SCETV program explains connection between Gullah and African coastlines

I’m expanding my knowledge base by finding films and books about Gullah culture that I’ve previously missed. I’ll share some of them as I make my way through. Many thanks to Amy Shumaker @shu2833, executive producer at #SCETV, for providing links to some of these hard-to-find programs!

Recently I saw Family Across the Sea, a 57-minute documentary film by Tim Carrier that originally ran on South Carolina public television (SCETV) in 1990. Carrier follows a group of Gullah people from the United States as they travel to Sierra Leone to visit the lands of their ancestors. It’s a moving story with some surprising connections between the two cultures.

The film explores the similarities in geography, culture and language between the Sea Islands of the United States and the west coast of Sierra Leone, Africa. The first connections were discovered by Lorenzo Dow Turner, an African-American linguist who made  hundreds of recordings of Gullah speakers and songs in the 1930s. He discovered some of the exact same songs in Sierra Leone.

Gullah delegation experiences highs and lows on their trip. The most  painful event is the visit to Bunce Island, where most of their ancestors were loaded onto boats for America. Another moving scene is an interview with villagers in Sierra Leone. They knew many of their people were kidnapped years ago, but never knew what became of them. The high point is easily the reunion between the Americans and the villagers, who welcome them as long lost relatives.

The plot moves back to South Carolina where Joseph Momoh, President of Sierra Leone, visits the Penn Center in 1988. His visit solidifies recognition of the ties between Gullah and Sierra Leone cultures. As a result Gullah speakers, often ridiculed for their “uneducated” dialect, have a new pride in their heritage. Their language becomes an important link to their motherland that is worthy of preservation and academic study. That pride continues to this day, where Gullah continues to gain appreciation as a rare piece of the American experience.

Family Across the Sea SCETV program http://www.folkstreams.net/film,166

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