Cultural and Spiritual Expression

praise house

 Sweetgrass basketry is an African art form that has existed since enslavement.The baskets were commonly used on plantations to harvest rice and had other uses in enslaved dwellings and plantation houses.Baskets are woven by hand with sweetgrass that grows naturally in marshes and tidal areas.Sweetgrass production has been adversely impacted in the corridor, where development has disturbed ecosystems.The tradition has been passed on by generations of Gullah/Geechee people who continue to make baskets today for many household uses. Sweetgrass baskets are artifacts in the permanent collections of many museums or cultural centers and are exhibited internationally and in the United States at the Smithsonian Institution.

Sweetgrass basket stands are an integral part of the cultural landscape that today lies along US Hwy. 17 in the corridor.Sweetgrass basket making is a cultural expression, and the stands reflect the individual styles of the family artists who make them.Many of the artists live in Mount Pleasant, where each year a Sweetgrass Festival celebrates the tradition, and artists exhibit their work.Sweetgrass basket stands are popular venues at Gullah/Geechee festivals.

Gullah/Geechee festivals are annual venues where entertainment is often enhanced by storytellers, who share Gullah folktales that are passed on through generations. These festivals are venues where Gullah food ways are showcased as well.Gullah dishes such as smoked mullet and other rice-based dishes like fish or shrimp ‘n grits are among the favorite foods at festivals, and in some Gullah/Geechee communities the cuisine is served in restaurants.

The ring shout is a musical folk tradition that evolved from former enslaved Africans who lived and worked on rice and cotton plantations that flourished throughout the barrier islands and coastal regions.The tradition has been passed down to current generations who help to keep it alive.

During enslavement, the ring shout began along the coast as a clandestine religious performance in brush arbors throughout the vast plantations that once encompassed the corridor.Later, it was practiced in praise houses, or after Emancipation at churches.The ring shout folk tradition can also be observed at concerts and Gullah/Geechee festivals.

The ring shout is performed most frequently on Watch Night, the evening leading up to New Year’s Day.During the ring shout, the song is set in a call and response format by the lead singer.Rhythm is applied to the song by the “stickman” who beats a wood stick on the floor or uses a washboard.“Basers” accompany the lead singer by responding to the song while adding vigorous handclapping.The women in the group, who are also known as the “shouters,” move counterclockwise in a ring.The ring shout differs from dancing because the feet are never crossed while responding to the song.The shouters pantomime the song or make gestures in response to the basers and the stickman.

Today, the ring shout and other Gullah/Geechee spirituals are performed in weekly services at AME churches along US Hwy 17 or at many of the churches that bear the name “First African” throughout the corridor.

© 2016 Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor