Queen’s Chronicle: Gullah/Geechee Black History Reflections and Recollections
by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)
As mi elda dem bi lun mi, “Ef hunnuh ain kno whey hunnuh dey frum, hunnuh ain gwine kno whey hunnuh gwine .” I now find myself repeating this more oft than not. I am consistent about where I am heading as I take time daily to improve myself by learning more and doing better. Ef hunnuh kno betta, hunnuh poss ta do betta. As I seek higher, I seek it not only for myself and my people, but also in honor of my ancestors without whom I simply would not be.
This time of year brings me even into more constant connection to those from the ancestral realm because my mind is on insuring that folks recognize the value of the land in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Not only did Black Gold Gullah/Geechee ancestral hands shape the coastline from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida into a cultural landscape, many hands bled while they did. Many brows were wiped and droplets of sweat hit Sea Island soil in a syncopated rhythm that blended in with the pattern of the waves hitting the shoreline. As I walk across these sacred places, my soul is ignited and enriched with their energy. I, like them, am a soul of this soil and within it lies our DNA.
I pause beneath the moss strewn oak trees. I waan yeddi wha e sey. Tenk GAWD e crak e teet wid mi an e gee mi wha fa lun dees ya chillun wha dey ya. I can feel a warm embrace in spite of what the news and my atmospheric devices say that the temperature is outside. So, I know I am being embraced by those who appreciate the fact that they haven’t been forgotten and that their stories are being told in a sincere way with all the pain, the joy and the strength that is within each aspect of it.
As I reflect along the shoreline and think back, I see the many faces that I read about and many more that I learned from as I grew up on the Sea Islands. I think about how I never had to hunt for a book during Black History Month and could give a report if someone simply asked me to stand up and do one because I always loved learning more about and from my people especially my elders that have now become ancestors. I treasured the fact that they took the time to answer my many questions about the lives that they had not only lived but endured given the fact that many people attempted to keep them down politically, economically and even spiritually. The blessings is that the latter could NEVER be accomplished! They stood and taught me to stand and hold to GOD’s unchanging hand!
Now as I walk along the marsh, I feel like GOD is holding one hand and an ancestor is holding the next one as I breathe in power to continue on a journey that now is not celebratory but taxing. My mind races from vexed to perplexed about the lack of commemoration and true celebration of Black history that seems to be happening as the years go on. I recall looking forward to the posters that would be mounted on walls and books that would suddenly appear in the libraries and even in some storefront windows all in celebration of “Negro History Week” then “Negro History Month” which is now “Black History Month.” It was with joy that I purchased packages of VHS tapes when the devices came along for us to record programs. I would check TV Guide and find out every Black history documentary or film that was scheduled to come on and do all I could not to miss the majority of them. I would come back from being a part of Black History Month presentations and discussions and would host groups of friends and cook all kinds of Gullah/Geechee food and talk about what we watched and/or read and geared up to see what was coming on next. I always knew that the books would be more detailed than any visual productions including museum exhibits. Therefore, I would head to the Black book vendors or to a library to continue expanding my knowledge on the people or topics that had been shown on TV.
After awhile, I realized that there was a void in terms of what was presented about my own people-Gullah/Geechee. The more I started presenting about us and ourstory and the myriad of ways that we were an active part of various historic events, folks wanted books at the end of my lectures. They pushed me to write history books while they would stand in line and purchase my poetry and even other history books that I would sell for authors that I supported. When I presented my production, “The Underground Railroad: A Geechee Girl’s Escape” to a standing room only sold out audience at the Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena Island, I sold out of every poetry book I had. While personalizing each book with a poem to the purchaser, I heard folks in line chattering about me needing to hurry up and write the history book. I followed their directives and did just that and have been writing ourstory ever since.
I give thanks daily for the ability to write and to read and comprehend. I often think of how I was blessed to have lived through eras of time when Black people dressed up and came together to hear lectures and to see historically based productions that told ourstory. I shake my head thinking of how folks reached a point of keeping their distance and not coming out in that manner prior to a pandemic.
To reconcile the thoughts of the past with what I see in the present I have to take walks to hear from on high. As I walk, I ponder whether or not all of that work is in vain with the evolution of the same technology that I and others programmed into existence. I wonder about those that simply want to see live videos without reading the pages that I and so many other historians toiled over for days, months, and years in order to complete research and fund the publishing of those pages. I wonder if they realize how the western world erases cultural groups and their legacies by simply burning down libraries and books and how it only takes certain types of code and algorithms to remove or alter videos. I wonder if they realize that Google is not GOD, but that one can surely find spiritual upliftment in those gatherings with our own people dressed up to see one another and to celebrate the very fact that we are from a strong people that have thrived and continue to exist and survive because we are the children and children’s children of those that fought for the opportunity and ability for us to read and write. We honor our ancestors of Kush and Timbuktu when we do.
I think back to being the one called upon to read aloud in class and at church. I remember being sent for to tell friends of family members about something that I had read and how everyone sat around with bated breath to hear what happened next. I remembered the laughter with certain inflections and elders wiping tears at times because they could feel what I was expressing. I remember the hugs and the pats on the back by hands that resembled leaves because of the way the veins showed through beautiful melanated skin that had worked the Sea Island cotton fields and Carolina Gold rice paddies that I spoke about while sharing a composition honoring how we had come a long way from being chattel to proud people. The same proud Gullah/Geechee people that now owned the very land that our ancestors had been enslaved on. The elders would always give me some more information / knowledge to add to the next presentation that I did and many of them would be right back to the next gathering to hear me speak and sing and dance again.
Yes, the dance! How I wish that I would be traveling state to state and stage to stage again dancing coming in to African drums and to sounds that reminded us of all that our kidnapped African ancestors had been through. How I wish that I could be in those places and spaces where time didn’t matter because everyone was so enthralled with not only learning about our culture, but was dedicate to celebrating and commemorating it. I would take that over seeing one more meme or just more Black slogan T-shirts being sold without true action that will uplift Black people globally in the future. I am used to us taking action not simply “acting”-acting up, acting out, acting like we honor Black History Month while we don’t stop to honor our ancestors and learn the true stories of what the elders around us did in order for us to have the privileges like being heirs to land and being vessels of Black legacy.
Tenk GAWD fa mi Gullah/Geechee ancestas! I am thankful that as I walk and as I sit beneath the tree, I am sitting where my ancestors sat knowing that they endured and they bled and they saved and they fought to leave this land for me. So, my way of honoring them is to continue to hold onto the land and to proudly live my Gullah/Geechee culture and protect that sacred aspect of that legacy that they left with me.
I give thanks when I encounter de lil Gullah/Geechee wha waan yeddi who webe. I give thanks for the young Gullah/Geechee and Black folks that tell me which one of my books they read and how they were inspired to learn more about our people so that they can take more pride in our traditions and cultural heritage. I often let them know, hunnuh gwine hafa dey dey wid we fa yeddi fa tru. Those that are determined, they take heed and they make their way to where we are gathered together dressed in a way that makes our grandmamas and dem proud. As I see them approaching and telling me that they are my IG followers or Facebook friends and telling me their names and their folks names, I feel those ancestors filling the space too. They look on nodding and smiling and in those moments, I know that my question about whether or not my living and work has been in vain has been answered. Their presence takes me back to those gatherings and those presentations and how the oral traditions followed by us reading together even if it was by kerosene light brought me to this time and place. Like the elders before me, it is my time to pass on some knowledge so that more pages will be written in the future along side the videos that will be created so dem churn gwine kno whey e dey frum. Cuz I sho waan um fa kno whey e gwine.
As I head to the porch at the end of the day, I give thanks for being a conduit between the generations. I am thankful that my Gullah/Geechee family instilled in me the pride that I have and that GOD has blessed me over the decades to be engaged with those that seek more knowledge about our Black legacy in order for their futures to be better as they walk forward and upward pridefully. Most of all, tenk GAWD mi kno who I be. Mi gladdee WEBE Gullah/Geechee anointed People of a living Black history legacy. I gwine beat mi drum uneat disya tree. Ain’t no other way to truly honor Black history if we don’t honor the ancestors and the land on these islands in the sea. Cum on chillun and shout wid mi!
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