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Gullah Geechee???

Hi folks

As you've noticed, I've been pretty quiet for the past few months.

The big guy, myself, mom, and the fur babies are still living it up in the sunny south. We are escaping that cold, slippery white stuff for another month or so. As nice as it is to sit on the deck, look at the ocean and enjoy the sun, one gets mighty bored, mighty quick. In the local paper, I noticed there was a Gullah Geechee lady teaching Sweetgrass Basket making. Hm, that sounds interesting. I'm always open to trying a new craft or sewing technique, so I signed up for her course.

So, what is Gullah Geechee, and what are Sweetgrass Baskets?

The Gullah Geechee are a group of people who are descendants of enslaved Africans who worked the plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. Specifically, the isolated coastal islands of the Low Country of North and South Carolina. That would be just south of Myrtle Beach to just north of the Georgia border. Because these folks were sooo isolated, a distinct language and culture emerged.

Golf is a big thing here….

The Gullah Geechee language is interesting to listen to.

A few people in the area still speak the language. There is an active movement in the process to preserve and document the dialect. Preservation is essential as Gullah Geechee is becoming an endangered language. The language itself is a simplified version of the communication that went on between the slave traders, the slave owners, and the various African dialects of the enslaved people's homeland. The language is very close to English. If you listen very carefully, you will hear little snippets of 300-year-old history in the words that are used to navigate everyday life in the low county. I.e., maam, mammy, nuf (enough),cause (because), cuss (4 letter words) If you are into languages and cultures, there are tons of reputable information online.

What I really wanted to talk about was the Gullah Geech tradition of basket making. Specifically Sweetgrass Basket making.

Sweetgrass baskets are typically made of palm fronds for the ties and marsh grass (sweetgrass) for the actual basket. The grasses are manipulated into a coil shape that is held together by strands of palm frond. A palm frond strip is then passed through the middle of each round of coil. The concept and construction are pretty simple and straight forward. The result is a surprisingly sturdy and versatile basket that is stitched into a myriad of shapes of sizes. The artistry involved in the basket designs is mind-boggling.

The tradition has been carried on into modern times. The baskets and sweetgrass crafts are now available to the "tourists" for a fee. That fee can run upwards of 500 dollars! As lovely as the baskets are, I've always had a problem with paying 75 to 100 dollars for an artsy basket to help keep my life organized.

That said, thanks to the lovely Jennifaye Singleton (Geechee Gullah Educator and Basket Maker) and her adorable son, I have a whole new appreciation for the baskets and especially the work that goes into making one. I take back everything I ever said about them being overly expensive. Trust me; they're worth every cent!

Jennifaye in her traditional garb. Cool!

This simple looking example took me just over 2 hours to make. I'm pretty good with my hands, so that seems to be an average time for an item of the size. (about 4 inches across and 2 inches high) By the time my 2 hours were up, my hands were killing me, and my shoulders felt like someone had tied a knot between my shoulder blades. I think I"ll stick to sewing fluffy dresses.

Jennifaye brought in an example of a 75 year old handbag she was in the process of repairing. Except for needing a few repairs and tightening up the joins, the bag looked like it was made yesterday. Is just goes to show how resilient the weaving process is.

I guess the closest thing I could equate sweetgrass baskets to with Canadian folk crafts would be the pine needle baskets the North American Indian population used to make for the same purposes. Even though they developed separately, and ½ a world away, it is fascinating how similar the finished products are in Canada and the southern US.

Sweetgrass Basket

North American Indian Pine Basket


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