What’s the difference between Gullah and Geechee?
This is one of the most common questions that people ask when speaking to a Gullah or Geechee person. The main difference between Gullah and Geechee is language and experience. The Gullah language is similar to what is known as West African Creole that Africans created during the transatlantic slave trade to communicate with each other. Geechee is more like a modern form of the Gullah language. Gullah and Geechee people both speak Sea Island Creole; however, the language has evolved over time. For example, “Chillen/Chillun” is Gullah for “Children” and “Churn/Chern” is the Geechee word for “Children”.
If you google the word “Gullah” then you will see images of older Black Americans weaving sweetgrass baskets, quilting, singing or making cast nets for fishing. These cultural traditions are considered Gullah in the Carolinas. The younger Gullah generation is not actively practicing these traditions and has created a subculture of their own. The young Gullah generation identifies as Geechee. However, the terms are different regionally. For example, Gullah descendants in Georgia are referred to as “Salt Wata” or “Fresh Wata” Geechee. As for me, my Black Charleston experience influenced my early decision to identify with Geechee.
Anytime I left the comfort of my city somebody would always ask me “Where you from”. When I replied “Charleston”, their immediate response would be “You a Geechee”. In school, my teachers told me I was speaking Geechee whenever I replaced the “th” words” with a “d”. Example, “dat test been easy”. Whenever I opened my mouth to talk, I was called Geechee by community and family members. By the time I was 12, I adopted the nickname “Kid Geechee”.
Growing up in Charleston, SC I identified with Geechee at an early age. I understood the way I talked, cooked and carried myself was different from other Black Americans. It wasn’t until I became older, I realized I was more than just Geechee. I was also Gullah. Besides the TV show Gullah Gullah Island, I had no idea what Gullah was growing up. In Charleston, my peers (millennial generation) and I identified with Geechee. Even as an adult, one will find that most young African Americans from the low country identify with Geechee.
As yall can see, the difference between Gullah and Geechee is still a blurred conversation. You can ask 5 different Gullah/Geechee people what’s the difference and you might get 5 different answers. The main difference between Gullah and Geechee is the language that we speak.
- Montagne, Renee (16 March 2006). "'New Testament' Translated into Gullah". NPR. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
- Turner, Lorenzo Dow (2002), Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
- Weldon, Tracey L.; Moody, Simanique (July 2015). "The Place of Gullah in the African American Linguistic Continuum". The Oxford Handbook of African American Language