Family Travel 2011

Megan Sexton



Gullah culture comes alive in the Lowcountry

Posted 1/30/2012 11:29:00 AM

One of our favorite visits over the past year was a trip to the Penn Center near Beaufort, where we learned about the area's history and the Gullah culture. It's a culture passed down by the West Africans who were brought as slaves to the coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia.

It's a rich mixture of food, language, art, storytelling and history. And it will be the focus of a month-long celebration during February in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

The Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration is a month of events including an art show and sale, a Gullah breakfast, the National Freedom Film "Remnants of Mitchellville," an arts, crafts and food expo and a Taste of Gullah Food and Entertainment extravaganza.

The Gullah feast will feature authentic dishes such as "Original Island" gumbo and "Geechee" conch stew. There will also be barbecue ribs, fried fish and chicken. Plus you'll also get a chance to hear a few yarns told by master Gullah storyteller Louise Miller Cohen.

The celebration continues a few weeks later when thousands will arrive at Hilton Head's Coligny Beach to see the Marsh Tacky Horse Run and Exhibition. The sturdy breed, left on the Sea Islands by Spaniards in the 1500s were the workhorses that were used to plow and cultivate fields. In 2010, the S.C. General Assembly named the marsh tacky the state's official state heritage horse.

The horses, with large heads, narrow chests, short legs and long manes, are known for being able to work long hours in the heat and humidity and are well-equipped for working in the marshes and swamps.

The marsh tacky also played a role in the lives of the Gullah people around Hilton Head. After each year's harvest, Gullah men would have a race on the north end of Hilton Head to determine who had the best horse on the island. On March 18, the horses will race again along the beach.