Just as we prepare to engage in sacred ceremonies to culminate the inaugural Middle Passage Month which was declared as September in the Gullah/Geechee Nation, we flow into World Tourism Day. In support of the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation, World Tourism Day (WTD) which is September 27, 2013 is being held under the theme Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future. This year’s theme highlights tourism’s role in water access and shines a spotlight on the actions currently being taken by the sector in order to contribute to a more sustainable water future, as well as the challenges ahead. The Gullah/Geechee Nation independent of knowing that this year would be the International Year of Water Cooperation or that the focus for tourism would be related to water has held a number of meetings with the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank surrounding the issues associated with improving the quality of the water throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation and has worked with them and numerous United States federal government partners to increase access areas for Gullah/Geechee traditional fishing families. De wata bring we an de wata gwine tek we bak.
As the Gullah/Geechees continue to keep the land and waterways clean, they improve the natural environment which allows not only our wildlife and sea creatures to thrive, but our Gullah/Geechee cultural communities to be sustained. Millions of visitors come to the Sea Islands each year to enjoy not only the beaches and gated resort areas, but the numerous festivals related to Gullah/Geechee culture so that they can have an opportunity to hear the language and to taste the food that so many have come to write about and to feature on national and international broadcasts. Seeing the interest of so many from far away lands has encouraged more and more Gullah/Geechees to begin to return to traditions that their elders and ancestors passed down through their families. We seek to continue to increase their economic empowerment through these traditions so that they will be able to financially sustain themselves on their land.
As others have seen the increase of Gullah/Geechee artists and entrepreneurs, they have also set up their own events at other sites that are not Gullah/Geechee owned which would cause the cash to flow out of the Gullah/Geechee Nation once again. So, we salute the Gullah/Geechees that continue to keep the cultural activities flowing into their own land on family compounds and in community centers that are Gullah/Geechee owned and/or operated as well as into the store fronts and open air markets.
The Gullah/Geechee Ga’dun is the outdoor educational engagement area of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (www.gullahgeechee.net) where numerous Gullah/Geechee traditional crafts and language and music workshops are conducted annually. Captain Legree is the cast net instructor.
The work that Gullah/Geechees have done to continue their cultural traditions has not been easy! Over the generations it has been met with a great deal of opposition. When the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition first started working with United States Congressman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina to get the United States government to acknowledge Gullah/Geechee culture and to do something to assist with protecting the land so that our people would continue to live on it and prosper therein, people actually thought this was a lofty endeavor and that there was no way that the Congress was going to pay me or the organization that was leading the charge any mind. Many that even worked for the federal government were quite surprised to find that there was a congressman that had shown interest in writing a bill to attempt to focus on Gullah/Geechee traditions at all. However, Congressman Clyburn’s wife is Gullah/Geechee and he had spent a great deal of time on St. Helena Island, SC which is my home. So, he had a heart for the people and for the continued Gullah/Geechee ownership of the land.
Congressman Clyburn had already initiated the act that created the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor through the middle of the state which ended at Charleston, SC. I had already worked with the US National Park Service and international network of historians and activists to get the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom created and funded so I suggested that we do a similar thing to the focus on the coastal area of NC, SC, GA, and FL. The culmination of that suggestion was legislation written by Congressman Clyburn’s aides for the Special Resource Study of Lowcountry Gullah Culture. The passing of the bill to initiate the study was the first US congressional act which took us two sessions to get passed with all the lobbying and educating and lobbying and educating and the petitions and letter writing and visits to Capitol Hill. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition worked on this non-stop and to this day I meet people that say, “I wrote a letter to support you getting Congress to recognize your culture. How did that turn out?” Well, it turned out that the study that started off looking at only SC, GA, and mentioned FL proved that Gullah/Geechee culture was a foundational part of the United States and the story of America. So, the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act came from the bill that was done after the study results had been presented. We pushed to include all of the Gullah/Geechee Nation from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL in what would be recognized and protected. The act passed both houses of the United States Congress by 2006 and was signed into law by President George W. Bush that year. The day that I got the phone call saying that the bill was heading to his office, I told them to call me back when it was actually signed. I shouted when I got the call that the ink had dried and did not disappear! Tenk Gawd afta 9 years de vision dun cum ta pass!
During October which we will celebrate as “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Awareness Month,” visitors and residents are encouraged to learn about Gullah/Geechee history, heritage, and culture, and to support businesses and events throughout the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor which runs through the Gullah/Geechee Nation. They will easily find their way as the signs and banners for the corridor are mounted along the interstate and highway entry points in and out of each of the four aforementioned states. However, dey gwine kno whey e da fa tru win e git ta de haat a de peepol who kno who webe! Folks need to make sure that they get to the Gullah/Geechees themselves who truly live the culture and support the events that they are hosting and the places that they own if they want to truly get into the flow of the culture and help the tide to continue to carry the culture on for many more generations to come.
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation was the Chairperson for the General Management Plan for the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. She was also part of the two member subcommittee that worked on the signage for the corridor. She and Dr. Jamal Toure were both Expert Commissioners that helped to fulfill the US Congressional mandate given through the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act.
In order to connect to the living story of Gullah/Geechees during “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Awareness Month,” support those mentioned below. Also, while visiting, keep in mind assisting with the efforts to continue to keep our waterways and our islands that sit within and on them environmentally sound for the next generation which will definitely help us to truly “protect our common future.” Win hunnuh git een disya flo an kno whey fa go, hunnun gwine kno sey we dey dey fa tru win hunnuh see we flag da blo!