Hilton Head Island’s Gullah Heritage Tour

Learn about the fascinating culture that runs deep in Hilton Head Island’s roots and the people who keep the Gullah traditions alive today.

An area made up of the coastal islands from North Carolina to Florida is the birthplace of a unique culture originating in West Africa that endured centuries of slavery. This area is known as the Gullah Geechee Corridor, and today most Gullah culture and families can be found in the South Carolina and Georgia low country. The Gullah people have preserved more African language and culture in this area than any other group in the country.

 

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The Gullah Heritage Tour is owned by the Campbell family, and all tour guides are siblings who are descendants of former Gullah slaves that have been in Hilton Head since immediately after the Civil War. The Campbells have been giving Gullah tours for 18 years, and the information they provide goes far deeper than anything that can be read about in a history book or brochure.

This two hour narrated bus tour covers 10 different neighborhoods in Hilton Head Island and gives guests a glimpse of what the island was like before the bridge was built from the mainland in 1956. The tour begins at the Coastal Discovery Museum with the earliest history of the island, and then the air-conditioned bus travels through several neighborhoods where many Gullah families still live.

The Gullah culture is a system of traditions, customs, beliefs, art forms, cuisine and family lifestyle that is still alive in Hilton Head Island. Elements of the culture are evident in local artwork, cuisine and crafts like basket weaving, but there is much more to be learned about this fascinating lifestyle.

One of the most distinct aspects of Gullah is the English-based Creole language which uses a blend of West and Central African words. In 1949, a linguist published a study of the language that changed mainstream scholars’ previous assumptions that Gullah was merely a substandard form of English.

Immediately after the Civil War, freed slaves owned approximately one third of the land on Hilton Head Island. What was mostly farmland and forest used for hunting quickly disappeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s when land owners from the north began buying out the Gullah families to develop resorts and vacation communities on the island. The guide points out entire modern resort communities on land once owned by Gullah families, and a few that still are.

The tour also passes by several sites significant to the area’s Gullah culture, including the original site of Mitchelville, the first freedman village in the country. Shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Mitchelville was established so that freedmen could self-govern, build homes, educate their children and build an economy.

Woven into the historical facts and figures given by the guide are stories and anecdotes of the Gullah families that are still alive today; from growing up on Hilton Head as a Gullah child in the 50s and 60s to tales from aunts, uncles and grandparents that have passed through generations. Of the 1,800 Gullah people still living on Hilton Head Island today, there are less than 15 who are over the age of 85, making these stories even more important to share.

 Check out our article on other cultural tours available in several RTX vacation destinations.

Contact
70 Honey Horn Drive
Hilton Head Island, SC 29926
(843) 681-3069
www.gullaheritage.com
Tour Times
Tours depart from and return to the Coastal Discovery Museum
Tue – Sat, 10 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Sun, 12 noon

 

 

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