My most recent manuscript, Laerka, which I hope to publish within a year, is set along the Atlantic coast which is home to Georgia’s Gullah community. The Gullah people are a dwindling group of slave descendants who remain on the land of one time Georgia and South Carolina plantation owners.
Those who still live on the coast and occupy the land of their ancestors have very few rights to their forebears’ property, though nobody, save the Original People, have struggled harder to retain their rights to this bit of coast. The Gullah have their own language, their own songs and poetry, cuisine, folk arts, and magic. Some of the nation’s best crafters are from this region, as are the most melancholy tales. Among them is an elegiac essay to Miss. Louise, a matriarch from Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, which I excerpt below from Orion Magazine. South Carolina author Roger Pinckney pays tribute in these pages to one of his last Gullah neighbors in words both sorrowful and magnificent:
“The Gullah got land with freedom, on “The Great Day of Jubilee,” as they call it. A hundred years later, you would have had to put them in chains to make them leave. But hard times and few jobs and land taxes are doing what chains didn’t. The Gullah have been drifting away, nearly gone now, crossing the water to Charleston and Savannah. And those who swore they would die here are getting their wish. One by one, like Miss Louise, they are crossing the river too, crossing over Jordan.
MISS LOUISE WILSON was well thought of and the mourners have come from all over, by bus and car and finally by boat across blue and rolling Calibogue, the estuary separating Daufuskie from South Carolina and the rest of the world. Her ancestors worked Haig Point cotton but she grew up next door on another plantation, called Cooper River. She was skinny and acidic and philosophical, about the color of a tarnished penny from a healthy dose of Cherokee on her momma’s side. She was old and these Gullah revere their elders.”
See the rest of the article at Orion Magazine:
I have not had the pleasure of knowing such animated neighbors as Mr. Pinckney, but I’ve been to coastal Georgia’s swampland enough to get a feel of the way of life, how the Gullah fish and cook and tend their homes and businesses. It is a difficult thing for a white writer to make fiction from the experience of a minority community. My favorite occupation of the community is their folk medicine which, in my own family, we have a touch of. Women in my family say a spell to remove warts. It even works (sometimes). And so it was with this in mind that I first approached a Gullah character in my fiction, a figure I call Elysianne. She is a fisherwoman, beautician, tailor and conjure woman and she gives protection to the lead character, Stella, when she confronts her enemy, the demon-souled gangster Vodyanoy. Elysianne was a joy to inhabit form a writer’s point of view, and I only hope I do her the justice that Mr. Pinckney did with Miss. Louise.