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Gullah Notes

by: Sarah Parker

Gullah Notes ANT 4315

Sarah Parker
GPA 3.2

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About this Document

These notes focus on the Gullah Island video along with Chapters 6 (Gullah Attitudes towards Life and Death) and 7 (The Sacred World of the Gullahs). Word Count: 1,226
African-American Anthropology
Susan L Brown
Class Notes
Gullah, African Americans, African, African-American, Anthropology, Anthro, FAU
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This 5 page Class Notes was uploaded by Sarah Parker on Friday September 30, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ANT 4315 at Florida Atlantic University taught by Susan L Brown in Fall 2016. Since its upload, it has received 14 views. For similar materials see African-American Anthropology in Biology/Anthropology at Florida Atlantic University.


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Date Created: 09/30/16
Gullah Island-USA Gullah: African-based traditions, beliefs, and customs that incorporate elements of Christianity  White plantation owners in the South Carolina/Georgia region had strong Christian roots. This environment influenced enslaved Africans and integrated with their own cultural customs.  Enslaved Africans were forced to work on plantations to grow indigo, rice, and cotton, beginning in 1750  Gullah dialect consists of a mix between English and African languages An estimated 500,000 to 750,000 people in the United States carry on the Gullah language and spiritual traditions Rhythm is important in celebrating Gullah  Traditional dances are performed and dancers carry sticks to produce a rhythm There is a small community that still lives on the plantation that enslaved Africans were forced to work; the land was granted to them during a dispute at the time of the Civil War. The community keeps the Gullah traditions alive o Fears of elimination are present among all those who live in the community; many outside businesses want to purchase the land, ruining the cultural preservation that the community has fought to protect 1 ANT 4315 Gullah:Chapters6and7 Freedom was often discussed and focused on by Gullahs  Acted as the theme for many Gullah spirituals Gullah methods of admission to church membership  Seekin’: The time between an expressed desire to become a Christian and acceptance by the elders of one’s religious experience; based on the Methodist phrase “to seek Jesus” o Began with a personal decision not devoid of community pressure, followed by the choosing of a lifelong “spiritual parent,” that taught the seeker correct conduct and “how to pray”  Striving: a long process of self-examination and solitary prayer ‘in the bush’ o Devotion during this stage is so important that even school is thought to interfere with the action of the spirit  Travel: Each seeker meets with warnings and has a vision of a white man who warns and talks with the seeker, eventually leading the seeker to a river. The spiritual parent decides when it is complete when the seeker is ready to be presented to the praise house, where the house and his committee examine the seeker until approving baptism. Melville Herskovits argued that the African family structure among blacks in the New World survived and along with it many elements of their African Past The family structure did endure a major change of the absence of the father  Families were easily separated through sale during slavery  While the mother and children would usually sold together, the fathers were often separated  The bond between the mother and child strengthened as the role of the male diminished and the role of the female grew dominant Herskovits does not believe that slavery caused the maternal family, but it continued certain elements in the cultural endowment brought to the New World by Africans, and that families of this type are not African but they show important African survival traits and they show how new circumstances can reinforce old traditions. ANT 4315 2  Nanice L. Gonzales disagrees with Herskovits, stating that matrifocality formed as a result of African migration into the New World under slavery  Both Gonzales and Herskovits agree that matrifocality is common among persons of African descent Women in the West and Central African society control the local markets, giving them a large role in the family economy  North American slave women also operated similar markets for slaves, working the family patch and selling items and animals in town  Women were also responsible for cooking, raising the children, and transferring their culture to the children The concept of extended family was important in African culture and carried over to the United States  Extended family consisted of two or more families of different generations united by consequences of kinship ties in a common residence under a single head, and also several brothers in the same compound with their families.  In Africa, it is common for land to be held or owned by lineage groups. This communal relationship recreates ties of lineage and of the extended family as they exist in Africa. Blood relationships are replaced with community membership.  In the Sea Islands, the elderly parents live in one residence while their children and grandchildren live in another, allowing easy movement from one household to another along with economic support and family participation in activities like fishing, hunting, and farming. In the South, older males and females tend to be referred to as “aunty” and “uncle” as a sign of respect  This tradition may be traced back to the bond established between men and women in costal African factories that were established on the decks of the slave ships. ANT 4315 3 African custom of polygamy and black Americans  Many African societies that were short of men practiced the concept of polygamy o Men could have as many wives as they could afford to maintain in their separate compounds o This custom continued to influence Africans enslaved in Carolina, but planters regarded it as a tradition of sexual promiscuity Burial societies Carter G. Woodson mentions that secret societies were developed around the idea of taking care of the sick and dead  Once they arrived in America, Africans were no longer allowed to continue secret functions, so they created insurance and burial societies from these secret societies Herskovits states that there were three major black insurance businesses  The Afro-American  The Knights and Daughters of Tabor  The Universal Life Insurance Company W.E.B. Du Bois declared that there was a direct connection between African secret societies and the founding of Black Insurance companies in the United States Sea Island Burial Practices The preparation of the body  A group of women would lay the body in the bed and bring in water for the final wash, use soap and towels to wipe the body clean, and bring coffee to be placed under the arms, legs, and open spaces before rubbing it over the body  The body would be kept for two or three days  The women would then dress the body and place it in the casket  Following preparation, they would sing and shout over the body until it was time for the funeral ANT 4315 4 The final wash would first take place, then the wake, where family, friends, guests, and members of the burial society would sit around the dying person until their last breath. When they stopped breathing, everyone in the room would shriek in order to notify that another soul had crossed over into the spirit world. Above-ground decorations—everything that the deceased person used—would be placed on the grave. Passing of Children over the Coffin The child attending a funeral would be passed over the coffin in order to separate the spirits of the child and the deceased  The spirit of a child is believed to be weaker than that of the deceased, so the spirit of the dead may attach to the child and cause them to be followed by the spirit of fall ill and die  For this reason, children would be passed over the coffin at a funeral to protect the child and sever the bond between the dead person and the living children, preventing the spirit from coming back into the house. Children who were not passed over the coffin would be at risk of passing away, because the person who has passed may love the child so much that they want to take the child with them. ANT 4315 5


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