Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Landing

You may remember several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about our booth at the Darien Fall Festival. The highlight of our day was seeing the Gulluh Geechee Shouters perform and we were thrilled to get lots of good pics and talk to these people after their performance. Luke was gracious, as usual, and offered his business card as well as a desire to be of service to them with any of their photography needs.

And sure enough, Luke received a call a couple of days ago from Griffin Lotson, a Georgia Gullah Geechee and the manager of their group. There was to be an upcoming event that he knew we would NOT want to miss, and he was SO right! So we gathered the camera equipment and set out to Jekyll Island for this important event that we felt so proud to have been privy to.

On entering the gate on the island, there is a $3.00 charge and as our car reached the gate, Luke handed the attendant the money and asked her, "How do we get to the area where the "Wanderer" dedication ceremony is being held?"

The attendant pointed out which turn to take and to continue around the loop. "You can't miss it!", she answered.

Luke thanked her and then asked, "If we are the press, do we still have to pay the $3.00 gate fee?"

"Oh no, of course not!", she exclaimed. "Here is your money back. You don't need to pay."

As we drove through the gate, Luke looked at me with a smirk and I looked back at him with the same smirk. "Well, we MIGHT be the press if the paper wants to use our pictures, right?", I asked.

"That's RIGHT!", he answered.

As we approached the area, we pulled over to the edge of the road to park and walked the remainder of the way to the dedication site. I might remind you that Luke is 6' 7" and I am 5' 1". Which means his stride is MUCH longer than mine. I have to take three steps to his one. Not to mention I was wearing heels and a good bit of the walking was in beach sand. I felt like I was in a race and was not winning. Even though I was dragging the line, we were lucky enough to get there just in time to spot the Darien Geechee Shouters just before the ceremony. We were able to speak, shake hands, and thank them for inviting us to their performance and to this event.

This memorial dedication ceremony was to observe the 150th anniversary of the landing of "The Wanderer", the last American slave ship and to commemorate the installation of a permanent exhibit dedicated to the enslaved African survivors of that voyage. This was the exact site where on November 28, 1858, "The Wanderer" laid anchor.

Even though owning and selling slaves was still legal in many parts of the country in the days soon before the Civil War, importing them had been illegal for many years. Approximately 409 slaved men, women, and children were brought to shore on Jekyll Island on that morning in 1858. Even the children were shackled. After landing on Jekyll Island, "The Wanderer" was the last slave ship to reach Georgia and the US without repercussions.

The Georgia Gullah Geechees (the Darien Shouters) from MacIntosh County, Georgia, are all 100% ancestry. One of the original shouters learned the shout when she was a child in 1939. Their goal is to preserve and protect the Geechee heritage. They are committed to this through their song and dance with the Geechee language and Geechee folklore. Their goal is to keep the shout as authentic as possible from 1800 to present.

Another very important highlight of this ceremony was a dynamic performance by Jamal Toure', a living historian of Gullah-Geechee culture. Toure' is considered an expert on the history and culture of the African people and has done living history presentations for the Prime Minister of Haiti, the Gambia National Museum Official, and DANNY GLOVER. His performance was mesmerizing and captured each and every person there as he performed the animated story of being a slave on this magnificent ship, "The Wanderer", and being brought here to this island to be branded and sold. The African slaves who survived that dreadful voyage were scattered across Georgia and throughout the South.

It was a wonderful experience for Luke and I that we will not soon forget. Although as soon as the sun went down, the temperature began to drop and the chillness in the air was quite brisk (at least for ME, not Luke), it was an excellent opportunity for us to mingle with the Gullah Geechees, and other dignitaries from the Jekyll Island Authority and Glynn County. The many artifacts from this time period, including a shackle worn by a child, was quite telling to see and touch.

Many, many kudos to all the talented speakers and performers who shared their thoughts and voices with us.

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