By Tess Malijenovsky
Friday, December 9, was the 10th anniversary of “A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish … Freedom Comin’ ” musical and Gullah celebration sponsored by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and ASE-Gullah Education at USCB. Nationally acclaimed storyteller Anita Singleton Prather, or “Aunt Pearlie Sue,” brought the audience back in time to the last Christmas before the Civil War when South Carolina seceded from the Union. She told the story by the beat of her wooden staff on the stage floor and with the soulful chorus of her Gullah Kinfolk.
The crowd laughed listening to Aunt Pearlie Sue tell her jokes through her speech and facial expressions, and then praising “Amen” as the story shed the Gullah perspective on “the only time of the year [slaves] got enough food to eat and enough time to eat it.”
The story began in West Africa, “De Muddah Lan’, ” with drumming and African warrior dancing performed by Beaufort High School students Madison Bell, Kelly Smalls and Kimani Carpenter. There was talk of war or freedom, escaping through the Underground Railroad by following the North Star, “reading ob de scrip’cha” and Christmas day. And, at the end of the performance, Aunt Pearlie Sue brought her extended family onto the stage (most of whom were already in the musical) to thank them and everyone else who had a part in the production.
Forget about the white, red and green, the Gullah kinfolk use all vibrant colors in their celebration of Christmas. Even “Bubba Nick” came out for a visit. In addition to the evening event, there was also four educational outreach performances earlier that day for public school children.
Eight years ago, Aunt Pearlie Sue explained, she was thinking about stopping the musical, but in a prayer she was told to “expand.”
This year, everyone celebrated the event’s 10th anniversary with “A Taste of Gullah,” a host of caterers and restaurants that served up a delicious soul food buffet. There were Sea Island specialty desserts, breads, rice dishes, collard greens, cabbage and trays of flavorful chicken.
There was also a large display of Gullah jewelry by Unique Jewelry & Accessories by Julie Mmurithi-Richardson and Lula Brown. Mmurithi-Richardson explained how the beautiful things in nature inspire the bold and colorful Gullah style of jewelry for the women who like wearing lots of jewelry.
Gullah artwork also draws on color, history and the motion of its culture. Rooms were filled wall-to-wall with the talented works of local Gullah artists such as Saundra Renee Smith, Diane Britton Dunham, Hank Herring, James St. Clair and many others who are featured in the Green Fish Art Gallery (1001 Bay Street).
“A Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish … Freedom Comin’ ” is entertaining and educational, but most importantly it helps keep the heart of the Gullah culture beating every Christmas. In the words of Aunt Pearlie Sue, “If you didn’t know you were Gullah when you came in here, now you know.”