where your hands are at home in the soil because farming, fishing and building is a way of survival. I can’t even recall the first time that I dug for fishing bait or shelled so many snap peas that my fingernails turned green. It’s what we do. Palmetto roses is also what we do. Beautiful roses shaped with palmetto fronds. I remember overhearing a tourist asking one of our rose kids, “Where did you learn this from?” and he simply replied, “I didn’t learn it from anyone. I picked up the palmetto and my hands already knew what to do.” That’s how things work here though. There is magic in everything and the ancestors openly speak and protect you. It’s another reason why we pay homage to the elders. We know that they will be here to guide us years after the Carolina soil has settled on their graves.

We also come from a place where you have to change almost as often as the weather. Speaking Gullah Geechee was considered ignorant to non-natives, so our homes and our communities became a safe haven. Somewhere we can say, “Dem boi fool up init” or “Mine ya mout”, without perplexed looks burning a hole in the side of our faces. A secret language that is not so secret. It’s normal for teachers who have moved here to educate the “unfortunate” to place children in speech because they cannot understand them. It’s also normal to learn nothing Gullah Geechee except for the annual field trip to one of the many plantations that outline our communities. There is a silver lining though. It is us. We kept our language alive and we have put limitations on code switching. Someone can’t teach you something you already know and our elders made sure that we are aware of the greatness we come from. Our daughters and sons proudly wear sweetgrass necklaces, locs and braids. They beat the djembe in school, places of worship and the streets. Their feet dance sweetly to tunes that carried us from Africa to this unknown shore. Our seafood rice, potato poon, shrimp and okra lay proudly on tables that hold stories of people who were bought here in bondage hundreds of years ago. We will not disappear and neither will our culture. Why you ask? We are cultivating it for you. All of our cousins around America that was told that they had no culture. We are saving it for you!

Have you ever experienced a humid summer night in the Gullah Geechee Corridor? That coastline between Pender County, North Carolina and St. Johns County, Florida? Oh, it’s thick. It makes your chest feel heavy, your skin feels like it is coated with mist and your lungs expand to sauna like temperatures. Have you ever heard the crickets and frogs sang in the south? Like they had something really important to say. Well, every time I think about my culture, my people, you; my chest becomes heavy, my tone becomes elevated and my words come out like a song because WE INDEED HAVE PLENTY TO SAY. There is another Gullah Geechee Proverb that says, “De wata bring we and de wata gwine tek we bak.” We look forward to saying “Welcome Home” to our African – American family near and far. Come home, take in your culture, heritage and lineage.  When you get here, plant your feet in the ground, wipe the salt water from your face and look up, you are protected because Gullah Geechee Skies are Haint Blue.


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