Celebrate sweetgrass culture: Weekend festival to showcase Lowcountry Gullah/Geechee traditions, flavors
By Olivia Pool Special to The Post and Courier – Wednesday, May 30, 2012
If you go
What: “The Real Taste of Gullah” and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival
When: 6-10 p.m. Friday and noon-8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Waterfront Park, Mount Pleasant
Price: Free for the festival; $50 for the “Taste of Gullah”
For more info: www.sweet grassfestival.org or 856-9732
If you’ve been in the Holy City for a visit or under more permanent circumstances, chances are you’ve heard of the Gullah/Geechee culture, seen the sweetgrass baskets and have been offered the sweetgrass roses while walking downtown.
But how much do you really know about this group of people who live among us, who have been here much longer, who know more about this place than anyone else?
If you’re looking to learn, the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival this weekend in Mount Pleasant is a great place to start.
Named one of the “top 20 events” in South Carolina by the Southeastern Tourism Society, this fun-filled family event is all about entertaining and educating.
“It is important for people in general to know that the ancestors of the Gullah/Geechee people were brought to this country as slaves to do the back-breaking work required to plant and harvest the rice crop, that created much of the wealth in South Carolina Lowcountry and made many of the slave masters wealthy during the time of slavery,” said Thomasena Stokes-Marshall, festival organizer.
“The festival is important because it serves as a venue to expose, entertain and educate people about the Gullah/Geechee people’s contributions to the social, domestic and economic development of South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Their contributions to our country is seldom known and/or given credit,” she said.
“The culture is steeped in traditions consisting of dance, gospel and folk music, arts and craft, sweetgrass basket making, folklore and gullah cuisine,” Stokes-Marshall continued. “A significant percentage of the Gullah/Geechee people living in our communities today are direct descendants of slaves brought to this country.”
You’ll have the opportunity to meet those descendants, listen to their stories and take part in events that make up their culture.
‘Real Taste of Gullah’
If you’ve ever wanted authentic Gullah/Geechee food, your chance comes 6-10 p.m. Friday.
“The Real Taste of Gullah” will feature Gullah cuisine provided by the Culinary Institute of Charleston at Trident Technical College, Joe’s Catering, Cafe on Main and Cruncho Enterprise.
And while food will be the focus, there’ll be so much more culture to experience at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park.
Local artist Jonathan Green, one of the people who has brought much of the recognition to the Gullah/Geechee world, will be present and give an illustrated talk with a look into the history of the Gullah/Geechee people’s rice culture.
There also will be a fashion show of sweetgrass hats and evening bags created by local basketmakers and modeled by the Charleston Hat Ladies.
Guests will have the chance to witness the ceremonial “Passing on the Tradition” of sweetgrass basketmaking to the next generation. Ronald Daise, chairman of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, will be the keynote speaker.
There also will be musical entertainment. Expect to see and hear Zandrina Dunning, Deborah Horry and Devon Gary.
Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at www.atasteofgullah.eventbrite.com.
On Saturday, the main event will offer lots of educational opportunities, demonstrations and other activities.
Free and open to the public, things will kick off at Memorial Waterfront Park with the Sankofa Preservation Society Seminar 9 a.m.-noon.
“Local scholars will provide information and engage participants in discussions concerning health, education and heirs property issues within the African-American communities along the Gullah/Geechee Culture Heritage Corridor,” said Stokes-Marshall.
From noon-8 p.m., attendees are invited to participate in and learn about sweetgrass basketmaking techniques from the best teachers.
There will be an array of paintings, handmade quilts, arts and crafts on display and available for purchase, as well as an authentic slave artifacts exhibition space. Hear stories told by local basketmakers in two locally produced films, “Grass Roots” and “Bin Yah,” that give an insider’s look at the life and history of these folks.
And the kids won’t be left out. Expect to see jump castles, water slides, arts and crafts, and more.
Stokes-Marshall said her favorite part of the festival is the sweetgrass basket making demonstrations, “where visitors have an opportunity for hands-on engagement of making the baskets.”
“During this session, the basketmakers also share information about their families history and experiences as a basketmaker. It always amazes me how little most people know about the history of the Gullah/Geechee people’s culture and their contributions to our country’s history.”
In addition, expect to hear gospel music, see drumming and dancing by the Adande African Drummers and nosh on lots of Gullah cuisine provided by local vendors.
“Bring your chairs and blankets and spend the day with us for a Gullah/Geechee good time,” Stokes-Marshall said.