Heritage Days: Fun fuh de chillum and famlee

in Community by

Photo above: Anita Prather-Singleton, as Aunt Pearlie Sue, entertains an enthusiastic crowd with a story told in Gullah during the Penn Center Heritage Days celebration in 2012. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

The Gullah Gechee culture influences so many aspects of the Lowcountry, from the food to the music to the arts.

Those influences will be celebrated at the 34th Annual Heritage Days from Thursday, Nov. 10, to Sunday, Nov. 13.

It’s sure to be “fun fuh de chillun and famlee” (fun for the children and family in Gullah).

Heritage Days Celebration is a four-day cultural event celebrating the Gullah/Geechee/Sea Island history, folk arts, food, music, crafts and West-African cultural legacy.

The event will be held at the 50-acre historic Penn Center — formerly the Penn School, one of the first schools for former slaves and their descendants living on St. Helena Island.

Special events for the weekend include demonstrations of West-African/Gullah cultural connections, including:

• Live demonstrations of sweetgrass basket making and net making;
• Gullah storytellers and re-enactors;
• Singers, African drummers and dancers;
• Symposiums;
• A craft fair, parade, fish fry and old school jam;
• And Youth & Family Day with lots of educational attractions.

For more than 150 years, the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District has been at the epicenter of African-American education, historic preservation and social justice for tens of thousands of descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans living in the Sea Islands, known as the Gullah Geechee people.

The Gullah Geechee have continued to survive and represent the most tangible living example of one of the outcomes of the Port Royal Experiment, a plan to tutor the freedmen out of slavery and into freedom.

Founded in 1862, Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by Northern missionaries, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved West Africans.

After the school closed in 1948, Penn became the first African-American site in South Carolina whose primary purpose was to safeguard the heritage of a Gullah Geechee community.

The Penn Center is located at16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island.

Event schedule

Thursday, Nov. 10
6-7 p.m.: Youth play: Road of Rememberance
7-8 p.m.: Traditional prayer service

Friday, Nov. 11
9 a.m.-2 p.m.: Youth & Family Day
10 a.m.: Opening ceremony
1 p.m.: Heritage symposium: The Reconstruction Era
6 p.m.: Fish fry and oyster roast
7 p.m.: Old school jam

Saturday, Nov. 12
9 a.m.: Heritage Days parade
8 p.m.: Soul slide dance party
Noon-4 p.m.: Heritage Days Center Stage
There will also be a Gullah roots village, artists and authors row, tours, crafts and food.

Sunday, Nov. 13
11 a.m.: Ecumenical services