Gullah/Geechee, Hoppin’ John, and Greens and What This Means
Hunnuh chillun ain pose ta gwine een ta de Nyew Year widout de Hoppin John and de greens! At Watch Night you hear conversations about whether or not certain people have their peas and rice or Hoppin’ John already cooked. Most times, those making inquiries are not the best cooks themselves, so they are plotting on coming by after day break on New Year’s/Emancipation Day to get a spoonful or so from that elders’ pot. Yes, the elders are the best source for the greatest pots of Hoppin’ John!
Fortunately, this tradition that began on the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry amongst the Gullah/Geechee has continued even up to today. Several sources have looked into the origins of how this all began and why. They credit the South Carolina Lowcountry of the Gullah/Geechee Nation as the origin point repeatedly. They recognize the fact that the peas that are used-field peas, cow peas, and black eyed peas came from the Motherland and therefore, the children of Mama Africa continued to nurture their families with these seeds that became staples in the diets of many southerners. Peas and rice are easy to keep stored for long periods of time. This was critical during the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, and is again becoming critical due to the intensity of storms and other land changes causes by climate change impacts.
Just as Gullah/Geechee farmers adapt and diversity the crops that they plant, the Hoppin’ John has been adapted and the types of greens that accompany them have been also. Many vegan and vegetarian Gullah/Geechees make their own pots for this traditional meal because they have to avoid the fatback or other pieces of pork that many still add to these dishes. So, the tradition has taken on a healthier version of the first meal to consume on the first day of the year. Folks are even getting back to making the cornbread to soak up “de licka and ting wid” from scratch to avoid the lard and other things in some of the commercial cornbread mixes. So, hunnuh chillun da gwine bak old landmark an ain be fuss kno! De ancestas da beat e drum fa sho!
Any of our ancestors named “John” have to be shoutin each year at this time since their name is called so much. As the story goes, there was a man-no doubt a Gullah/Geechee man-from Charleston, SC that used to sell peas and sell rice that the traditional dish is names after. There is also a story that says that the “hoppin'” has to do wid de chillun jumpin or hoppin around the table fa e plate. Some even have told me that the man John hopped around as he served the dish! As we often say, “GOD only knows” how that name got attached to what many native Gullah/Geechees simply call “peas and rice” and folks in the Caribbean call “rice and peas.”
The entire dish is eaten on the first day of the year as a blessing of prosperity for the home and for the people sharing the meal. The peas are the element that is multiplied easily and are representative of the coins that were desired by our ancestors in abundance for various reasons-to buy freedom, to buy land, to take care of their families, and for general advancement. (This has not changed, but some folks now only want dollars and do not realize that stacks of coins make dollars! SMH.) The greens represent the “greenbacks” or dollars. So, in all cases, the dish represents financial blessings. The golden cornbread that goes with it represents that riches our our Black gold people and the golden future we are seeking with each new year as far as I am concerned.
This year, my Hoppin’ John relinks the diaspora since I have my peas that I was blessed to grow on my Gullah/Geechee family compound embedded in the hill rice that was given to me by my Merikin Family from Trinidad. The cornbread was made by mama from scratch like she used to make back in the day. (This is what the stuffing was made out of for Christmas.) The cabbage and the greens were blended together from the field to top off the richness. So, as I sit down wearing my cowry shells poised to enjoy this annual feast which I will follow with a teaspoon of honey to insure the sweetness of the year (I learned this from my Mississippi Gullah/Geechee folks.), I give thanks for the manifestations of the seeds of prosperity that my ancestors planted in the soil of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and for those continuing to hold on to this tradition of seeking prosperity on Emancipation/New Year’s Day. Disya trulee da de #GullahGeechee way! Tenk GAWD e still gwine on and gwine stay!
- Posted in: Carolina Gold Rice ♦ Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation ♦ Gullah/Geechee Foodways ♦ Gullah/Geechee Ourstory ♦ Queen Quet ♦ Uncategorized
- Tagged: Black history, Emancipation Day, foodways, Geechee, greens, Gullah, gullah geechee nation, hill rice, Hoppin John, Lowcountry, Lowcountry cuisine, New Year's Day, New Year's traditions, peas and rice, Queen Quet, soul food, Southern food