Monday, February 9, 2009
Gullah Speech and Spirit
Sunset over Hilton Head Island
My first introduction to Gullah culture came with Julie Dash's seminal 1992 film, Daughters of the Dust. The film showcases the languid beauty of the land and the language. Set at the turn of the 20th century on St. Helena Island, the movie tells the haunting story of three generations of Gullah women. Since the tale took place in the early 1900s, it never occurred to me that the culture was still alive until I stepped onto the dusty roads and marshy landscape of St. Helena myself. The lyrical dialect of the Gullah people floated around me and it drove me crazy. I have a pretty sharp ear for language and what I heard sounded like Jamaican patois, but not quite, like Nigerian Yoruba intonations but not completely, like the sing-song melody of St. Croix Cruzan speech but not totally. When I was told that it was Gullah language that I was hearing, a light went off. I had heard Gullah semi-recently but never realized it. My daughter loved to watch the Nick Jr. children's TV show, Gullah Gullah Island during the mid to late 90s. Somehow, I never connected the snappy songs and amusing folk tales that the show's creators, Ron and Natalie Daise, used to illustrate Gullah speech and customs with the ancient culture I had glimpsed in Daughters of the Dust.
Penn Center Ron Daise with Gullah Bible
But as I explored more Sea Islands, including Hilton Head and Beaufort, I discovered that Gullah culture is vibrantly alive on many levels. One of the highlight's of my trip was meeting Ron Daise
Whenever I asked how to sum up Gullah culture, spirituality was always the first response. So it makes sense that the most significant representation of Gullah culture is the Gullah Bible. Called "De Nyew Testament," the bible was translated by the Sea Island Translation Team, of which Ron Daise was a member. The team translated the bible in 2005, entirely in Gullah with translations in the margins. Here's a verse:
I don't have the ear for languages you obviously do, but I do remember hearing some Gullah dialect in, of all places, a Harris Teeter grocery store!
Daughters of the Dust sounds like a film I should try finding to watch.
For more: www.BinYahFilm.org
ps. nice blog post!
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