The title of this post -- Bittle Groun' -- means (more or less) "food land" in the Gullah Geechee language. I claim no competence in the language, but I am thankful for the Gullah Words glossary for allowing me at least to recognize the language. It is hosted on the Gullah Tours web site and draws on the work of Ambrose E. Gonzales and Alphonso Brown.
The St. Helena Island restaurant shown above is far more than a restaurant. It is the hub of one of several communities along the South Carolina coast that Padma Lashki visits in the Gullah Geechee episode (s1e4) of her magnificent Taste the Nation series on Hulu. She is herself a migrant and the series focuses on communities in which the foodways of communities (either migrant or indigenous) contribute to a local sense of place.
Here is a trailer for the episode in which she explores the Gullah Geechee nation through the foods grown, cooked, and taught by the descendants of people brought in bondage to this area from the Rice Coast of West Africa, specifically because of their expertise in cultivating rice in coastal lowlands.
The first person she interviews, for example, is writer Michael W. Twitty, a food scholar who identifies as an Africulinarian and knows that his family was taken from what is now Sierra Leone. Tragically, they were marginalized and abused by people who relied on both their labor and their expertise to build fortunes in plantation agriculture.
|Gullah Geechee homes on Sapelo Island.|
Photo: Richard Burkhart via CSM
Whether or not you are able to access the show through Hulu, I recommend several recent articles about Gullah Geechee in particular and the restoration of African American connections to land in general (in addition to the links sprinkled throughout this post).
The first of these was recommended by my favorite librarian. "In Georgia’s Hogg Hummock, a fight for a people, a culture, and the land" was recently published on Christian Science Monitor. For a broader discussion, see "Foraging, Farming, Hunting, and Storytelling: How Black Creators Are Growing Emancipated Spaces" posted to kitchnn by Kayla Stewart in recognition of Juneteenth this year. Steward mentions the tremendous work of Alexis Nicole, who brings humor and brilliance to this topic on TED Radio Hour, her Black Forager channel, and many other venues.
NOTE: This post is the basis for a lesson in my environmental geography course. A federal judge recently issued a ruling protecting this kind of teaching from government interference. The governor of Florida had recently attempted to block all teaching of this kind in his state's universities. I am lucky to live in a state that would not elect such a person as governor; more importantly, though, I live in a country with a First Amendment. Even in Massachusetts we have ongoing threats to academic freedom, but not of this ideological sort.
I am overdue for a return to the Charleston area, which I visited in 1990, 2000, and 2010. Each visit was for a different purpose, but each time included a visit with friends we had made in Puebla, Mexico in 1989. We had no such agenda in 2020 (and would probably have canceled it anyway), and did not become aware of Gullah Geechee culture until very recently. So I hope to return to the area soon to revisit those friends while we are all still young -- this time spending some time with Gullah Tours, Gullah Grub, and the rest of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor.
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