When enslaved Africans escaped slavery and found refuge in Florida, they took very little with them. One thing they did take was their language, Gullah, which we previously discussed.
As they cohabited with the Seminoles in Florida, their Gullah blended with the Seminole language and became Afro-Seminole Creole in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
As the Black Seminoles were forced to migrate from Florida to Oklahoma and then to Mexico, again, they took their language with them. In Mexico, Afro-Seminole underwent yet another transformation as many Spanish words were added to this ever-evolving language. When the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts began their service in Texas, they again brought their language with them.
Just think about how formidable and infallible this journey has been. The evolution of this language is a testament to the importance of communication and man’s ability to adopt to any situation. From the western coast of Africa all the way to Texas, one language crossed an ocean and numerous miles. It is now very different than it was originally, but many words from Africa are still a part of the language.
Sadly, as time passed, Afro-Seminole Creole and its speakers began to die. It was first identified in 1978 as a language by Ian Hancock, a linguist at the University of Texas, and speakers of Afro-Seminole Creole continue to live in Seminole County, Oklahoma, and Brackettville, Texas, in the United States and in Nacimiento de los Negros, Coahuila, in Mexico. There are only about 200 speakers of the language (Wikipedia).
Interestingly, there has been a resurgence of interest in Afro-Seminole Creole. I believe that it was in 2015 when many people began contacting me, asking if I knew how to speak it or if I knew anyone who knew how to speak it. That there is now interest in Afro-Seminole Creole makes my heart glad. See, when I was a little girl, we were reprimanded for speaking Afro-Seminole Creole, which, back then, we simply called Seminole. As a matter of fact, I remember one of my older brothers bringing home a note that encouraged my mom to only speak “proper English” in the home. At that time, we thought that assimilating was the only way that we would be able to make in society. We thought that our unique language was a hindrance, so we stopped speaking it, and we almost lost it. Luckily, we do still have a few families that remember it and continue to speak it. It is my goal to relearn this language and to make sure that anyone else who is interested also has a chance to learn.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 6/1/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.
In 2015, for our annual Seminole Days celebration, our special guest speaker wowed and educated the crowd. She began her performance by speaking in a language that seemed foreign to the audience. As she spoke, she transitioned from this language that was “new” to the audience to speaking a form of English that was more familiar.
The speaker’s name is Queen Quet, and she is a tireless advocate for the Gullah/Geechee Nation. She travels the world as an ambassador for her people. During her unforgettable performance, she enlightened the crowd, telling them that the Black Seminoles of Texas and Mexico and the Gullah/Geechee of the Carolinas were linked by their language.
The group that would come to be known as the Black Seminoles began as enslaved Africans who were located in the Sea Islands, the coastal regions of South Carolina, Georgia and northeast Florida. The Gullah language is based on English with strong influences from West and Central African languages.
Gullah is considered to be a language that is indigenous to America. It arose independently in South Carolina and Georgia in the 18th and 19th centuries when a creole language evolved among African slaves on rice plantations. It combined features of the English they encountered in America with the West and Central African languages they brought with them.
There is also evidence that some slaves brought to South Carolina and Georgia already knew a language that was called West African Pidgin English. It is believed they learned this before they left Africa. This language was spoken along the coast of West Africa during the 18th century as a language of trade between Europeans and Africans.
The vocabulary of Gullah comes primarily from English, but there are words of African origin. Some of these African loanwords are: cootuh ("turtle"), oonuh ("you [plural]"), nyam ("eat"), buckruh ("white man"), pojo ("heron"), swonguh ("proud") and benne ("sesame") (Wikipedia).
Below are a few example of Gullah:
Uh gwine gone dey tomorruh.
"I will go there tomorrow." [I'm going to go there tomorrow]
We blan ketch 'nuf cootuh dey.
"We always catch a lot of turtles there."
Dem yent yeddy wuh oonuh say.
"They did not hear what you said."
Dem chillun binnuh nyam all we rice.
"Those children were eating all our rice." [Those(Them) children been eating all our rice]
'E tell'um say 'e haffuh do'um.
"He told him that he had to do it."
Duh him tell we say dem duh faa'muh.
"He's the one who told us that they are farmers."
De buckruh dey duh 'ood duh hunt tuckrey.
"The white man is in the woods hunting turkeys."
Alltwo dem 'ooman done fuh smaa't.
"Both those women are really smart."
Enty duh dem shum dey?
"Aren't they the ones who saw him there?" (Wikipedia)
Lastly, to end on an interesting note, the Gullah phrase Kumbayah ("Come By Here") became known throughout the United States and worldwide by its inclusion in "Kumbayah,” a song of the same name. Most who sing it are unaware of its linguistic antecedents.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 5/25/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.
This Saturday (May 20), we, the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association will be honoring our founder Miss Charles Emily Wilson. When its doors opened on April 25, 2015, our museum was dedicated to her. The only problem was, this dedication was not stated anywhere, so we will be revealing a plaque that says just that. I am really looking forward to honoring her.
Miss Charles Emily Wilson was born on May 16, 2013. She attended Prairie View A&M and received a master’s degree in bilingual education. She taught for over forty years. I was one of her students. I looked up to her because there were so many things that I admired about her. She was an amazing writer and speaker. One of her best-known speeches was published by the Festival of American Folklife catalogue. Here is an excerpt: “Our people have lived in Texas for 100 years. Before that, we were in Mexico, where some of us still live, and before that we were in Oklahoma, and even earlier than that, Florida. And before that, we came from Africa. As far as we’ve come, in all our travels, we have never lost an awareness of our identity and a pride in our freedom, because it is our freedom which makes us different from other Americans of African descent.
In the 17th century, our ancestors fought against slavery and escaped into the northern bushlands of Spanish Florida. There we joined with our Indian brothers and sisters who had also escaped from the oppression of the European slavers; together, for many years, we resisted their attempts to recapture us. Together we rose against the white man to preserve our freedom, and together we created a Seminole society from both Indian and African roots. When we had to leave for safer territory in the 1830s to escape the slave raids in Florida, we went to Indian territory and settled along the Canadian River in what is today Oklahoma. But slave raids continued from nearby states. In our search for peace, we left once again and went to Mexico, though some of our people stayed behind in Oklahoma, where their descendant still live today.
In 1870 a few hundred of our ancestors were asked to come to Texas to fight the Native American so that white people could settle in the region. Those Seminoles served as Scouts for the U.S. Army out of Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass and Fort Clark in Brackettville, where we live today.
Although some of us visit our relatives in Mexico, at El Nacimeinto del los Negros in Coahuila State, not far from Muzquiz, we lost touch with our people in Oklahoma until 1981, when some of them visited Brackettville for the Juneteenth celebration. June 19th commemorates the emancipation of the slave in Texas, and we celebrate it every year in solidarity with our fellow Black Americans, but it is not a part of Seminole history since we were never slaves in Texas.
For more than 200 years, we kept our double African and Indian heritage alive. Our language and our way of life, our songs and dancing, our philosophy and our cooking all remind us of our distinctive roots. Only since the end of the Second World War have we really begun to lose those old ways. I remember when we would pound corn in a huge mortar made from a tree trunk to prepare suffki and toll, our special dishes. I remember when everybody around us would be speaking Seminole, the children too. I remember the way we used to dress, and the kinds of homes we lived in on the grounds of Fort Clark.
Today there are few of us left who know our history and speak our language. It maybe that too much time has already passed to get those things back. Some of the young people leave our small community and return to Brackettville only to visit.
But perhaps this recognition of who we are and what we have done may stir in their hearts a sense of pride and may move them to learn from us while they can, and they may yet pass on our story to their own children. We have given our loyalty and our skill to our country, and we have contributed to its history.
I can rest now, knowing that this has been recognized at last and that future school children both American and Seminole will learn about the part we have played in the growth of our great nation.”
Join us at the Carver School on Saturday, May 20, as we celebrate Miss Charles Emily Wilson.
Note: This blog appeared as an article in the 5/18/17 edition of the Kinney County Post.
Miss Charles Emily Wilson, the founder of the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association, never had children of her own, yet she was a mother-like figure to many Black Seminoles. Even though she passed away in 2006, her wishes and hopes for the association are still very real and vivid. She wanted for us to continue to grow and to continue to tell the world about our history. She, especially, wanted for the younger generations to constantly be involved and interested in where they came from. That is why she created the Juneteenth and Seminole Days celebrations that have taken place annually at the Carver School Grounds since 1979.
For many of us, our first encounter with Miss Charles was when we were students in her classroom. She (along with her sister Dorothy) taught at Carver School during segregation. She was a wonderful teacher who made sure that everyone understood what they were being taught. She could be very strict at times, but she was also very attentive and compassionate.
She was our matriarch. We looked to her for guidance. She was wise, thoughtful, and resourceful. She was extremely intelligent, eloquent, and graceful. She was the kind of role model that most people only dream of.
My mom, Dora, and Miss Charles were good friends. When they would get together and visit, I would always stay within eavesdropping distance. While listening to these two ladies’ conversations, I learned a lot about life and how to persevere. I also heard a lot of laughter.
Every year, we, the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association, look for little ways to honor her memory, as she is never very far from our minds and hearts. This year, we will be honoring her in a slightly larger way. We will be having a plaque dedication and teachers’ appreciation ceremony on Saturday, May 20. We will be placing a marker on our museum that will let all who enter know that the museum is dedicated to Miss Charles Emily Wilson. We will be celebrating teachers, as well, because Miss Charles was an educator, and we really want to let our teachers know how much we appreciate all that they do for their students. Interestingly, Miss Charles’s birthday falls within that week, on May 16, so we will, also, in a way, be honoring the day she was born.
Mother’s Day is on Sunday, May 14. On this day, we honor all mothers and the many different forms that they come in. Many gave birth to their children; some adopted theirs, while others were just like mothers in everything but name. For many of us, Miss Charles Emily Wilson was the latter. Just like a mother, she helped to raise us. She taught us, and she loved us like we were her own.
Note: This blog appeared in the 5/11/17 edition of the Kinney County Post