I have heard these words come from my mouth thousands of times over the years because they are rooted in my heart. They are rooted as deeply as Gullah/Geechee culture is into the soil and the souls of the Sea Islands. These islands are from whence the blood comes that runs through my veins like the waters that flow to and from our shores each day perfectly syncopated in polyrhythmic rhythm to the motions of Gullah/Geechees as we move about and walk the sacred ground that holds the blood, sweat, and tears of our ancestors-our family.
The more that these words flowed, the more GOD put me in places where I was not only hearing them, but thousands of people around the world were hearing them and some were even quoting them (especially the latter) without giving proper citations for the words and simply calling it a “Gullah/Geechee proverb.” Proverbs I know well especially the one that states:
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” • Proverbs 4: 7
The more I seemed to hear myself repeating this proverb, the more I seemed to encounter a world of people that lacked understanding and also refused to seek it. Yet, these same people would consider themselves wise. These same people have not been wise enough to pay attention to the things that truly matter. The things that will not be able to be recreated once they are gone-family, land, community, and culture. These are the branches of that tree that so desperately needs healing in so many places. Since my mama’s wisdom taught me that “Charity begins at home and then goes abroad.”, I started my work on my home island and then started going throughout the United States and abroad internationally to let the world know that there was a culture that existed that they may not have knowledge of and even if they have heard of it, it is likely that they have been misinformed about it. The misinformation that had been going forth for generations was financially, intellectually, and politically beneficial to others that were not living the traditions that my people live. Yes, hunnuh chillun, webe Gullah/Geechee!
While some tried to erode the truth of what Gullah/Geechee living is all about, my beloved Sea Islands of the Gullah/Geechee Nation literally began to erode with every hurricane and every spring tide (which we now no longer hear of because it has been replaced with the king tide) much less with just the daily motions of the oceans and Intercoastal Waterways as they rise and fall each day. I started to literally see the roots of those trees that stood around us which were part of the trees that I sought to take care of. These trees are the ones beneath which many placentas of our babies had been buried so truly this was family.
As this continued seeking ways to heal our roots, I started speaking to others and documenting what I saw and gradually, I realized that there was a circle of people around the world who had a language that they were using within the scientific circles that did not often flow out into the circles of the indigenous cultural communities on the front shorelines of all that was being lost. They were using the words “sea level rise” to mean something different than those high and low or spring or king tides. They were speaking of “climate change” and “climate science” as well as “ocean acidification.” None of these were in daily use in the language of the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
As I entered the circles with additional scientific minds and activists of environmental justice, I gained a new lexicon. I was easily able to “adapt” to it not yet knowing that the next set of new vocabulary words that were going to come forth for me were “adaptation” and “resilience.” The latter of which Gullah/Geechees are the living definition of and the former is something that we have had to do since our ancestors were kidnapped from the Motherland and placed on the soil of Sea Island sand where they became rooted and our culture grew. At least it was growing in a healthy way until those that did not see land and water and family and community the way we did came….
It became very interesting to be asked how my community was charting out adaptation plans while those that were overbuilding and derby fishing all around and as some would say “up and through” our homeland were not being asked the same question. It was interesting to find that people now wanted traditional knowledge to be considered by the scientists that had coined the aforementioned phrases and they could fund folks to “study” ethnic groups of people, but would not fund the people that lived the cultures from which the traditional knowledge arose to keep their cultural heritage alive in the face of these climate change dynamics. They wouldn’t even cover the cost of them having seats at the tables where these issues were now being discussed by people from not only different states, but around the world.
I supposed I shouted beneath those trees in my community enough times to have had the power of the blood of my people from generations back enter me to give me the strength to answer these questions. It was also the place were I could meditate and have the answers come to me about how to get to the tables. Each time I emerged from these meditations, GOD would send forth the right person at a critical time that would be the link that I needed to get to the table and each time I was able to drag that table a little bit closer to the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s shoreline for people around the world to see what was going on and how Gullah/Geechee culture is a major culture that needs to be a part of their discussions and that we needed to plan together.
As I made my way to one such a table to share what we had already successfully been doing in the Gullah/Geechee Nation and to learn more about the best practices being done elsewhere in order to keep cultural heritage resources protected in the face of climate change, I read an airline magazine that had a story in it about how Marrakech, Morocco was one of the safest places in the Motherland. Within two days of reading this, I was at an evening reception when I heard someone mention “Marrakech” and I immediately turned my head and proceeded into this conversation only to find out that the United Nation’s was going to host the 22nd Session of the Conference of Parties aka COP22 in that city! I said to the people in the conversation, “I read about that city on my flight here and I said to myself, ‘I want to go there!’.” Everyone was stunned and smiled, but then folks started sharing how difficult it is for anyone to get accredited for the conference.
I thought it interesting that it would be a brother that carried the same blood as my ancestors that was still holding on and holding strong to the cultural heritage in Nigeria in the face of climate change that would reach across the globe to his family of the African Diaspora for us to work together. Through his emails, I could feel the outstretched hands that were pulling me not only back to the Motherland, but to take a stand!
Once again as I prayed and meditated on the sacred ground of the Sea Islands in the midst of Hurricane Matthew that brought forth a tremendous amount of information that the world needed to see and that scientists and elected officials needed to pay attention to. I knew I would live through the storm to make it to a table that would be set with tea in Marrakech. I felt everything within my being telling me to simply pack because there are those that believe in the importance of this work and this journey and they know that this is an opportunity to take care of the land and to heal the tree. Disya chillun gwine mek sho hunnuh gwine ta de Motherland fa crak hunnuh teet bout who de Gullah/Geechee be an wha gwine on pun we islandts een de sea!
I packed and I worked. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition got the word out through GoFundMe and within a few hours, donations started coming forth. When I got on the plane, the full amount still had not been raised, but “delay is not denial” is what my soul kept telling me. By the time I landed in the Motherland, Gullah/Geechees, friends, family, and supporters started stepping forth to contribute to getting the campaign to its goal. I was emailed and Facebook messaged about collections that were being taken up by leaders in the Gullah/Geechee Nation from folks. I gave thanks as my spirit sat beneath my electronic tree with the family that was more excited about my arrival in the Motherland than me! I gave thanks!
When I read about the place where I landing having been called “the land of GOD,” I thanked GOD for having ears to hear and the will and ability to move. I thank GOD for my circle expanding. Aaaah, hunnuh chillun, mi staated shoutin den! Tenk GAWD fa disya blessed journee!
Tenki Tenki ta all wha paat disya circle! A toss to you all with some Moroccan tea!
You still have an opportunity to join the Gullah/Geechee family in supporting this historic journey by making a donation at https://www.gofundme.com/QueenQuetCOP22. Tenki Tenki fa helpin de Gullah/Geechee tek a stand een de Motherland!