A Taste of Gullah: A Web Series from Down South

DSC_0333Hi, I’m Professor Janice Marie Collins of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign…Welcome to a Taste of Gullah, A Web Series from Down South….I’m so glad you could join me.      There is a wonderful somewhat hidden treasure right here in America that I’d like to tell you about….       It’s believed to be hundreds and hundreds of years old and in some way, shape or form, you’re probably connected to it…I’m speaking of the Gullah culture.     What’s Gullah, you may ask? Well, you may not think you know anything about the Gullah culture, but if you’ve ever eaten chocolate covered peanuts called “Goobers”- perhaps at the movies….or if you’ve ever dipped into a pot of Gumbo… maybe heard the story of the tortoise and the hare … or how about the Disney character Uncle Remus? Have you ever heard of him? Ok, wait…I have one for you…have you ever sung a verse or two or ten of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” or everyone’s campfire favorite, “Kumbaya”? Well, If you have, I’m pleased to inform you that you, indeed, have at least experienced, indirectly perhaps, a little Gullah Culture by way of Africa.       The Gullah people are believed to be the first Africans to touch the Low-country region, better known by the locals as the Lowlands or Sea Islands, which once stretched from North Carolina to Florida.      During slavery, the threat of malaria pushed many slave owners off the barrier islands, leaving the Africans or Gullah people the ability to preserve their African linguistic and cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years.       I think it’s really important to record and tell the stories of the Gullah people and its American history for a number of reasons.     One reason is because “what some call progress” has washed away a great deal of the Gullah culture AND its people.      Time shares and Golf resorts have had spawning seasons that appear to be unstoppable in a lot of cases…which has had a positive and not so positive effect on the Gullah culture.        The land that some Gullah families have had in their possession since the days of slavery has diminished considerably and, geographically, now remains mainly in South Carolina and Georgia.      So, before any more land diminishes … as well as the rich history, I might add, I wanted to capture this culture, in all its splendor with stories by and about its own people…

      I headed down south over the past 3 years in 1-week intervals to record the sights and sounds of Gullah…

      The following Webisodes, edited by my talented Independent Study Students at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,

Mr. Jiawei Liu, Ms. Alexis Rosado and Ms. Andrea Medina (a word from one of the editors at the bottom of blog), reveal a drizzle here and there of spectacular sights and a slice of sound that connects America with Africa in synchronization. Add to that, a slice of history that was served by everyone you met….all of the ingredients needed to really experience a Taste of Gullah….Please pardon and excuse some of the shaky shots, etc…what started off as simply a recording for myself seemed to be a bit selfish…so I wanted to spread the history and put this together. I hope you enjoy it….

At the end of each clip, you can find contact information to connect to the individuals profiled and their work.

Episode 1: Are you Gullah? Meet Nate & Al

Episode 2: “Grubbing…Gullah Style”

Episode 3: “Sweetly Weaving” with Jery Taylor

Episode 4: The Festival Comes to Town

Episode 5: African Beats in America

Episode 6: Queen Quet of the Gullah Geechee Nation-Enough Said!

Episode 7: Artistry: Keeping it Local

Episode 8: Patricia Bee and “Mama’s Pearls”

Episode 9: Church with Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Traveling Gullah Kinfolk

Episode 10: Let the Children Speak

I hope you enjoyed the journey through Gullah land…Soon, I will post extra pictures and video footage and more information. I want to thank everyone…the good people of South Carolina in Gullah country, Tour guide Al Miller, local citizen and just an all-around good guy Nathaniel Wright, historian Darryl T. Murphy, Gourd artist Mary Moore Anderson, The Green family of the Gullah Grub, Queen Quet, the African Dancers Lah Dey, Yazil from Senegal, author and Patricia Bee and artist Hank D. Herring, Chris and the staff at a very nice Super 8 motel in Hardeeville….and a very special and heartfelt thank you to performer, artist, scholar, historian and Pastor, Anita Joyce Singleton Prather, better known as Aunt Pearlie Sue…sweetgrass basket weaver Jery Taylor AND her friends at the outdoor picnic. They all took such great care of me…such hospitality. And finally, a special thanks to my Independent Study students who volunteered to work on this project, just to work on this important piece in history. It was their first time participating in the production of such vignettes and I think they did a wonderful job. They 

logged a lot of my footage, assisted on the scripts, and really worked hard on the editing process. They are truly talented. Ms. Alexis Rosado, Ms. Andrea Medina and Mr. Jiawie Liu. For an entire semester they worked on the webisodes that you’ve just watched and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’d also like to thank Chair James Tidwell of Eastern Illinois University and the Journalism Department …here at home, I’d like to thank my Tech gurus, Taylor Judd, Michael Bohlmann of The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and the College of Media, Dean Jan Slater, and Head of the Journalism Department, Rich Martin. _MG_1161You know, I have to let you in on a little secret…another reason I was interested in the Gullah culture is because I took a DNA test through African Ancestry.com and discovered that, at a level of 100%, on my mother’s side, I am linked to the Mende tribe of Sierra Leone. Meaning my DNA strand is a perfect match with theirs and the Mende tribe that is connected to the movie Amistad, Maya Angelou, John Legend, Coretta Scott King and other African Americans, maybe even you….the Mende tribe is also connected to the Gullah people of South Carolina. So the Gullah people are my people…and you’ve seen some of the American side…Up next…A documentary of my trip to West Africa, Sierra Leone, to visit my blood cousins from Another Land. Be sure to watch my website for its launch in May. I think you’re really going to enjoy it…On this blog, you can read about parts of my journey with pictures and find slide shows on my YouTube channel So, until next time…take great care…
A Taste of Gullah Editor

Jiawei Liu

J460 Independent Study

A Word from Editor Jiawei Liu

I really enjoy editing the project “Feeling Gullah”. I want to thank Prof. Collins for her detailed instructions during my editing and my teammates Alexis Rosado and Andrea Medina for the ideas and materials they share with me. Looking back on where I started and where I am now, I am proud of my final work.

Editing a documentary is both a challenging and rewarding experience for me. Each episode of this web series is based on hours of raw footage. I have to decide what visual and audio elements should be included to tell a coherent and interesting story. A good lesson learned from this process is to be creative and at the same time respect the vision of the producer. It is very different from working alone. I consistently informed my producer (Prof. Collins) of the progress, challenges and successes and revised the project after she critiqued it.

Teamwork is also essential. As each person in the team is responsible for different episodes, we have to make sure that the format used for editing is consistent. It means that everyone should be at the same stage of progress while editing. Either starting too early or lagging behind adversely affects the teamwork and therefore the project as a whole. We have to share issues, challenges and ideas with the entire group to facilitate the progress.

I am happy to be involved in the production of this web series, to tell the history of Gullah Geechee people, “a people who have been so resilient, who have gone through so much, but yet have withstood all the test of time and have come out victoriously”. They have a unique culture that is embodied in their crafts, language, arts and music and all these elements can be found in this documentary, “Feeling Gullah”.

People in the documentary consistently mention an important belief that they have shared for generations, and that is the importance of “knowing their heritage”. As they said, “if you don’t know where you come from, you definitely don’t know where you are going”.

So, what is the heritage of the Gullah Geechee culture and its people? While I have learned a lot about it through editing this web series and I hope you may also find it amazing by watching it. Thanks!

Alexis Rosado

Alexis Rosado

Editing my first documentary, what a journey it was. Deadlines change, your ideas change, and most importantly you change. The visions you first see when you are logging in tape, seeing raw unedited video are just the glimpses of what could be. But as time progresses you amaze yourself with every detail, transition, and smile you edit in. Amaze yourself. I am still amazed that episode 3 “Sweetly Weaving” is something I edited.
Working on “Feeling Gullah” with Dr. Janice Collins, Andrea Medina and Jiawei Liu, has truly been a blessing. The ability to sew together material and make a beautiful final project come to life is amazing. I learned what a perfectionist I am. I learned about the importance of patience and detail. And learned about all the details I don’t think about in the mist of things. Audio, video, images, stills, documents, even footage of library books all have so much significance in sending a message to your viewer, and depicting a story.
I learned how to view things from another’s lens. What I mean by that is no matter how much I edited, I had to learn to see it from my audiences lens. One has to adapt if a viewer doesn’t understand, or if the director doesn’t like it. So you learn to be an adaptive, chameleon, who starts to predict the future and see mistakes before someone else catches them.
I also wanted to see it from the lens of those in the video, Id ask myself “Would they be proud?”
I wanted to make the Gullah people feel honor with my work, in addition have the public understand, empathize, and connect with whom was on the screen.
They say you don’t know how strong you are until you are challenged. That is true for me. The process revealed my passion. I didn’t realize how invested I was until all I wanted to do in my free time was edit. I was listening to music tracks in my car, and my passion for leadership in a team kept getting revealed at every meeting. Passion, work ethic, accuracy, consistency, I surpassed my thoughts on what I was capable of, and my strengths came out.
I gained so much yes for myself in terms of skill set, experience , and confidence, but I also gained respect for my professor. Seeing Dr. Janice Collins’ talents with interviewing, scripting, narrating, directing, and teaching meanwhile continuing to be professional and understanding with us was commendable. I was impressed, and taking notes for how I wanted to conduct my future projects.
When a leader is passionate about something, when they believe in their work, they make you believe in it. And I am so thankful for Dr. Janice Collins’ passion. I believe in these episodes. I believe in what messages they send, what people they showcase, and how we showcase the Gullah Gechee people. I hope you enjoy and grow with the Gullah people as you watch. See their hope, strength, community, pride, and good cooking! Enjoy

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