Sunday, February 22, 2009
A Taste of Gullah
Gullah food wraps the richness of the culture into dishes heaped with flavor. As descendants of skilled rice planters, the cuisine focuses on rice, rice and more rice. A typical Gullah restaurant will serve at least three kinds and I'm not taking about white or brown rice. There's red rice, a mixture of tomato sauce and pork, a mini meal of rice, chicken, shrimp, sausage and vegetables called Gullah rice and the famous Hoppin' John, which blends rice with field peas. At Gullah Cuisine Restaurant, just off Highway 17 in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, owners Charlotte and
At Gullah Grub Restaurant in St. Helena, South Carolina, the chef, affectionately known as Mr. Bill (above right) is just as particular about his dishes. Mr. Bill explains that the preparation and natural seasonings is what separates Gullah cooking from traditional soul food. After spending hours in the restaurant, which resembles a quaint Southern living room, with shelves of knick knacks, I understood what he meant. The fried whiting, collard greens , corn bread and rice that I sampled looked like typical soul food but didn't quite taste like it. It was less heavy and greasy and the spices left a tingle in my mouth. I bought some of Mr. Bill's packaged spices to cook fish with and it transforms my seafood with a melange of flavors that I can only identify as Gullah.
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:
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Gullah, Sweet Grass and History
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