Gullah Celebration, Hilton Head Island, SC

imageAlthough its origins are rooted in slave history of the South, the Gullah Celebration(1) in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina has become a tribute to West African language, crafts, culture and art. Described as “One of the cultural wonders of the world you must see” by USA Today, the Gullah Celebration is hosted by the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association, Inc (NIBAA).

“Gullah cultural traditions are a way of life for most native islanders on Hilton Head”, said Charles Young, Executive Director of the Gullah Celebration. Young continued, “The annual celebration is a showcase for locals and visitors to experience the uniqueness of Gullah crafts, music and food.”

This year’s Gullah Celebration kicks off February 1 with an opening reception and preview of leading Gullah artists from the Lowcountry at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina. Other highlights include the Marsh Tacky Pony Exhibition (February 24) and the traditional Oyster Roast and Lowcountry Boil (March 2).

In addition to attending the annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration, be sure to check out the other Gullah heritage sites nearby, including: Mitchelville – the first freed Negro township, Gullah Heritage Trail, Ibile Indigo House – a working studio where visitors learn the tradition of West African indigo-dye processes and products, Zion Chapel of Ease – Hilton Head’s oldest cemetery and Queen Chapel AME Church – established in 1860 as a “praise house” for Pope Plantation slaves.

For more information, visit the festival’s official website at


(1)  The original “Gullah” were African slaves who were shipped across the Atlantic in the 19th century from West Africa to work the cotton plantations on isolated sea islands and marsh areas between Wilmington, N.C., and Jacksonville, Florida. Out of this slavery was born a unique culture that is now known as Gullah. Although commonly associated with the language of these West African immigrants, the essence of Gullah encompasses the struggle, spirituality, perseverance and tradition of the people. The modern day Gullah subscribe to high religion and the celebration of spiritual redemption in leading their daily lives. The culture is a thriving mix of language, folktales and superstition that has shaped generations of families who live on Hilton Head Island and in the Low Country today.