Whenever I make the journey from the Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation to head west, I think of my Seminole family members. I think of the journey that they took before the Trail of Tears. I look at the changes in the landscape as I fly and drive and I see the water literally and figuratively dry up. I continue on crossing bridges named for rivers and look below praying that an island gyal would see water again, but instead, there are rocks and sand.
As I move over the many miles, I get a joyful reminder because a real roadrunner will cross my path. I think of the run this creature gave Wild E. Coyote over the many years and then I think of the run that the Seminoles gave the enslavers and “slave catchers” that came after them for decades also.
I wondered how many more of our people that knew from whence they came remained alive in Mexico and how many remained alive in the Bahamas. I wondered how many of them had given those that sought to assimilate them a run and made them believe that they had forgotten their language and traditions while all the while keeping these traditions hidden inside the house, inside the family, inside the circle, inside the village, inside the heart.
“Wha een hunnuh hafa cum out!” my mama always told me. I have lived to see the truth of this matter in so many ways. The inspiring times of its manifestation are when I finally arrive in Texas for “Seminole Days” and hear elders do their best to greet me in Gullah. These are the same elders that would only speak English to me when I first met them and who I would hear speak Spanish to some of the Muscogos that were present at the celebration. However, now, the collective consciousness had become more powerful and they were willing and able to bring up words that they recalled from their childhoods.
I smiled every time someone would speak a few words in Gullah or smiled and just ran over and started hugging me. Most of the latter knew me from “Gullah/Geechee TV (GGTV)” and the episodes that they had viewed of me interviewing elders right here at Seminole Days. They were so proud to see me come back to the family and make yet another historic journey that so resembled the pathway that their elders and ancestors had taken to get here to this dry land from the Sea Islands.
As I stood there looking in all these faces, I could see the faces of folks that were now in the ancestral realm like Ms. McQueenie who was part of the Gullah/Geechee Seminole Diaspora in the Bahamas. I could see Dr. Y. N. Kly who took the time to write of and speak of the Gullah Wars as often as he could to insure that the next generation of people were not kept under an illusion that made them believe that this group was “indian” when they were largely the Africans called “Gullah/Geechee.” I could hear the shout songs that were sung to keep the people walking and to keep the horses moving over the tedious journey and that kept the family together even when those that they had worked for and with in the United States government said that they had to go away from the forts and fend for themselves.
“Seminole Days” is an opportunity for the family to reunite and learn the truth of the journey with all of its ups and downs. This year, I had an up for a few seconds before getting there because I saw that US President Obama had insured that a settlement had been reached with over 160 indigenous/Native American ethnic groups/tribes. This only lasted for seconds because I quickly recalled that the Seminole Nation had voted out the Afro-Seminoles or Black Seminoles some years ago when they knew there was the possibility of money coming to those that claimed this ancestry. The horrific irony of how some were “commissioned” to attempt to do this amongst those that are the traditionalists in the Gullah/Geechee Nation was going on struck me also. The applause for this “settlement” I cut off in that moment. I then had to pause and think about what folks would ultimately “settle” for and the extent to which people would lie, cheat, and steal from those that put their lives on the line for them and the entire group.
I said a prayer of healing for all of the Gullah/Geechee Diaspora and I continued the journey into the smiles and the embraces and into a process of reconnection. I gave thanks for all the elders that were present and all the youth that were now actively taking part in Seminole Days and had helped the elders to curate the museum and to market this annual reunion. I gave thanks for being able to again make this journey and to reconnect the entire Gullah/Geechee Seminole Diaspora.
I called upon everyone present to never forget our language nor our living traditions and to never forget who they really are and from whence they came. After this call to action was over, I walked into the museum to see a Muscogo woman in Mexico fannin rice over a tub like what I have on my porch and my mama has in the pantry in the yard. I looked at each image and knew every aspect of the processing of the food that was going on without needing to read on caption. I stood there and smiled because I had come all the way to “Seminole Days” to see images of Gullah/Geechee living ways! I plan to send them photos back so that they can see me doing the same things on St. Helena Island with my family like the folks were doing together as a family during their Juneteenth celebration.
These images and the energy of Seminole Days made me know that the late Ms. Charles Emily Wilson’s dream was yet alive. She was the Black Seminole woman that was instrumental in the founding of this celebration. She told me on the telephone more than twenty years ago that she was concerned that if the younger ones didn’t hold on to the language, they also wouldn’t hold on to the land, the culture, and this celebration. So, I have always felt that it was my duty to insure that I keep the charge that the elder left me with and to assist her direct blood kin with insuring that they knew the intent of Seminole Days was to insure that they never give up their Gullah/Geechee ways.
Well, I must say, they didn’t give it up at all! While folks were busy bringing me water and trying to find who could feed me, I was called to come take a family photo. (Folks wasn’t thinking about the fact that for the entire time since I had gotten out of the car, I had been standing up in my signature high heeled shoes on concrete or rocky ground.) All they knew was family was home for the first time in a LONG time and they were going to capture this moment!
We all lined up outside the George Washington Carver School where Ms. Charles Emily Wilson had taught and from which many of the elders at the celebration had graduated. As we the photos were shot, more of the younger generation saw in the distance what was happening and came running and we would have to take a few more shots. I asked if I should get in the middle and everyone said, “YES!” I laughed as I just did as I was told! I KNEW I was with family now fa tru! Disya how Gullah/Geechee Seminole folks do! So, it didn’t matter if this journey that was being captured digitally had taken minutes or a day, it truly was the embodiment of the meaning of “Seminole Days” and Gullah/Geechee ways!