South Carolina Islands: Gators, Greens & Gullah

From wilderness to a lost way-of-life on the islands of South Carolina.

When Aunt Pearlie Sue says “shake it,” she’s got the whole room a-shaking. Her head wrapped in a white cloth and the rest of her covered in gingham with her “Reverend Leroy” carved walking stick in hand, she sings, dances, and tells the story of the people today known as Gullah — descendants of early African slaves from Angola, known for their rice-growing prowess.

Aunt Pearlie Sue "shakin' it" at Red Piano Too Gallery

After the Yanks took Beaufort, South Carolina, in “the war of Northern aggression,” the slaves became isolated on the sea and marsh islands of the so-called Lowcountry. Their isolation sealed in some of the customs, songs, beliefs, language, and cuisine from their homeland and the Caribbean islands, where traders stopped en route with the slaves to “break ‘em in – gotta season ‘em,” said Aunt Pearlie Sue, a.k.a. Anita Singleton-Prather.

Gullah culture (sometimes referred to as Geechee) flourished around Beaufort on St. Helena Island, Hilton Head, Edisto Island, St. James Island, Youngs Island, and Daufuskie Island. In recent years, modern resorts dispersed the once-tight communities, but new generations keep alive the musical jargon that mixes African, Creole, and British; and a style of cookery influenced by all that and then some – hints of Spanish, native American, and French Huguenot foodways for extra flavor. A good old Lowcountry cookup heaps on the hoppin john (rice and beans), Lowcountry Boil (shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob, and red potatoes), stone-ground grits, sweet potato pie, cornbread, sweet tea, barbecue, blue crab, grits, gumbo, and collard greens. Read more of this post