Gullah - The Language of Slaves on South Carolina Lowcountry Plantations
As Cousin Corrie Dusenbury,
a Hostess at Brookgreen Gardens, the
popular South Carolina tourist attraction, explained it to visitors in
the 1950s . . .
Gullah was the language of the slaves on plantations in the South Carolina Lowcountry
and on the Sea Islands during Colonial times. Nobody can tell you for
sure how Gullah developed, but the people who have studied these things have some idea
about it and this is how they explain it.
The slaves who were brought to South Carolina came from different parts
of West Africa. Each African area and tribal group had its own language
and customs. When the slaves arrived on Lowcountry plantations,
communication was a big challenge. Slaves and planters spoke different
languages and often fellow slaves also spoke different languages, but they
all had to understand each other well enough to live and work together.
A pidgin language developed that contained words and grammatical
structures from English and from the various African languages. People
who study languages tell me that at this stage Gullah was a pidgin
language because it was one that no one spoke as his native language,
but it was one that those speaking different languages used to
communicate with each other. The planters and overseers kept speaking
English and the slaves kept speaking their own various languages, but
each also learned to speak the pidgin language called Gullah to
communicate with each other. Some people think the name Gullah came from
the word Angola, which was the homeland of many of the slaves.
As new generations of slaves were born on the South Carolina Lowcountry
plantations, these children
grew up speaking Gullah as their native language. Gullah became a creole
language, which is one whose words and grammar are a combination of
different languages, but one which is now the native language of a group
of people – in this case the descendants of the slaves brought from
Planters and other whites continued to speak English, of course, but
also spoke Gullah to communicate with their workers. Planters and their
families often learned Gullah as children from the nurses and other
household servants who helped raise them. These servants often also told
Gullah folktales or
ghost stories in the Gullah tradition.
To learn more about South Carolina Lowcountry history and culture,
including the Gullah and their language . . .
Buy the complete
(single copies or in bulk) of Lynn Michelsohn's
Tales from Brookgreen
Gardens, Folklore, Ghost Stories, and Gullah
Folktales in the South Carolina Lowcountry
also $9.99 on
(readable on iPad, iPhone, PC,
Mac, Blackberry, Android, etc.)
and available from other online booksellers, your local bookstore,
These charming stories interweave ghostly legends, local reminiscences, and
Gullah folktales with factual information about the history, geography, and
people of the South Carolina Lowcountry around Brookgreen Gardens, near Myrtle
Beach . . . an entertaining and informative addition to your visit to this unique area.
Shorter selections from Tales from Brookgreen are also available
as ebooks . . .
Crab Boy's Ghost and Other Gullah Folktales.
Stories of Alice Flagg, Confederate Blockade Runners, and Haunted Beads
Stories and Folktales from Brookgreen Gardens in the South Carolina Lowcountry
with Notes on Gullah Culture and History
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