As the mother of two kiddos who seem to have unquenchable desires to experience new and unique learning adventures, I find that “education vacations” suit our needs very well. One of our most recent road trips was a journey into Charleston and the surrounding Lowcountry area of South Carolina.
This region is a unique tapestry of historical, architectural and cultural experiences. Given the many museums and historical preservation sites, a visit here provides both a visceral connection to history, and an appreciation for the preservation of culture.
It is a walking city, and we did just that. As we journeyed around the brick and cobblestone streets we soaked in the lovely sights of the well-preserved architecture of grand homes and cathedrals as well as the beautiful natural surroundings.
During a stroll through the historic City market we noticed vendors selling beautifully woven sweet grass baskets. We purchased a small basket and soon discovered the historical and cultural significance of these lovely crafts made by the Gullah!
The Gullah are a specific group of African Americans whose origins are located along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as the adjacent sea islands. They remain a tightly knit community today, living in small farming and fishing villages.
The Gullah community has risen above slavery, the Civil War, and has withstood the pressures of modern American culture. It is said that the strong sense of community has enabled the Gullah to preserve more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of African Americans.
The group’s unique language, also called Gullah, was originally developed out of necessity by enslaved Africans from different regions seeking to communicate with one another but whose native tongues varied. This English-based fusion language contains many African loanwords with influences from the grammar and sentence structure of African languages.
The Gullah are known to be skilled crafters (hence, the lovely sweetgrass baskets), storytellers and musicians. The Gullah cuisine consists of wonderfully rich rice combined with seafood, chicken and vegetables.
First made by African slaves in the Lowcountry in the 1800s, sweetgrass baskets were designed for household and agricultural use. They were primarily constructed of sweetgrass, pine straw, and bull rush, all natural materials indigenous to the area. This ancient African art has been handed down from generation to generation, and it is said that today the tradition remains alive only in Charleston.
Discover the enchanting history and culture of the Gullah people with your global kids with these fun educational resources:
Gullah Net - Designed to introduce Gullah culture and language to children online. The site currently features interactive content where kids of all ages can learn about Gullah culture, folktales and music. Design your own Gullah ring shout, listen to Gullah words, and view maps and videos that document the West Africa/Gullah connection!
Click on the links for the following activities:
Explore the Gullah language! It consists of English words and over 4,000 words from many different African languages. Kids can click on the English word to see and hear the Gullah word!
For older kids check out this informative CNN International video featuring Gullah descendants speaking about their community and culture.