In the 18th and 19th centuries, enslaved Africans were brought to the area to work the rice, cotton and indigo plantations there. The threat of malaria in the hot, humid Lowcountry sent many overseers and plantation owners inland during the summer months, leaving the African people to work in relative isolation. As a result, they were able to hold onto their African traditions, culture and language, which evolved into the Gullah/Geechee culturethat remains alive in the area today.
Each Memorial Day weekend, Beaufort celebrates this unique culture with its annual Gullah Festival, now in its 26th year.
This year’s festival will feature a variety of activities, concerts and performances that celebrate both the history of the Gullah people in the region and those who contribute to modern day African-American culture.
Things kick off on Friday, May 25, with the event’s “Family Day,” which will feature performances by local high school marching bands, step teams, dance ensembles and gospel choirs. After the official opening ceremony at 4 p.m., the 2012 Miss Gullah Teen will be crowned. Later that night, the festival offers a new event, the adult-only “An Evening of Jazz and Blues” at 9 p.m.
On Saturday, there’s a full lineup of entertainment. Uhuru Dancers and Yoruba Drummers exemplify the African roots of Gullah culture, and performers like Aunt Pearlie Sue and Gullah Kinfolk add a taste of Gullah’s rich storytelling heritage. The day rounds out with a concert by the festival’s 2012 Featured Artist, soul and R&B singer Tony Terry.
Finally, on Sunday, after a worship service at Waterfront Park, there will be a Gospel Caravan highlighting the voices of fantastic gospel groups from throughout the south.
The 2012 Beaufort Gullah Festival takes place on May 25-27 at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in Beaufort. Day passes are $10-20 for adults and $5-10 for kids. Full access weekend passes are available for $80 and include admission to the festival, tickets to the play Decoration Day, and a three hour tour of Beaufort and he surrounding area.