In the culturally rich area of the coastal plains region of the United States, a group of Purdue students will get the chance to immerse themselves in the culture of their ancestors.
More than 40 members of the Black Cultural Center community will go on a five-day voyage to islands near South Carolina and Georgia to learn more about the Gullah and Geechee cultures of the area.
Renee Thomas, director of the BCC, has worked with a number of institutions for this cultural/historical research tour to provide a learning experience which could not be made possible by simply going to a museum.
“It’ll be a very much hands-on and what I call a multi-sensory experience for students, because it’s not just the art and culture, but it’s things like the food, it’s things like the language,” Thomas said. “We’re actually using our motor coach as living, learning environment too, so we’re showing a series of films on our motor coach to educate and have that solid foundation for the students.”
The area, which is rich in history as a place where many slaves worked during America’s earlier days, has remained relatively isolated, allowing the West Africans living there to maintain their culture.
However, since the 1950s and ‘60s, the culture has been deteriorating. This is happening because many African Americans have moved to the mainland, while mainland-dwelling Americans have moved to the area, where tourism has gained prevalence.
The five performing ensembles
from the BCC will have the chance to partake in a variety of activities, such as basket-weaving, watching authentic performances and getting involved in sugar cane processing.
Jasmine Morris, a senior in the College of Engineering who works as both a Haraka Writer and student coordinator for the BCC, will be attending the trip with the hopes of learning more about the language of the people in the area.
Morris said the language of the Gullah and Geechee people stems from the Krio language, similar to that of the Creole language heard in the United States. She said displaced people being able to create a language “speaks to that culture, and those traditions are never lost, no matter where you place somebody.”
“Studying (the language) and really examining how even though people call it a backwards talk, I think that there’s a certain level of intellect it takes to take your language and someone else’s language and create a whole language that is known in more than one area,” Morris added.
Upon returning from this weekend’s trip, Morris plans to use what she learns to create a poem, and along with other attendees, utilize it for the BCC’s Cultural Arts Festival later in the year.
For Morris, this is the last October Break trip she will take, but she hopes to make this one count, because being in the coastal plains of the United States is more geographically isolated, requiring everyone to come together more.
“This might be one of the best tours only because ... we’ll be forced to connect and bond together as a family,” Morris said. “We’re all learning new things together.”