Thurs Dec 28 – Gullah Tour

In the morning we went back to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve with Millie and Joel and walked farther than we had the day before. It was later in the day than we had been there on Wedensday, and there were fewer birds about. It’s still a place we like, with several boardwalks, upland and swamp forest , and lakes to look out over. We saw quantities of pied-billed grebes as well as anhingas, a pelican, and the usual (for South Carolina) suspects.

After lunch Arlene and I went on bus tour with Gullah Heritage Tours. We had seen them leaving from the visitor center the day before. Well! We finally got to see a lot of the part of Hilton Head that’s not gated communities and brand-new shopping areas. We were the only people on our tour bus, except of course for the driver. He started the tour with a ten- or fifteen-minute talk in the visitor center parking lot, telling us about the Gullah language and his own background.

The Gullah language is really just like Yiddish. Yiddish is mostly medieval German with lots of Hebrew words and words from other languages mixed in, with its own sentence structure and speaking patterns. Gullah is largely 17th century English with lots of words from various West African languages mixed in, using the grammar and sentence structure of those languages. My grandfather used to say that Yiddish was corrupted German, and Gullah was once regarded as broken English, but neither of those views is respectable nowadays.

So our tour driver started with a sample of Gullah, “Unnah koomyuh koom yuh fuh talk me binyuh.” After several repetitions, and remembering what I had read in the cookbook I got the day before, I thought I got it — “You off-islanders came here to talk to me, a native islander.” Yes, “binyuh” is “been here”, natives; “koomyuh”, “come here”. Just like “from away” in Maine, you could have lived on Hilton Head since you were one year old, but if you weren’t born there you’re “koomyuh.”

The driver, David Campbell, was a year or two older than I. He lived on the island through the ’50s, was in the Air Force, and came back. When he was a kid there was only one paved road on the island (and that was built just so the military could get to lookout towers built to watch for German submarines during WWII), no electricity, and no running water. He went to a segregated one-room school, one of several on the island that had been built by the WPA. Talking to him, and seeing  what’s real about the island, was definitely the high point of our Hilton Head experience.
Joel drove us out to the Baynard (I think that’s what) plantation ruins at dusk. There’s mostly remains of one big building, which had been built of a material called tabby, a mixture of oyster shells, lime, and mud, which had originally been covered with stucco to make it more weather resistant. It doesn’t hold up well. The building, less than 200 years old, was in worse shape than medieval castles I’ve seen in France or, really, the 5000-year-old ruins of Erebuni in Yerevan.

We played dominos in the evening. I had several non-starter hands, got stuck with the double blank once, and ran up a score over 400.

One Response to “Thurs Dec 28 – Gullah Tour”

  1. Judy Says:

    How wonderful. I long to visit that part of the South.