Book Review: My Trip to St. Helena Island, Discovering Gullah Geechee Culture
Have you heard of Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash? The groundbreaking film which is due to be re-released soon, depicts a Gullah family’s cultural journey on the sea islands of South Carolina.
St. Helena Island is one such sea island. It is located on the coast of South Carolina in Beaufort County. It is the beautiful setting of a children’s book that aims to inspire children to want to know more about Gullah Geechee culture.
The inspiration for My Trip to St. Helena Island was the author's deep love for her Gullah Geechee heritage combined with her love of childhood education. Born and raised in Beaufort, SC, the author sees her heritage as a living culture.
"Many people speak of Gullah Geechee culture as if it is a thing of the past, but it is alive and well in the African descendants who were raised throughout the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor." said Ms. White.
Ms. White said she felt a strong pull (from her ancestors) to create this first book in her Travel Adventure Series so that Gullah Geechee children are inspired to learn about their rich heritage.
Gullah Geechee people are the descendants of enslaved Africans who live along the southeast coast of the United States in an area that has been designated as the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor. Many of the cultural traditions that West Africans brought to America have been preserved in this area and still exist today.
"As a young girl I didn't fully understand the beauty of the cultural treasures I was being exposed to in everyday life. From the blue bottle trees to the crab boils and even the way I spoke, the norms of my upbringing were a direct link to my West African roots." Ms. White said.
It wasn't that long ago that Gullah (Geechee) language was looked down upon. People who spoke it were thought of as uneducated because of their "broken" language. Linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner played a large part in the melodic dialect of the Gullah Geechee being recognized as a language of it's own. Still today, many don't realize the beauty of the language, but local culture keepers are working to educate the community about it.
"Growing up, I can remember us laughing at each other or at those who lived in deeply rural areas who spoke really "bad". We'd say, 'Oonah talkin Geechee or Oo wee e' talk bad any?'
It's so funny when I really think about it. We were all Geechee so how could we possibly be laughing at someone talking more Geechee than the rest? But that's the things kids do; especially when they don't understand the greatness they come from. I'm hoping my books can help change that."
Tracing and fully understanding Gullah Geechee history is a complex task and Ms. White isn't looking to do that. She is however, hoping to ignite a spark, a sense of pride, and a yearning for children to want to know more.
"I want my Gullah Geechee family (especially the children) to know how rich our culture is and how magnificent our ancestors are too. I think that embracing those ideas will empower us to do more, be more, and overcome just about any obstacle in life."
Other links you may enjoy:
Gullah Geechee Nation