Gullah/Geechee chieftress visits again

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 18, 2004

Two dozen Ohio University Southern students took the first step on a journey Friday - a journey to wholeness - without ever leaving the classroom.

Neither history books nor lectures scratched the surface of the learning experience students in Dr. Charles Jarrett's psychology class received when

Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation talked to them about her culture and what all people can take away from it.

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The Gullah/Geechee Nation is a distinctive culture of about 750,000 people from the Sea Islands off the coast of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The unique group developed because the islands were separated from the mainland before the first bridge was built in 1956. Gullah and Geechee are derived from the names of African ethnic groups the people are descended from.

In 2000, Quet was named chieftress. She is a writer, lecturer, historian and "art-ivist" who has received countless awards and honors for her civic work. Quet's primary goal focuses on preserving and promoting the Gullah's culture, heritage, history and language across the world.

The Gullah's relationship with OUS began several years ago when professors Jarrett and Dr. David Lucas visited the Gullah's home on Hilton Head and St. Helena islands. Jarrett has continued to visit each summer and plans to return this year to conduct a social impact study.

For the third consecutive year, Quet, whose birth name is Marquetta L. Goodwine, visited Appalachia. Her 9-year-old son Kumar came along for the ride.

Ironton Mayor John Elam welcomed her by proclaiming Friday Queen Quet Day "to recognize and honor outstanding visitors to Ironton."

Quet spoke to the class about wholeness - both as an individual and a community. She outlined the Gullah's views on the connection of spirit and the balance of self and group.

"Everyone is just a dot, but we are all connected," she said as she diagramed a circle of dots on the board. "A circle is whole. Everyone is encompassed in a circle."

Quet explained that a journey to wholeness is spiritual to one's self, but then translates into how an individual fits into the big picture.

"You all have to make your choice," she said to the class. "How are you going to interact with people? How are you going to interact with nature? And how are you going to be honest with yourself?"

Bonnie Millhouse, a human service technology major from Burlington, said she thoroughly enjoyed studying the culture and having the unique opportunity to interact with Quet.

"I admire her for trying to save her heritage. I wish we as Americans would save ours," she said. "This is just one woman, but not only does she do this, but she also has a spiritual presence.

"She knows her inner self. We all need to take that journey to wholeness. It is important to know where you have been, to know where you are going, as she says."

Humor plays a key part of Quet's talks as she captivates audiences with her charisma and unique style.

"So many people get so busy that they forget to laugh. Do you know how healing laughter is?" Quet said. "Laughter takes years off of you. I tell people to laugh as much as you can, as often as you can."

Dr. Jarrett said it is always a pleasure to host the queen.

"I think she is a great ambassador for her people and her culture. She has the kind of personality where people are drawn to her and can't seem to get enough of her," Jarrett said. "She uses entertainment-education to help educate people about her culture."

If students take away one thing from Quet's visit, Jarrett hopes that it will be the importance of respect and love in any culture.

"The idea of respecting one another and loving one another is the foundation of the way the Gullah people live," he said. "They reflect traditional, old-time values like the ones displayed here in the 1900s."

Before heading to Athens to speak at an educational conference, Quet visited the youth at Oak Ridge Treatment Center in Pedro.

"I just want to help them get more connected with their history, culture and balance in their lives," she said.