The Gullahs are a talented and culturally rich population who originally came from the West Africa area. Sometimes they are called the Gullah Geechee people. Large populations of Gullahs live on Sapelo Island watched over by the maternal leader, historian, and author Cornelia Walker Bailey.
The West Africans were moved from Bunce Island just off of the West African coast for processing then over to the islands of the Carribeans and Southern ports such as Charleston, South Carolina. The men were desired for their skill in growing rice and their ability to withstand heat and long hours of hard labor. Originally Southern plantations had tried to grow silk as a cash crop, but the experiment did not work. The slaves coming from the Sierra Leone West Africa area were skilled at cultivating the rice crops known as Gold Rice.
After the slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War, many of the Gullah remained in what is called the Sea Islands. These islands and coastal areas run from the northern part of South Carolina to the top of Florida. Penn Center on St. Helena in South Carolina is a center, which strives to preserve the traditions and stories of the Gullah. One of their events draws thousands of people; the Penn Center Heritage Days. Martin Luther King was a visitor to the Penn Center many years ago.
Gullahs are known for their story telling, sense of awareness concerning their heritage and preservation of this storied heritage, spiritual beliefs, and their fine basket weavings. A Gullah breadbasket can cost upwards of $ 10,000.00. Cornelia Walker Bailey grew up on Sapelo Island when the island was under control of the Reynolds’s family of North Carolina. Her childhood was at one time rich and beautiful and simultaneously horrible as the Reynolds’s family treated the Gullah denizens like slaves. An attempt to take Gullah land, one of many, was tried by the family and many others seeking the rich lands of the coast.
Her book, God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man explores her childhood, her heritage, Gullah superstitions and traditions, and the many stories and tales she knows of the Gullah past. She has been responsible for helping the Gullah to hold their coastal lands when developers were salivating at the prospect of having the valuable lands situated on the coast.
Sapelo Island is 16,5000 acres big, many which are wild and quite rustic with boars and deer ambling about on it. The Wallows Lodge on the island was built and is also operated by Cornelia Walker Bailey and Julius Bailey. Hog Hammock on the island, holds celebrations put on by the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society. The idea is to preserve the mighty and rich heritage of the Gullah people. The National Endowment of the Arts offers a summer one week long class to teachers working in the United States where they can study the Gullah culture and pass on the word concerning these this strong and beautiful culture.