The infectious beat of the djembe drum fills the Campus Center Ballroom. Four male student are selected from the audience to help create the rhythm of a traditional Gullah/Geechee song. Six female students perform a welcome dance as this year’s annual black history program begins.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) held its annual black history celebration on Wednesday, Feb. 10 in the Campus Center Ballroom. This year’s celebration featured the indigenous Gullah/Geechee,descendants of enslaved Africans that resided along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. CDI reached out to Geechee Kunda, a conservation center focused on the preservation of the Geechee culture, and invited the founders to share a little bit of their community with UWG.
“It’s a vanishing culture,” said Deirdre Rouse, director of CDI. “There’s a lack of appreciation and overall awareness for these people. Millennial generations may not be necessarily interested in learning about it, so there is no one for the elderly to pass their culture down to.”
The Gullah/Geechee originated from African coastal countries of West Africa such as Nigeria and Mali. They managed to retain their traditional African culture despite enslavement in the America due to their location on the isolated Sea Islands where they were forced to farm rice.
“There were two types of slaves,” said Pat Bacote, preservationist of the Geechee Kunda Center. “The one’s who kept their culture in the new land and the ones who didn’t.”
Many slaves were called inferior for speaking their native languages. They began to speak only in English and westernized their wardrobe to avoid being berated.
“It was a time when it was shameful to be considered black and even more shameful to be considered Gullah/Geechee because you had the label of the dialect they considered to be ignorant,” said Gregory Grant, herbalist and genealogist of Geechee Kunda.
The event also featured a skit representing the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage is the stage in the triangular trade where slaves were traded for raw materials and cash crops between Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean. Several students were selected from the audience in order to represent masters of their village while some students portrayed the slave masters who captured them.
Bethany Campbell, a representative from the Geechee Kunda Center, showed the audience what it was like to have foreigners raid the land and steal natives from their home. Each student held a crop, such as rice or peanuts, while Campbell explained to the audience the relevance of that particular crop in the Americas. As she maintained the audience’s attention, the “slave masters” discreetly captured that student and his or her crop to demonstrate the raiding of that village.
“I was glad to hear that college students wanted to know about Geechee so I made up this skit to help keep their attention,” said Campbell.
A highlight of the evening was the Geechee Gullah Shouters, a group of men and women who perform traditional songs of the Geechee culture. They have performed their Old Time Geechee Variety show for the Pope and have traveled the world sharing their community. The show consists of testimonials and poems from Geechee men and women.
The program closed with Dr. Amir Toure, a Geechee Kunda resident and
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