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 Gullah Branches, West African Roots

 

Written by Ronald Daise, Foreword by James E. Clyburn

 

"I looked into dark faces everywhere I’d go. Something behind their eyes let me know there’s a connection deep down in my spirit with Africa. West Africa" ...Ron Daise

Reviews:

Review by Tony Baughman of  The Aiken Standard

“In this unusual autobiography, Daise uses poetry, prose, creative non-fiction, songs, photographs, all artfully and successfully combined to involve the reader with an engaging and informative journey to a man’s cultural and historic roots."
Midwest Book Review

Gullah Branches, West African Roots is a memoir of a Gullah man discovering personal and cultural connections with West Africa through sojourns to Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Ronald Daise, a Gullah native of St. Helena Island, SC, visited Ghana in 2004 as a Fulbright-Hays, US Department of Education fellowship recipient, and to Sierra Leone in 2005 as a participant in “Priscilla’s Homecoming.” The Gullah homecoming to Sierra Leone connected the family of Thomalind Martin Polite of Charleston, South Carolina, with the country of its matriarch, Priscilla, who had been enslaved in 1756, at the age of ten.

In 2006, Daise learned that his visits to Ghana and Sierra Leone had been more of a personal family reunion than he realized. He shares maternal genetic ancestry with the Temne people living in Sierra Leone. And he shares paternal genetic ancestry with the Ewe and Akan peoples in Ghana.  Daise utilizes poetry, prose, creative non-fiction, songs, photographs, and his own unique voice to involve readers in a vibrant journey to cultural and historical roots. The book is a sequel to Daise’s Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage (Sandlapper Publishing, 1986). 

198 pages. 8 x 10. Softcover $29.95

ISBN 0-87844-182-4, 13 ISBN 978-087844-182-2

View Gullah Geechee -- the me I tried to flee: Ron Daise at TEDxCharleston

In the Foreword, U.S. Congressman and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC), who championed the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act, states: “Ron has exposed the beauty of a once closeted culture, and compelled his audience with a sense of urgency to preserve it. This work inspires pride in those with Gullah roots, those previously shamed by others outside and even within their own families. Ron is telling their story and the story of their ancestors. It is a story of faith, of courage, and of character. Gullah Branches, West African Roots is an unabashed celebration of a vibrant culture. Through the eyes of Ron Daise, we experience the daily life of Gullah people past and present. We can almost hear the sounds of Negro spirituals ringing in our ears, feel the romantic language of the Gullah people rolling off our tongues, taste the curried rice and other sea island delicacies, and see the rich colors that express such deep meaning within Gullah traditions. This is a story of hope that breaks the literal and figurative bonds of slavery. Ron has thoughtfully and thoroughly documented the journey of the Gullah culture and instilled pride in all those of Gullah Geechee heritage. His anecdotes are compelling and artfully weaved, much like the sweetgrass baskets that have come to symbolize the Gullah culture. I commend him on this extraordinary book, and I would recommend it as a “must read” for students in South Carolina schools."  

Learn more about Ron Daise

Press Release

From the book:
     In August 2004, following my first visit to West Africa, I began working at Brookgreen Gardens, in Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. As Vice President for Creative Education, I inherited an initiative to promote the Gullah culture of Brookgreen Gardens, in particular, and the surrounding communities of the Lowcountry, in general. Brookgreen, the country’s premier sculpture gardens, was established in 1931 by philanthropist Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. The couple purchased 9,100 acres, four abandoned rice plantations—Brookgreen, The Oaks, Springfield, and Laurel Hill—to showcase Anna Hyatt Huntington’s works as well as those of her friends. A National Historic Landmark, Brookgreen Gardens is “Ever Changing. Simply Amazing.” not only because of its imaginative and impeccable sculptures, verdant gardens, and zoo of animals native to the southeast and domestic animals of the plantation era but also because of its rich Gullah history. Several of the African-American staff members are descendants of workers at Brookgreen Plantation.

      From my office window, I overlook Brookgreen Main, Brookgreen Plantation’s major ricefield, which teemed with enslaved African workers some 200 years ago. I see glimpses of them from time to time. As I walk The Lowcountry Trail—amidst ancient live oaks draped with moss and archeological depictions of the overseer’s cabin, smokehouse, kitchen, and dependency —I sense the presence of their spirits. I hear their voices, too: “Bout time oona come,” they whisper. “Tell de wol bout we. Tell dem bout all we done done. All we come shru. You yeddy me?” To honor their memories, I premiered my one-man production of “My Soul Been Bless! Gullah Roots, Branches, Blossoms” in the Wall Lowcountry Center Auditorium on my forty-ninth birthday.

     My reader’s theater renditions of stories about Ghana’s slave dungeons, ties to Gullah culture, and scenic beauty moved audience members, which included a record number of African-Americans. As I walked to my car afterward, rain drizzled and misted, like the tears of Elders. Tears of joy? I wondered. Tears of pride? Within a few weeks of the premier, I was invited to serve as Gullah ambassador for “Priscilla’s Homecoming” in Sierra Leone, West Africa. This Gullah homecoming connected the family of Thomalind Martin Polite of Charleston, South Carolina, with the country of its matriarch, Priscilla, who had been enslaved in 1756, at the age of ten. While in Sierra Leone, I peered into the eyes of people around me and wondered if they could be related to enslaved Africans who, centuries ago, had worked at Brookgreen Plantation. During the slave era, forty-three percent of Africans in South Carolina had come from the Rice Coast. My journey there reinforced my awareness of the close connection of today’s Gullah people with their West African ancestors.

"There’s A Connection"
(Sung to the tune of the Gullah spiritual “I Don’t Mind”)


Africa. West Africa.
Africa. West Africa.
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
I’ve been to Ghana and Sierra Leone.
I walked down the streets and felt right at home.
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
I looked into dark faces everywhere I’d go.
Something behind their eyes let me know
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
Africa. West Africa.
Africa. West Africa.
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
I’d hear the music, then start to dance.
Africans would look at me and say, “A undastan…”
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
In slave castles, I’d hear the groans
Of ancestors moaning, “We are one!”
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.
Africa. West Africa.
Africa. West Africa.
There’s a connection deep down in my spirit
With Africa. West Africa.


Words and Music by
Ronald Daise© 2005 RONALD DAISE

 

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