(excerpt from ‘Protecting Gullah Culture’ by Victoria Hansen for @SCPublicRadio – SEP 27, 2019)
The Language – Sunn M’Cheaux’s long locs sway as he shares his story at the Penn Center on Saint Helena Island. He too was raised in a Gullah community, in Mount Holly, and remembers being shamed in school for speaking the native language he learned at home. Now he teaches a first of its kind Gullah language class at, wait for it, Harvard University.” — with Vic Hansen and SC Public Radio.
“People who have gone through a life time, decades and decades of oppression and degradation and discrimination for speaking this way, they deserve a win,” he says. “They deserve an I told you so.”
Growing up, M’Cheaux says, Gullah was not considered a legitimate language, but broken English. Those who spoke it were called uneducated, not intelligent. Yet the Gullah language is clever.
“Think about the conditions under which Gullah was created,” he says. “It’s everything.”
Enslaved people from all parts of Africa needed a way to communicate quickly, with few words and over the heads of overseers. They combined Creole and English with words flowing together in a kind of rhythm that made it difficult for anyone else to understand. Secrecy was essential.
“With Gullah Geechee people we created it and preserved our language under the threat of death for being literate.”
So why teach it now? M’Cheaux says to save it. The loss of elders and ancestral land, whether to development or climate change, could be detrimental.”
There will be so much missing from our unique Gullah identity as a result of not living in the corridor or not living on that property,” he says. “You don’t want to say it disappears. You want to be hopeful, but let’s be practical.”
There’s also a matter of pride, encouraging young people to embrace their culture. “They deserve to have a thing they can point to and say, that’s me.”
#weoutchea#gullah#geechee#harvard | gullahteacha.com 📚🍎
Please visit southcarolinapublicradio.org to read the full article. Which also features Victoria Smalls of Penn Center, Geechee Experience, & more!