I remember once at a very young age that a student brought in an artifact for show and tell that belonged to his great-great grandfather. I clearly remember the feeling of wanting to be able to bring in something that my own family had passed down for generations. After going home and probably watching an episode of “Gullah Gullah Island” which as a child, had NO idea of how deeply I was connected to; I asked my momma, but she would always just tell me “We are Gullah Geechee”. She didn’t really break this down until I was older, but recently I’ve come to the realization that what I have is much more than that artifact my classmate brought in that day.
I am apart of intangible culture that has survived and persevered through generations in the form of language, food, and customs. I’m know that I am a proud direct descendent of slaves that came through the middle passage and landed in Coastal Georgia near Sapelo Island. It’s been in and all around me this entire time. Regardless of the code switching that has come as a result of moving away to attend college in the city. I am Gullah Geechee. Hear me speak in Atlanta. I sound much different around my kin’ folk.
As a freshman at Spelman, I was required to take a course called ADW: African Diaspora and the World. It taught me so much about being a part of the African diaspora, but it was one thing I saw that shocked me. A documentary called “The Language You Cry In”. Imagine your professor telling you that you will be learning a special connection back to Africa, and they turn on the projector and it’s your hometown. People you were raised with. Tracing their roots in Sierra Leone through one song that mourned the dead as a part of a ritual. What? I’m in class like “I’m FROM here” the setting of this documentary is my small hometown. How did I not know this before? I had so many questions about how close I could be to tracking my history, but this was yet another clue to the puzzle. You can watch this incredible documentary here:
As a graduate student, I took a social studies course which talked about American history. Aliza Pinckney, the daughter of a slave master was credited with discovering Indigo Dye created from flowers at the age of 16 years old. Hmmm I thought. So she single handedly discovered and owns the color indigo? Sigh. Of course. BUT how sure are we about this? She wasn’t in the fields. Wait a minute. This plantation, Pinckney plantation was located in coastal South Carolina I thought. It was also my grandmothers maiden name, but spelled with a letter missing. I wonder if this was the plantation. Was this the owner? I am determined to find out, and I am in the process of tracing this.
A few years ago I dated a guy who was from West Africa. I remember him telling me what he liked to eat, and I vividly remember how much emphasis he put on one thing. Rice. I remember him kind of saying that he would give a finger if someone said he had to give it up to keep rice. That’s serious, I thought. Well before I became accustomed to eating a variety of foods during my time at Spelman College, rice was my life. I grew up eating it with pretty much everything, but lots of “stews”. Oh. You eat stew with rice too? I asked him. Oh. Kay…this is getting weird I thought. The final straw was him introducing me to a tomato flavored rice dish called “Jollof”. Alright, that’s it! Someone has tried to take my Aunt’s famous recipe and make it into an African dish. Wait, what if my Aunt was making this dish derived from Africa all along? Although I couldn’t quite put my hand on it, it was way too many similarities in the way we ate, and I knew it only made sense.
The tradition of cultivating and eating rice came from Africa. Period. Between the 1750’s and 1800 slaves were brought over specifically because they had knowledge of how to grow this lucrative crop. Landing on the Coastal Carolinas and Georgia, rice came straight from West Africa. So yeah. That’s that. Rice is and has been a way of life for me. So has seafood. So has okra. Momma casually “You know your ancestors brought okra seeds over here in their hair”. What?? Ok so this explains why I had a friend who was willing to fly into town to have me make her shrimp and okra. I’ve been consistently eating this since a child. My grandfather was a fisherman and shrimper who lived off of the water, and being raised under him and my Aunt Cheryl “Shell” I taught me so many dishes that incorporated rice. More on that in the next article with live footage of me cooking it.
I do know that I am too close to discovering my direct link to my actual tribe and I have been in talks for a few months with a company who will help me to accomplish this. I do know, that with or without someone stating it to me, that I am a part of a unique heritage, that as I like to say, makes me one of the “culturally closest African-Americans to Africa” living in the US. With each day, and the more I submersed myself with learning about my past, I feel extremely proud that my family has preserved so much over these years in order for me to create a bigger legacy and future. In the next article, I will be announcing how I plan on doing that.
Part 2 coming soon.
Have you thought about tracing your roots? Comment below!