Georgia Sea Island Festival

Georgia Sea Island Festival

Date Observed: Third weekend in June
Location: St. Simons Island, Georgia

The annual Georgia Sea Island Festival at St. Simons Island, Georgia, celebrates African and African-American history and the heritage of Gullah, or Geechee, people. The terms describe the people, their language, and culture that have been maintained since slavery and are on display during the summer weekend festival.

Historical Background

St. Simons Island is one of the Sea Islands, a cluster of islands along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia. It is the historic site where in 1803 a group of Igbo slaves were brought from the region of west Africa that is now southern Nigeria. In Savannah, Georgia, they had been auctioned off to two plantation families on the island and transported on a small ship. While below decks, the Igbo, known to be fiercely independent, rebelled against their agents and forced the white men to jump overboard.

When the group of chained Igbo came on to the dock at the Dunbar Creek landing, they refused to go ashore and instead followed Chief Obo, chanting along with him, "The Sea brought me and the Sea will bring me home." They drowned themselves in Dunbar Creek rather than accept a life of slavery. The site is now known as Ebo Landing and was consecrated in 2002 as holy ground, although there is no historical marker to commemorate the site.

Numerous versions of the Ebo Landing story have been passed on in the oral tradition of African slaves. Many of these oral histories were collected in the late 1930s by the Federal Writers Project and have been published in Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes .

From the early 1800s to the present day, people of west African descent on St. Simons Island have preserved their language and culture. Through the generations they have passed on their traditions and celebrate them during the Georgia Sea Island Festival.

Creation of the Festival

The festival originated in 1977 with the assistance of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, who perform nationwide. It was an annual celebration until 1998 and was revived in August 2002, when the St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition hosted the event. The coalition formed in 2000 because of the loss of black-owned property on the island. Although African Americans once owned the entire island, only a few hundred remain among the 20,000 or more residents. Historical buildings have been torn down and replaced with expensive resort homes. Thus, to preserve the St. Simons heritage, the coalition implemented a "Don't Ask, Won't Sell" campaign to educate the community about the value of their property. As part of the preservation campaign, the coalition brought back the Georgia Sea Island Festival.

Observance

Traditional Gullah arts and crafts, food, and musical performances are part of the annual festival. The Georgia Sea Island Singers often perform as well. Highlighted are drums, rhythms, dance performances, basket weaving, carpentry, and fish-netting demonstrations. There are also exhibits of carvings and wood sculptures, pottery, and quilting. A Children's Corner offers storytelling along with music and dance.

The festival provides a way to educate the public about the history and language of African and African-American people who not only survived, but also created a life beyond the horrors of slavery. For Africans of the diaspora who participate, the festival is also a way to maintain bonds.

See also Native Islander Gullah Celebration and Penn Center Heritage Days.

Contact and Web Site

St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition P.O. Box 20145 5800 Frederica Rd. St. Simons Island, GA 31522

Further Reading

Georgia Writers Project, Work Projects Administration. Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes . Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. Goodwine, Marquetta L., ed. The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African Ameri- can Culture . Atlanta, GA: Clarity Press, 1998. Pollitzer, William S. The Gullah People and Their African Heritage. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999. Tanenbaum, Barry. "Living History." Shutterbug, October 2003. .
Full browser ?