Native Tongue: Gullah/Geechi Nation

Recently, I was working with a teacher on a unit that was partially centered around the terms “code switching” and “code meshing”. She mentioned that her students were torn between feeling empowered to speak in their home language in all settings and still feeling somewhat “inauthentic” because they were compelled to switch their dialect and speech patterns around in different arenas.  She seemed a little frustrated because she didn’t want the students to develop a negative orientation or perception of their home language, but also wanted them to recognize the power that lies in the “duality” of language. I explained that this is difficult to convey because they constantly see examples of glorified “cultural appropriators” who continue to make profits from the very language and behavior that they are scrutinized and belittled for.

I also thought “Damn, another episode of Tales from the Black Hand Side”. The world moves to, looks at, responds to, reacts to, judges, scrutinizes, loves, praises, and evaluates people of African Descent very very differently.

One of my fellow CREAD bloggers, KBrann, touched on this issue in  her Say Word post last week. See link below.

While looking at this idea at little more in-depth, I started to think about examples of diasporic-linguistic patterns that exist here in America as direct evidence of Africa’s influence on the way we communicate. I recently came across an article from Charleston, South Carolina about the Charleston schools struggling this the “Gullah” language barriers that were emerging from teachers interaction with middle school and high school students.

“You will never get anywhere in life speaking like that.”

This dialogue features some of the same content that students in our classrooms deal with on a daily basis. Many teachers continue to make assumptions about our students’ intelligence based on their negative perceptions of the way they speak. This kind of assessment is extremely detrimental to our students and our entire educational system.

Outside of living and growing up in Brooklyn, USA,  the Gullah Geechi Nation provides a very unique example of the rhythm of diasporic dialect alive in America today.

Many people aren’t familiar with the Gullah/Geechi islands off of the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullah/Geechi nation encompasses all of the Sea Islands and thirty to thirty-five miles inland to the St. John’s River.  On these islands, people from numerous African ethnic groups linked with indigenous Americans and created the unique Gullah language and traditions from which later came “Geechee.”  The Gullah/Geechi dialect is very similar to Barbadian Creole, Belizean Creole, Jamaican Patois and the Krio language of West Africa.

This “nation within a nation”  became an internationally recognized nation on July 2, 2000. At this time, the Gullah/Geechi nation elected a head of state and “Queen Mother”, Queen Quet. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Queen Quet at the International African Arts Festival a few years ago.

Gullah Quet.jpeg

The following is an excerpt from a poem by Queen Quet that commemorate the sacrifices of our African Ancestors during the middle passage:

On March 25th I stood on the shores of Bennett’s Point surrounded by family.

We stood shoulder to should looking over at the next island thinking of what our ancestors could see.

We looked into the water and saw the sweetgrass growing and the baskets that they could be.

I looked at the shoreline of the other island and saw my ancestors looking back at me.

It was as if Sankofa did abound.

In the midst of the energy, I could hear the drum sound.

There was power in the wind blowing all around.

They said, “Keep STANDING!  Hunnuh ain gwine down!”

Proudly we looked out and the brother said imagine our folks standing there in acres of Carolina Gold.

We all said not a word because this spoke to the soul.

I thought of how they were out laboring whether it was hot or cold.

No wonder our elders told us to always keep our heads up and when facing things be bold.

Their collective consciousness is of the ones that did fight.

The essence of their being was to live what was right.

They endured generations of their culture being hidden in plain sight.

Yet, now we stand raising our traditions to a new height.

So, on this day for the “International Remembrance of the Victims of the TransAtlantic Slave Trade,”

We give thanks for another day that God made

And how God orchestrated this plan and had it laid

So, that we would stand in this place to honor the Black Gold that was used and the price that was paid.

May the world never forget all that our ancestors went through.

May you spend each day in honor of those that came before you.

May you pay homage to the Gullah/Geechee in all that you do.

Tenki tenki fa de ancestas strengt an Gawd fa bringin up an we tru!

As educators, we must be inspired by the way the people of the Gullah/Geechi nation continue to fight for their rights to their land, their home, and their language. We must make sure that our students seek and find consistent value in the ways they communicate with each other because the truth is EVERYONE ELSE DOES.

Here is the Formula: Take our culture and served it back to us on a platter through a more expensive, less authentic lens while “monetizing US” without having to pay up.

Encourage your students to level up and know their worth Gullah/Geechi style!!!


  1. […] CREAD mention the importance of honoring our ancestors in past blogs like Lakou Nou: Claiming US , Native Tongue:Gullah/Geechi Nation, and They Chose Freedom. As the beach is filled with children of the sun kissed tribes moving to […]


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