Coastal Flooding and Culture in the Gullah/Geechee Nation
by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)
I have spent the last week engaged in an activity that I and others in the Gullah/Geechee Nation find ourselves in the midst of during the hurricane season annually-staying tuned to the Weather Channel. I found myself truly engaged in social media for up-to-the-minute accurate coverage from people literally on the ground or in the waters as rain fell and tides rose and we got flash flood warnings on TV, on cell phones, and from family and friends. I found myself truly appreciating and living the scripture 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” for I know that the “prayers of the righteous availeth much” and webe Gullah/Geechee anointed people. I found myself tuning my soul in as numerous spirituals came to mind and I realized that my elders and my ancestors had passed on this tradition that centers me in the midst of these times.
The days of rain and more rain served as a wonderful time to reflect on the traditions of the Gullah/Geechee community that have been passed down including how hunnuh chillun hafa hab muddawit and ting. It was interesting to realize how many people of other cultures were more interested in proceeding with events that they had planned along the coast and some even literally on the waterways than paying attention to the weather forecast which included Hurricane Joaquin passing by the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s coast while rain was heading to the coast from the west and from the north and the tide continued to do what it does every day-rise. This was all as the lunar eclipse had just been completed. As a Gullah/Geechee traditionalists that is also a scientist, everything within my being said, “It is time for folks to stay inside and stay put. Do not get on the roads and cross the bridges.” I again heard a Gullah/Geechee spiritual come into my soul-“I saw the sign!”
After I made sure to check my own disaster preparedness checklist and insure that I had things ready, I reposted it and a video of me presenting it on social media. I settled in to my meditations and prayers and then into waiting and watching. Yes, watch as well as pray!
As our prayers turned the hurricane completely into the sea and away from land, my soul was still not settled that there was not more to come. Within hours, this feeling was confirmed as the photos and videos started to appear and states of emergency were declared in the Carolinas.
As I posted and prayed and checked the island for flooding, I thought of all the work that I had been led to do over the years to awaken people to how sensitive the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida are to the various weather incidents, sea level rise, climate change, and ocean acidification dynamics that have been taking place. Some were willing to listen and a few have engaged in physical work to help us restore and protect the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s coastline and even few have donated financially to the on-going work in this regard. However, there were the masses that did not see and feel what those of us whose hearts seem to be syncopated with the rise and fall of the tides along the coast are able to see. They literally needed a disaster to pay attention to what the “natives” have said in regard to not building where they build and not playing and recreating on sacred ground. Unfortunately, it took the national news to make folks sit up and pay attention and they started to do what happens time and time again-react. Massive amounts of folks tend to be reactionary and not pro-active which makes this literally rising problem that much more difficult to contend with.
As I shook my head and resumed my focus to insure that I could reach people on the ground in various areas of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, a flood of emails came in to see how we were doing on the island. What folks were not discerning or believing was that the flooding wasn’t on the rural Sea Islands. It was taking place in the suburbanized, urbanized, and gentrified areas along the coast. The flooding from rainfall got coupled with midland South Carolina dams topping and some failing which sent water rushing down to the coast while the rivers that run throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation began to swell and overflow onto land.
The massive rainfall ended an extended drought due, but sewage and contaminants were now surfacing and flowing right along with waters that now filled and submerged roads, highways, yards, and homes. My mind went again to the work that the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank has undertaken over the past five years and how we most recently have naturally or Divinely shifted our primary focus to seafood safety and human health. In a case like this, the human health of the Gullah/Geechee Nation pertains not only to how we will cleanup and restore the coast after this massive historic flooding incident, but how the Gullah/Geechee family is holding up mentally after witnessing and feeling the impacts of this. I prayed some more.
Well, my prayers were answered when the sun came out and began drying out the land which led to people getting back online and responding to my messages to find out how families were in various communities. I heard positive messages from Gullah/Geechees who had all only dealt with minor flooding in Charleston County, SC and northward into NC. We started to mobilize and assess the damages to our institutions, businesses, and homes when another report of rain returning came in. So, it was time to again be still and watch as well as pray.
The new rain fall was now an issue for Georgetown County due to the fact that rivers were cresting and dams were failing which would send water straight down to that county. The South Carolina counties listed as disaster areas started to grow and as the rain fell, the images and videos of flooding multiplied. As reports of all the personal losses emerged in the midst of this, I then started wishing that I could stop time and get all of the “Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive” digitized and backed up in the cloud in one day. Time was truly of the essence as I saw the signs.
The signs that I have been able to see spiritually for years were now manifesting themselves before my eyes and on TV and computer screens. I stopped and wondered if this would now be enough to get people to get involved in the environmental work that we are doing. I wondered if they would now pay attention to any of the numerous reports that predicted the loss of coastal and cultural heritage resources that would come through environmental damage brought on by weather, flooding, sea level rise, and climate science related incidents such as this. I wondered if the Gullah/Geechee Nation would ever get back in the headlines and on the news screen for us simply showing what we are doing to continue our culture and protect our cultural heritage resources along the coast or would people only remember that we were here when another disaster or tragedy took place-flooding, murder, etc. GOD forbid!
I prayed that people would tune in to the reports from those of us that live on this land and who truly move with and by the tides. I prayed that GOD would continue to answer my prayers and that my folks would yet stay up as “GAWD trubbull de wata.”
Just as things started drying out a bit, it rained again yesterday and folks paused, breathed, and prayed. The biggest thing I took note of was that once again we stayed. We stayed at home on the islands and in the Gullah/Geechee townships with family and friends. We held together as a community and we’ve drawn on our cultural traditions to protect ourselves during the storms and to now bring ourselves out of the storm and to a higher level of consciousness in regard to how we will now continue to protect our cultural heritage resources as the weather continues to change. One thing for sure is Gullah/Geechees will once again weather the storm and we culcha ain gwine nowhey tall tall. No matter what flows in, it will not take us out! AMEN!
The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition (www.gullahgeechee.net) which Queen Quet founded is the leading Gullah/Geechee organization focused on environmental, environmental justice, and equity issues. The organization’s membership is open to people around the world. Please email GullGeeCo@aol.com to receive a membership form or to contribute to their on-going environmental and cultural heritage resource sustainability efforts.
Wonderful to hear that all is well back home. Raise your heads up, for your deliverance is getting near, my people. Peace.