Numbering some 500,000 speakers of Gullah, a creole language many regard as the African American mother tongue, the Gullah people embody the purest manifestation of African American culture still in practice in North America today. Concentrated primarily in the Lowcountry and Sea Islands of the southeastern United States, the Gullah are tied by kinship to African American communities throughout America who bear their cultural imprint—if no longer in language, then still in folkways or social values. As a result, they have contributed substantially to the sustenance of what is most African in African Americans’ cultural identity.
Art by Jonathan Green: Praise House, Girl in White
Today, even as flourishing cultural festivals draw visitors to the Lowcountry from all over the nation, this historic culture teeters on the brink between renaissance and extinction. Economic development by and of benefit to outsiders is ushering in a silent yet deadly dispersal of the Gullah population by eating away at its traditional economic base. The privacy and inwardness which once protected Gullah traditions has been ruptured by outside voices. Those who felt the right to study them – historians, linguists, anthropologists – have been joined by tourists, developers, and businessmen, whose intrusions take on material dimensions. The Gullah must respond, or as a people, they may perish.
This is the first Gullah-edited work of its order, combining fiction, nonfiction and social commentary with the history of the people. As such, it marks an historic turning point in Gullah development, indicating Gullah readiness to self-define in relation to the contemporary mainstream, to promote their culture, their views, their history, and the social issues that concern them.
The Legacy of Ibo Landing is an exciting mixture of the contemporary and the historic – something familiar, yet so memory-laden as to be almost exotic. Through contemporary fiction, 16 pages of full color photos and paintings by celebrated artists Jonathan Green, Joseph Pinckney and Leroy Campbell, heritage resources lists, articles on Gullah history, culture, language and cuisine, The Legacy of Ibo Landing envelops us in the fertile nexus of African culture as it is practiced still in America. It offers nothing less than a voyage of the soul to African Americans’ American roots in the southern U.S.. Families burgeon, the generations encircle each other, and the ancestors walk.We savor Gullah folkways, tremble with the mysteries of their ghosts and spirits, and catch brief melodic strains of the Gullah language that has been preserved at such cost to its speakers, and is only now in the process of moving from an oral to a written language.