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The Urban American Indian Collective- FIND YOUR TRIBE!

Unraveling the Indigenous Ties of Gullah Geechee Culture

Are the Gullah Geechee People of the low country Carolinas as much indigenous to America as they are African?

Hey y'all! Grab a seat, let's dive deep into our roots and untangle the vibrant tapestry of Gullah Geechee heritage. Beyond the surface, our connection to America runs deeper than often perceived. We're more than a mix of African ancestry; we're intertwined with the very fabric of this land, linked by history, food, and language.


Geography & Name


Picture this: the Ogeechee River, its tranquil flow whispering stories of the past. Our ancestors navigated these waters, leaving imprints that resonate today. This river, a silent witness to cultural exchange, binds the Gullah Geechee to Indigenous tribes like the Yamassee and the Guale (pronounced Wallah, which sound phonetically like Gullah). The Guale were subjected to early slavery by colonial powers and fought many wars in resistance to enslavement of indigenous tribes. The Guale Rebellion of 1597, in fact the Spaniards called the entire coast of Georgia Guale after the tribe.

Many people like to assert that the Geechee comes from an African word 'Kissi' but its obviously from the river that flows directly through Yamassee and Guale territory.


The Guale tribe, dwelling along Georgia's coast, their legacy resonates in our customs and dialect. Just as our Gullah language echoes phrases akin to Indigenous tongues, a testament to shared histories deeply rooted in these lands.



Some might raise eyebrows, questioning our bond with America, assuming it's solely an African tie. But our link transcends continents; it's a dance of cultures, a blend that showcases the intricate threads woven through time.

Let's not forget the Yamassee—guardians of these lands. Their presence resonates in our spirit, a reminder of shared struggles, resilience, and a kinship rooted in history.


According to the Yamassee nation themselves they are in fact Gullah/Guale people. The Seminole also identify the Yamassee as their ancestors.


Language


Settle in as we uncover the vibrant threads connecting Gullah Geechee heritage with the Afro-(Yamassee)Seminole dialect and the rich tapestry of Indigenous cultures.


Remember the word Seminole simply means "wild one" or "runaway." What are they running from? Enslavement.


Our language, a beautiful mosaic, reflects the diverse influences that shape our identity. Beyond the echoes of Africa, the rhythmic cadence of our speech carries whispers of the Afro-Seminole dialect, intertwining with the melodies of the Guale and the Yamassee.

In essence, our language isn’t just a vessel for communication; it's a living testament to the tapestry of cultures that have shaped us. It's through this lens that we embrace our Gullah Geechee heritage, celebrating the amalgamation of languages that bind us to this land, its people, and its indigenous roots.


The above quote show the need to only explore history for one side. As we know Africans weren't the only people to be enslaved and also once indigenous people were enslaved they were reclassified as Africans.


Margaret Maud McKellar (1873-1963), a European descendant woman who owned a ranch near the Black Seminole settlement of Nacimiento de los Negros in Coahuila, Mexico. She told Dr. Kenneth W. Porter a researcher of Gullah Geechee heritage, historian and its connection to Black Seminoles that one of her employees, a Black Seminole man, indicated that he had learned the "negro Gullah" from his grandmother. Again, Porter took note of the information in a nearly typed series of note cards which he filed away, but he did not pursue the matter. It is interesting to mention here that in the 1940s the Black Seminoles still had in their memory the word Gullah to identify the language they spoke; thirty years later that consciousness had disappeared.

Porter's last brushes with Gullah in relation to the Black Seminoles were in the 1970s. Two linguists came to Texas and Mexico to study the connections between the language spoken by the Black Seminoles and Gullah and they contacted Porter looking for information. The linguists were Lilith M. Haynes, who conducted field work in Del Rio and Brackettville, Texas, in 1974-1975 among the Black Seminoles and Dr. Ian Hancock, who also conducted field work among the Black Seminoles around that same period.


In a letter to Haynes on May 10, 1977 Porter admitted that "'Seminole Negro English' ... does certainly have Gullah elements," and he even referred to his friend Mrs. McKellar mentioning Gullah being spoken by the Black Seminoles in 1944. Nevertheless, Porter ended his assessment of Haynes' findings saying that "I see in it no evidence for the existence ... of a 'Seminole language ...'" 😩🙄 this clearly being an implicit bias in historical academia a common practice among European historians and researchers.


At least one of Haynes's informants, an unnamed Black Seminole man who had travelled extensively while serving in the US Army and who had contact with Gullah/Geechee speakers, had recognized the similarities with the language he spoke.


It is also interesting to note that the reason Haynes could so easily research the language spoken by the Black Seminoles in Texas had to do with the fact that she was from Guyana and could use her own "mother tongue-Creolese"--as she herself identified it--to communicate with the community. The Black Seminoles are notoriously reticent in speaking their creole language in the presence of outsiders to this day. (8)


Haynes had been directed to the Black Seminoles by Ian Hancock, the linguist who finally identified that the language spoken by them was an older form of Gullah, which he eventually named Afro-Seminole Creole. So in fact Gullah is an older Afro-Seminole language. Hancock published his first paper on the Black Seminole language in 1975.


A known Gullah phrase and a character in the Gullah Gullah Island television series that aired in the 1990s was "Benyah" meaning "been here" denoting they're indigenous to America.


Afro-Seminole Creole was also influenced by Spanish and two indigenous languages: Nahuatl (a language spoken in Central Mexico) and Muskogee/Seminole. At least nine words derived from Spanish and two each from Nahuatl and Muscogee/Seminole appear in Hancock's list.

In the fabric of our words, we find traces of the Seminole, a testament to the fusion of cultures that define our Gullah Geechee tongue. Just as the Ogeechee River weaves through the land, our language intertwines, echoing the shared histories with Indigenous tribes like the Yamassee and the Guale


In essence, our language isn’t just a vessel for communication; it's a living testament to the tapestry of cultures that have shaped us. It's through this lens that we embrace our Gullah Geechee heritage, celebrating the amalgamation of languages that bind us to this land, its people, and its indigenous roots.


Food


Indigenous American foods such as corn, squash, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes and berries. Rice became a staple crop for both Gullah Geechee people and whites in the southeastern coastal regions.


Corn bread a classic Gullah dish. It being the definition for Indian bread tells the tale of migration. The indigenous word "tuckahoe" Gullah Geechee use the term hot water corn bread or "Hoecake" and even "Johnny Cakes" a West Indian term used all have indigenous american roots.


Grits- The dish originated with the Native American Muscogee tribes of Tennessee, Alabama, Carolina and Florida using maize. Grits(corn) being a staple dish during the enslavement of indigenous americans and now famous Gullah food dishes like Shrimp & Grits are all echoes from our indigenous american ancestors. Along with the use of fresh local seafoods.


Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Pie- Both are indigenous to the Americas. Pumpkin Pie & Sweet Potato Pie can trace its origin to the early natives , especially in the southern colonies. And like Pumpkin Pie, Sweet Potato Pie can be traced to Indigenous American cuisine. The sweet potato - called a "yam" by some (although it is not one) - is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.


Lima Beans - are another staple in the Gullah Geechee culture that has indigenous american origins. The bean itself is names after Lima, Peru in South America where it originates.


Peppers- Indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central America, and South America spiced up their meals thousands of years ago, cultivating chili peppers for both medicinal and culinary use. Peppers, both hot and sweet, are dated back to over 10,000 years ago in the Americas. The name “chili” or “chile” comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language. The name “pepper” was given to the crop after Christopher Columbus thought it tasted like the Asian spice known at that time as peppercorn.



Herbs and other plants used in Gullah Geechee culture would also be a testament to the Indigenous heritage of America as Africans would/could not have had extentions information so the use of indigenous plants therefore plant medicine in Gullah Hoodoo traditions would be completely American.😉


Let's continue to cherish our language, food and cultureand use it as a bridge that unites our past with our present, weaving a story that resonates through the ages. The Gullah did not adopted Seminole traditions because Seminole didn't exist; to be a Seminole means you escaped enslavement. They simple carried their indigenous traditions with them and the history has been warped by those hoping to enslave them. They were Guale, Yamassee, Sara, Uchee, etc when they were kidnapped changed to negroes when they were enslaved and became Seminole once they escaped.

 

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