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.