ANNUAL MONTHLONG EVENT PAYS TRIBUTE TO NATIVE ISLANDERS’ HERITAGE
The Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration is woven into the fabric of the Lowcountry; this year’s 24th annual event is no exception: It’s a monthlong series of events capturing the spirit and significance of Gullah culture.
“The Gullah culture is alive and ever-evolving,” said Courtney Young, director of marketing for the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration. “Whether you’re from here or new to the island, once you experience the festival it becomes part of you too, and we want you to take a piece with you.”
The February celebration is hosted by the Native Island Business & Community Affairs Association. The variety of cultural programs offers a look at the traditions maintained by descendants of West Africans brought to the coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia as slaves centuries ago. Events include the Gullah Heritage Music Series, the Gullah Institute, Gullah Market at Honey Horn, Freedom Day, Taste of Gullah, and the “Arts Ob We People” exhibit, among others.
New features for this year’s celebration include the featured artwork “Two Pounds” by Charleston artist and educator Alvin Glenn and “Gullah Tales and Songs” with nationally known performer Ron Daise.
You get to know the culture and expand your mind and heart— you leave as a changed person.
– COURTNEY YOUNG, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING FOR THE GULLAH CELEBRATION
“In many ways, the Gullah celebration is the barometer for how we developed cultural tourism on the island, and it has served as the launchpad for much of what has come after, from our Gullah tours to the Gullah Museum, and now Mitchelville,” Young said.
With a glimpse into historic churches across the island, the Gullah Heritage Music Series celebrates the music of the Gullah people. At Mitchelville, Freedom Day reflects on Feb. 1, 1865 — the historic day that President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery. This tour highlights Mitchelville in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
A native islander, Young’s roots extend to three generations of islanders: her father, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. From her shared history comes the desire to keep things authentic, the way her elders and ancestors would want it, she said.
“There are very few events that last so long, where you get to know the culture and expand your mind and heart – you leave as a changed person,” she said of the festival’s impact.
The “Arts Ob We People” arts exhibit and sale is the longest-running event of the annual celebration, showcasing works by local and regional artists. It’s held at the Art League Gallery located at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
With a full roster of events held at significant historic sites across the island, the Gullah Celebration uses a textured, layered approach to paint the story of the Gullah culture, conveying the richness of the Lowcountry’s Gullah history and what it means as a cultural beacon far beyond the island.
For a full schedule of the event, go to www.gullahcelebration.com.
Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration Event Calendar
THROUGH FEBRUARY 28
“Arts Ob We People” Winter Exhibition and Sale
Original work by emerging and leading artists that represents the lifestyle and traditions of the Gullah people. Artists will be onsite at various times throughout the exhibit. Free. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Art League Gallery at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. 843-681-5060 or www.gullahcelebration.com.
Ol' Fashioned Gullah Breakfast
A traditional Gullah breakfast featuring stewed oysters, shrimp in Lowcountry gravy, fried fresh-caught fish, hot butter grits and fresh biscuits. All proceeds benefit the Hilton Head Island Gullah Museum. Donations accepted. 8 a.m.-noon, Cherry Hill School, 209 Dillon Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Established in 1948 by President Harry Truman in remembrance of Feb. 1, 1865 — the day President Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, outlawing slavery. Take a journey through historic Mitchelville and learn what the people of Mitchelville were busy creating in 1862 before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Donations accepted. 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park, 226 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
FEBRUARY 1 & 6
“Hilton Head Island Back in the Day: Through Eyes of Gullah Elders”
A feature-length documentary featuring Gullah elders, the descendants of freedmen and their personal stories about their communities, farming, fishing, upbringing, church, education, Northern migration, food ways and language, as well as the development that came with the construction of the bridge in 1956 and how it greatly impacted their lives. $10. 7-8:30 p.m., Coligny Theater, 1 North Forest Beach Drive, Hilton Head Island. gullahcelebration.com.
Family and Friends Day
Join Historic First African Baptist Church for a family night. The program will focus on traditional and contemporary Gullah songs, followed by a reception with samples of authentic Gullah food. Donations accepted. 7-8:30 p.m. Historic First African Baptist Church, 70 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Heritage Music Series Featuring Male Quartets
Celebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds African ancestors and the Gullah of today. This installment of the Gullah Celebration’s heritage music series features the male choruses from Campbell AME Church, Historic First African Baptist Church, Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church and St. James Baptist Church. Donations accepted. 7-8:30 p.m., Historic First African Baptist Church, 70 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Taste of Gullah
An afternoon filled with authentic Gullah dishes like okra gumbo, conch stew, fried shrimp dusted in traditional Gullah seasonings and classic barbecue chicken and ribs. While you eat, enjoy the entertainment of local artists including traditional dancers, musicians and storytellers. $12. Noon-3 p.m., Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
FEBRUARY 13 & 27
Paint and Sip
Join us for a two-hour session and create memories that will last a lifetime. Exhibiting artists in the annual “Arts Ob We People” exhibit and sale will guide you with stroke-by-stroke instructions to help you paint your own unique masterpiece. $30. 6-8 p.m., Art League Academy, 106 Cordillo Parkway, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Heritage Music Series Featuring Gospel Classics
Celebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds African ancestors to the Gullah of today. This installment of the Gullah Celebration’s heritage music series features the Central Oak Grove Missionary Choir and First Zion Gospel Choir. Donations accepted. 7-8:30 p.m., Central Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church, 161 Matthews Drive, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Institute Presents: “How to Preserve Gullah Culture, Heritage & Family”
This interactive discussion on how to collect and preserve Gullah cultural heirlooms including artifacts, recipes, stories, pictures and artwork with presentations from the Heritage Library, the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and other leading experts. Donations accepted. 9-11 a.m., Coastal Discovery Museum, 70 Honey Horn Drive, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Native Island Golf Classic: The golf tournament will be held at Bear Creek Golf Club in Hilton Head Plantation, 237 Whooping Crane Way, Hilton Head Island. Donations accepted. 9 a.m. registration and 10 a.m. shotgun start. 843-290-5943 or www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Market & Block Party: An Arts, Crafts and Food Expo
The 2-day Gullah Market offers Gullah and African crafts and food, traditional storytelling, music and performances by Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters, Wona Womalan West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, Gullah Ooman Louise Cohen and Gullah Rappers, as well as a celebration of local African American authors on Feb. 16.
Rain or shine. $5 and free for those younger than 4. 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Coastal Discovery Museum, 70 Honey Horn Drive, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Heritage Music Series featuring the Voices of El ShaddaiCelebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds African ancestors and the Gullah of today. This installment of the Gullah Celebration’s heritage music series features the renowned Voices of El Shaddai. Donations accepted. Queen Chapel AME Church, 114 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Tales and Songs with the Legendary Ron DaiseSinger, songwriter and Gullah preservationist Ron Daise presents Gullah tales and songs, freedom stories and regional folktales. Seating is limited and reservations are suggested. Donations accepted. 5 p.m., Comedy Magic Cabaret, 843 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.
Gullah Heritage Music Series: Closing Night: Celebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds African ancestors and the Gullah of today. This installation of the Gullah Celebration’s heritage music series features the St. James Baptist Church choir and Time 4 Two. Donations accepted. 7-8:30 p.m., St. James Baptist Church, 209 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island. www.gullahcelebration.com.