Edisto Island: Seaside Stories From A Geechee Gal, written by Sandhi Smalls Santini. Available on Amazon.
Back in the 1960s, six friends and myself had the life-changing experience of having Saturday evening meetings with the great black-scholar-author, Harold Cruse. He provided us with discussions on the type of economic, cultural and political information that we hadn’t received in schools.
One point he stressed was the importance of each generation documenting its time so that future generations, though they will make mistakes, will not regret those made by their predecessors. His generation, he told us, hadn’t done that so we were repeating the mistakes made by our predecessors in the ongoing war against white supremacy.
Sandhi Smalls Santini follows Professor Cruses’s dictive in her new book, Edisto Island: Seaside Stories From A Geechee Gal. With obvious feelings, she provides both historical information on the island, which is located on the coast of South Carolina, and personal precious family memories about growing up there.
Historical information includes the following: “On Nov. 7, 1861, Union troops captured Port Royal, located just outside of Beaufort. Two days later, on a Saturday, Confederate soldiers ordered that Edisto Island be evacuated of its white inhabitants. On Nov. 9, 1861, the former slaves of Edisto Island. On Nov. 9, 1861, the former slaves of Edisto Island became free people. For them it was indeed a glorious day! One can only imagine what it must have been like on that November day in 1861, when steamboats arrived to pick up white plantation owners who were being evacuated by Union troops from Edisto. What chaos must have ensued when, with just hours’ notice, slave owners and their families were forced to abandon their magnificent Antebellum mansions and leave behind their immense wealth, land, power, possessions and precious cotton crops. Plantation owners were ordered to take their slaves with them and destroy all crops, resources and anything of value to prevent them from falling into Union hands….”
Also, “Here is where I think I should define and clarify ‘Geechee’ and ‘Gullah….’ on Edisto Island. ‘Geechee’ has always been used to describe us as a people. Whereas ‘Gullah’ refers to the creole language that is spoken in the coastal islands of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Due to the broad diversity of African ethnic groups brought to the coastal islands, the Gullah vocabulary was created from a mixture of different African languages and English-based Creoles. The word ‘Gullah’ is perhaps a bastardization of Angola, a republic located in Southern African.”
Santini’s precious family memories include the following: “My paternal great-great-grandfather April Small(s) was born circa 1814. My great-great-grandmother, Amberta ‘Cumbo’ Small(s) was born in 1819….April and Amberta resided on Edisto Island and Saint Helena Island, South Carolina. They were both slaves.” She describes the island she grew up in as “a small village, a family of families that thankfully, for the most part, remain that way, even today.”
She remembers that “Despite stern warnings from our father to stay away from the ‘special work’ he and our uncles did in the back of the wooded area behind our house.” One day she and her brother Kelvin followed her father and uncles to the see the site of their “special work.” When they got closer to the site, she notes, “the hotter it became, until we were both completely drenched in sweat. Little did we know that the tremendous amount of heat radiating from the corn liquor still in front of us would be more than we could bear.” Since there were no doctors on Edisto Island, she notes, basic public health care, including the delivery of babies, was provided by “granny midwives, baby watchers, women healers, seers and root workers….”
Historically, I didn’t find much that was new in Ms. Santini’s book since I had two great friends who had schooled me about the coastal islands. It was with their encouragement that through the years, I had attended at least eight Gullah festivals which are held annually on Memorial Day weekends. That’s why she writes about the fantastic Geechee food, I know exactly what she was talking about. The book also includes famous Geechee recipes listed as “Lifted Up Cornbread, Oyster Stew, Hoppin’ John, Country Style Okra Gumbo and Pecan Pie.”
Ms. Santini’s book will be very informative and enjoyable to those who have little, if any, knowledge about the fascinating Geechee history and culture. My main problem with it is a lack of sufficient detailing of brutality inflicted on enslaved Africans by money-driven white supremacist enslavers. Readers, especially younger ones, must be made aware of the resilience of those who refused to let it destroy their humanity.
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