As Gullah Geechee History Is Neglected, This Gullah Woman Fills the Gaps Through Social Media

Gullah Geechee history is often left out of traditional school history books—but descendants, like South Carolina native Akua Page, are using social media to spread awareness of their rich multi-century culture and educate the world.

Woman standing in front of a body of water against a blue sky
Photo: Courtesy of Akua Page

It's a shame so few people have heard of the Gullah Geechee people. This population has a vibrant but under-taught history that began when enslaved Africans who were forced to work crops, namely coastal rice, Sea Island cotton, and indigo plantations in the Southeastern region of the United States. Their success preserving—and recreating—elements of Indigenous African culture despite enslavement are largely untold to those outside the Southeaster United States. But now, social media has made it possible to share that knowledge. Akua Page, a Gullah Geechee descendant, is one of the people using her platforms to fill in the gaps and show the culture persists.

The history of the Gullah Geechee people traces back to the 1600s, making it one of the oldest communities in the United States. Like many Black Americans, the community comprises descendants of enslaved Africans from several tribal groups from West and Central Africa. Their ancestors were forced to work on the plantations of coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Learning the local climate of these areas was essential to their cultural legacy.

Often, the enslaved lived in complete isolation in wet climates very different from the rest of the United States, separated by rivers, swamps, and waterways. Enslavers and others feared the unknown of these areas, which weren't easy to cross. But this isolation allowed the Geechee people to create their own language, cultural traditions, farming, and religious practices and develop their own stories. It's rare to find someone who speaks fluent Gullah or teaches about the language and culture today. Page's efforts represent the latest efforts for Gullah communities, especially their youth, to drive a resurgence of knowledge of their culture.

"I feel like it's our duty to tell our ancestors' story, you know, we shouldn't want somebody else to tell our ancestors' story," Page told NBC News, "Going back to that African proverb, 'Until the lioness tells their tale, the story of the hunt is always going to glorify the hunter.' So I feel like, you know, I'm that lioness. I'm gonna tell the story of my ancestors."

It's not surprising if you haven't heard of the Gullah Geechee community. Their history is often left out of traditional school history books. Only an estimated one million Gullah people currently live in the area Congress designated the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Gullah Geechee descendants, like Page, are sharing this history. Efforts like the Cultural Heritage Corridors' National Heritage Areas also work to preserve, share and interpret Geechee history, traditional cultural practices, heritage sites, and natural resources associated with the Gullah Geechee people of coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida play a role. Page has taken it upon herself to educate people online through her social presence and offline through Geechee Living History tours.

Page's efforts use social media, like TikTok and Youtube, to share Gullah stories with audiences of all ages and videos that range from traditional healing practices, like sea moss for lowering blood pressure, to teaching the Gullah language. "Gullah is now considered an endangered language because my generation and younger — you're not going to find us fluent in speaking actual Gullah," Page said in the same NBC interview. She notes that when Black people were allowed to learn to read Gullah Geechee dialect was one of many they were punished for. "..A lot of people were being beaten that were speaking Gullah. So that historical trauma transferred over, she says." Several of her videos offer translations of common slang used in the Gullah community.

"I love TikTok. It has been so instrumental in the work I'm doing," Page said. Her goal is to pass the torch so that her culture, which has survived for hundreds of years, can keep going. She has received a ton of positive feedback from people wanting to learn about their ties to the Gullah Geechee culture. She has also received comments from people who have never heard of the Geechee community.

TikTok and other forms of social media are great platforms to use to break information down into smaller, more consumable pieces. So it is no surprise that Page has amassed nearly 59,000 followers on the platform with over 800k likes and considerable viewing via YouTube. For her, each of these interactions brings the Geechee community step closer to liberation.

"Our liberation is by knowing where we come from. ... I can tell just by the rice culture that we have down here and connecting back into Western and Central Africa and how we've been growing and cultivating that for eons," she says, "We liberate ourselves by taking ownership."

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