Gullah/Geechee Agro-Culture Fishing & Farming Field Day
“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.
- Navajo Proverb
In 1976 a book about public policy titled “Africa: From Mystery to Maze,” Lao-Tzu is quoted:
“If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
which reflects the Chinese proverb: “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day—if you teach him to fish, you feed him for many days.”
This proverb previously appeared in the May 1963 edition of “The Sunday Gleaner” in Kingston, Jamaica. The first time I ever heard this, it never left my soul. Now I find myself often saying,
“If you teach a man or woman to fish and you heal and protect our waterways, that man or woman’s children and their children’s children will fish for generations to come.”
I tenk GAWD fa de Gullah/Geechee fishin famlee fa tru! When we founded the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association (www.GullahGeecheeFishing.net) over a decade ago, I was proud and saddened at the same time. The association was needed to not only fight for the subsistence fishing rights of native Gullah/Geechee families, but also to have a conglomerate of traditions keepers that were willing and tremendously able to pass down Gullah/Geechee waterway traditions to the future generations since many were leaving the creeks and passing into the ancestral realm with the knowledge.
Just like the energy that gets expended when reeling in a shark or a large sting ray, the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association has had to navigate the waters of policy and politics in just the right way to stay in the boat while bringing in what is needed-laws to protect our rights. Along the shoreline where we go casting, crabbing, picking oysters and digging clams, we pay respect to our ancestors as we pass sacred burial grounds that we also have to diligently protect as people move in wanting waterfront vistas. As we travel dirt roads, head home to family compounds and begin preparing the catch, we can’t help but be reminded of how the farming goes hand in hand with the fishing. Mi gladdee mi famlee lun mi alltwo.
Knowing that not every family was blessed to have elders that passed down either or both of these traditions to the children, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition joined forces with the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association to start hosting “Gullah/Geechee Famlee Day” events that included fishing activities and lots of good Gullah/Geechee cuisine! The latter drew folks out for sure.
Gullah/Geechee Famlee Day 2021 definitely brought the family out from around the world to reconnect and celebrate after having endured more than a year of a pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic caused many more folks around the world to recognize the need to focus on food security and cultural continuation which were concepts that had long since been central to the work here in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. So, we called on the family to gather around and sign up to be part of the “Gullah/Geechee Seafood Trail” and “Gullah/Geechee Agro-Culture” projects and to review materials for the “St. Helena Island Gullah/Geechee Living Landscape” initiative to enhance sustainability of this historic Sea Island by making it more environmentally sound and resilient. The more we heal the land and the sea, the more we contribute to resiliency. Gullah/Geechee resiliency has to also include cultural heritage continuation which requires the ability to live from the land and the sea.
In order to teach the community how to fish, how to farm, and how to sustain our cultural traditions and legacy, we are calling on the St. Helena Island Gullah/Geechee Famlee to be a part of the “Gullah/Geechee Agro-culture Project.” As stated in the project’s description:
“Gullah/Geechee culture is characterized by self-determination and self-sufficiency; it is defiantly African and distinctively place-based. Created by the human will of people from multiple sections of the West Coast of Africa who were enslaved on plantations along the southeast coast, Gullah/Geechee represents the only group of African Americans who maintained a significant amount of Africanisms including foodways, land use practices, subsistence fishing, and the spoken Gullah language (Goodwine, 1998; Politzer, 1999). For centuries, Gullah/Geechee communities sustained a way of life predicated on the wealth of close-knit family compounds, and carefully nurtured the resources of the land and water (Dean, 2013). In recent decades, this way of life has been disrupted due to inequitable public policy. Beyond the negative impact on the immediate community, this disruption also has negative impacts on the larger farming ecosystem. Research shows that culture and agriculture ecosystems are inextricably linked – sustain culture, sustain agriculture (Dean, 2013).”
“This participatory action research project aims to engage farmers and fishers from the Gullah/Geechee culture in determining potentially workable strategies to address capacity issues and sustain family farming across generations.”
St. Helena’s Gullah/Geechee Famlee should complete this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GullahGeecheeAgroCulture . Completing it will give FREE admission to the Fishing and Farming Day at the historic Woodland’s Club property. Folks can also fill out the survey on site to be a part of the day filled with fun activities along the waterway.
In the 1920s, 47 Gullah/Geechee families from the Lands End area of St. Helena Island pooled their money together and purchased 328 acres of land that had formerly been the plantation that their ancestors worked. Just as many wealthy Anglo people did, these Gullah/Geechee created a place to have fun, fish, hunt, chop wood for kindling, and bury their family members. They had the insight to leave a legacy and land for their descendants by establishing the “Woodland Club” which has since evolved into the a non-profit called the “Lands End Woodland Club.”
Sustaining land ownership in order to continue Gullah/Geechee culture requires economic support and everyone is invited to come out to support. Numerous Gullah/Geechee vendors, artists, business owners, and food trucks will be part of the Gullah/Geechee Agro-Culture Fishing and Farming Field Day. So, make sure to bring cash! The property is remote and apps and ability to swipe for purchases may not work.
What will work are all those that will be fishing! So, make sure you bring fishing gear and wear comfortable cool clothing. Also, masks will be required as you come over to booths or participate in some of the family fun activities that will bring us closer together. Like the cast net, we want to draw in all that will feed the Gullah/Geechee Famlee. We gwine feed de mind, body, and soul. Git hunnuh pass ya:
Cum fa jayn we and bring de famlee! See hunnuh dey!
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- Tagged: Black land ownership, cultural heritage, family, farming, field day, fishing, foodways, Geechee, Gullah, Gullah/Geechee Agro-Culture, Gullah/Geechee Nation, Lands End Woodland Club, Queen Quet, resiliency, SC, Sea Islands, St. Helena Island, survey, sustainability