Gullah ( Geechee ) are people of the South and North Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida coast, who were able to retain significant African cultural traits. The Gullah made a living on farming and fishing. They speak an English base creole. Gulla is the term used to refer to individuals off the South Carolina coast. Geechee is the term used for the Georgia coast. On the Georgia coast, Geechees divide themselves into "Saltwater Geechee" for those on the Sea Island and "Freshwater Geechee" for those who live on the mainland.


In 1520, the Spaniard Vasquez de Allyon explored and documented the North Carolina group of islands and named it Santa Elena. Its fertility for growing cotton, spices was recognized immediately, and the similiar ecology with Sierra Leone was also noted. The first slaves arrived in 1526 on Sullivan Island, which became a major slaving hub off the coast.

By the 1700s, rice was discovered to grow well in the coastal region. Slaves along the coast of Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Liberia--the Rice Coast or Windward Coast --were especially valued because of their technical skills in growing rice. After the Civil War, many Gullahs were freed. Many took part in the migration out of the South, looking for job opportunities and education in northern cities. The assimiliation process of traditional Southern culture began to take hold among the Gullah. Also during the 1920s,  the development of resorts began to take root on the sea island coast, threatening Gullah/Geechee culture. 


Gullah culture retains strong African influences. The Gullah language shows influence of Elizabethan English with African alterations. It is very close to the Krio language of Sierra Leone. 25% of the language is words of African origins. Songs in Mende and Vai have been found. Lorenzo Dow Turner recorded a song from Mary Moran in 1930 that was identical to a funeral song found among the Jabati family, a Mende people, of Senehun Ngola, Sierra Leone. Even counting terms used in Fulani has been found.

African skills and know-how were utilize by the Gullah. Rice cultivation was the main crop of the region. African rice cultivation techniques were utilize, like fanner baskets for sifting rice. The sweetgrass basket a thousand year old african craft could be found among the Gullah and other weaving crafts made from palm and pine straws.

A strong fishing culture developed among the Gullah/Gechee people. The harvesting of fish was a major activity, like cast net fishing. Shrimping was another major activity. The coast was once populated with small self-sufficient shrimp boats.

Traditional food contains african staples of okra, rice, pigeon peas, and field peas.

Religious practices among the Gullah called ring shouts, which originates from african communal dances are found. Individuals move counter-clockwise while clapping and singing spiritual songs. Ring shouts were typically held Sunday evenings, after church. The practice has dwindled because very little of the older generation remember the Gullah/Geechee tradition.

Gullah/Geechee culture is under threat. Many have left the community living out of state. Communal lands are being bought for development, the building of golf courses and retirement homes. Using a legal process of heir property, much Gullah property is being bought and sold. Development is eating away at the community and culture.

Works Cited

The New Georgia Enclyclopedia. Geechee and Gullah Culture. retrieved 10-Oct-2011

Gullah Geechee: History, Language, Society, and Change.retrieved 10-Oct-2011