Representatives of the Gullah/Geechee Nation visit Ohio University Southern

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2003

Resounding applause quickly turned to laughter and song as Queen Quet and the De Gullah Cunneckshun musical group entertained and educated students at Ohio University Southern Thursday.

In 2000, Quet, also known as Marquetta L. Goodwine, was named chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, a distinctive culture of about 750,000 people from the Sea Islands off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. She travels the world to preserve and promote their culture, heritage, history and language.

Quet and five members of De Gullah Cunneckshun presented the "Journey to Wholeness - Gullahs and Geechees of the Sea Islands" performance to about 100 students from the university's sociology, psychology, art and English classes.

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Because their language is an oral language, much of what they do is based on communication. The presentation combined dancing, singing,

speaking in their own language and Quet's humorous banter to drive their message home.

"No matter what the problem is, you must get to the root to allow the tree to prosper," she said during a press conference earlier Thursday about what the group hopes to accomplish with the presentation.

"In order to get to the root you do not stand there and look at the soil, you must dig down deeper.

"For us (the presentation) is about bringing the tools to help people dig a little. We want to help them take a step towards the journey to wholeness within themselves. As they say, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

Quet answered questions from the students about marriage customs, family practices, religion and the battle her people face against developers who want to turn the islands into tourist attractions like Hilton Head, S.C. and often mislead the Gullahs into giving up their land.

"You do not buy and sell your heritage, your history and legacy," she said. "That is akin to putting your whole family on the auctioning block.

"If someone comes to you and says to you that the land of milk and honey is out there, and they are not ahead of you, then something is wrong."

Many OUS students said they enjoyed the unique presentation that combined all of these elements seamlessly.

"It was really interesting," said Erica Melvin, a sophomore communications major. "I liked how she involved us. It was not just sitting there."

Melvin said she enjoyed the emphasis on the culture's different view of communication and Quet's jokes that America needs to try turning the cell phones off.

"They do not need that to stay in touch," Melvin said. "I guess we do not need that either, but we think we do."

A similar program that will incorporate more music will be presented free to public tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Bowman Auditorium.

"It is a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to a culture different from ours in Appalachia," Jarrett said. "It is absolutely free and I would encourage anyone interested to attend."

The terms Gullah and Geechee are derived from the names of African ethnic groups they are descended from before being brought to America as slaves. Their unique culture developed out of its separation from mainland America before the first bridge to the islands was built in 1956.

The Gullah's relationship with OUS began two years ago when

professors Dr. Charles W. Jarrett and Dr. David Lucas visited the Gullah's home on Hilton Head and St. Helena Island. Queen Quet and the De Gullah Cunneckshun visited OUS last April.

"They are with us for the second year in a row. They are back because the students wanted them to return," Jarrett said. "Everything we do here is for the students. This university is committed to programs of cultural diversity for the students and the community."

More than 350 local high school students will attend a showing at 1 p.m. today.

The Gullahs and Jarrett will visit the Athens campus Saturday.

Fifty-five OUS students took a psychology took a college course that allowed them to receive one credit hour for attending the Gullah's presentations and two other class meetings.

Despite many misconceptions, the Gullahs are not a primitive culture. They live like everyone else but their values, the way they relate to each other and social norms are more traditional, Jarrett said.

Not as different as many would think, Quet said she has found similarities in Appalachia because of the many close-knit families.

"It is very interesting for us to have to compare how people are different from us, but we still have a central thing where we can connect," she said. "It is not about the differences, but finding the things you have in common."