Growing up in Beaufort, South Carolina, in the 1970s, Pete Marovich often overheard locals speaking “a rapid-fire language that sounded similar to English.” At the time, he had no idea then that it was a dialect that had been passed down from their enslaved African ancestors, or that it was just a small piece of the distinct and rich culture of the Gullah people, who’d maintained a strong connection to their roots as, generation after generation, they remained along the coasts of the Carolinas and Georgia (where they’re known as Geechee).
When Marovich moved to Hilton Head Island in the 1990s, he started meeting Gullah people and learning about their history and culture. Brought to America from “the primarily rice-producing regions of West and Central Africa,” the Gullah/Geechee people worked the plantations of the American southeast, where they “developed a separate creole language and distinct culture patterns that included more of their African cultural traditions than the African-American populations in other parts of the United States.” After emancipation, the Gullah/Geechee remained in the same rural coastal communities where they were once enslaved. For many years after that, their communities thrived without much interference from outsiders. They were free to continue long-held traditions of “making seagrass baskets, fishing with handmade nets, burying their dead by the seashore, and living life simply,” as Marovich wrote in the introduction to his book, Shadows of the Gullah Geechee.