Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Benita J. Howell

Committee Members

Mariana Ferreira, Faye V. Harrison


This thesis represents an ethnographic study of the current situation of the South Carolina Gullah. Research was conducted during the summer of 1998 and 1999, in the Sea Island communities of Mt. Pleasant and St. Helena Island, to determine the ways in which local grassroots organizations are combating increased tourism, resort and retirement development, and the commoditization of their cultural heritage as a boost to state revenue. The sweetgrass basket weavers of Mt. Pleasant are situated within this struggle as the living legacy to their Gullah ancestry. Their insight is particularly enlightening concerning the current predicament of native Sea Islanders with respect to land ownership, the devastation of development, and the ways in which the traditional craft they have preserved is now being co-opted by others for economic benefit. Along with Mt. Pleasant, St. Helena Island is waging a war against the further destruction of Sea Island communities. The local inhabitants, under umbrella groups such as the Gullah/ Geechee Sea Island Coalition, are becoming influential on a local, national, and international level. Their involvement has prompted public policy which will ensure that their community be recognized as an area of cultural significance and, therefore, in need of preservation.

Within the preservation effort these communities are experiencing internal conflict over whose ideas will serve to direct the future. This type of contestation also exists concerning the images which will serve to define Gullah culture. What does it mean to be Gullah in the twenty-first century? How will Gullah culture be impacted by increased tourism and resort development? How can the shared experiences of remaining Sea Island communities bring about cultural survival and accurate cultural representation? These are the paramount issues being addressed in this contemporary study of Gullah culture.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."

Included in

Anthropology Commons