Experience our area’s Gullah culture and heritage this February


The African-American freedom experience is deeply rooted in the history of Hilton Head Island and Beaufort County. Come join us this February as we celebrate our area’s unique place in American history and culture through the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration.

The Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration is held throughout the month of February each year and features events that incorporate the many facets of the Gullah culture. Visitors have an opportunity to experience the food and music, receive firsthand, historical information and take a journey through the culture via the visual arts.

CC Voices of El Shaddai Gullah Celebration

19th Annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Festival
The Gullah are a living culture, keeping the traditions of their ancestors relevant in the 21st century through engaging celebrations like the Hilton Head Island Gullah Festival. The festival encompasses a variety of events designed to attract local residents, regional, national and international travelers. The Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration has been recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast.

These are just a few of the events that are taking place during the 2015 Gullah Festival. Click here for all events.

Sweetheart Ball with Deas Guys
February 6, 2015 at 7 pm
The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort and Spa
With the purchase of your ticket you can enjoy the delicious buffet of Lowcountry foods and soft drinks. You can add beer, wine or spirits of your choice at our cash bar. Includes Native food – buffet dinner $650.00 for table of 10. Learn more

Taste of Gullah
February 7, 2015 at 11am
Arts Center of Coastal Carolina
This one-of-a-kind event features authentic Gullah dishes such Okra Gumbo, Conch Stew, fried shrimp dusted in traditional Gullah seasonings and classic barbecue favorites like char-grilled chicken and ribs. While you eat you can enjoy the entertainment of several local artists including traditional dancers, musicians and storytellers. Learn more

Traditional Gullah Gospel Night
February 13, 2015 at 7pm
First Zion Missionary Baptist Church
The Voices of El Shaddai Celebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds the African ancestors and the Gullah of today. This kickoff to the Gullah Celebration’s annual music series features The Voices of El Shaddai, the acclaimed community choir of the Hilton Head Island. Learn more

Arts, Craft and Food Expo
February 14-15 at 11am
Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn
Two-day all access experience to the Gullah culture! The annual Arts, Crafts and Food Expo offers cultural demonstrations, authentic Gullah and African crafts and food for sale, as well as an offering of traditional storytelling and music entertainment. An event to be shared with family and friends or for you to make new friends! Learn more

Gullah Gospel Concert
February 20, 2015 at 7pm
St. James Baptist Church
Celebrate and honor the spiritual thread that binds the African ancestors and the Gullah of today. This evening is a featured event of Gullah Celebration’s annual music series featuring Time for 2, a duo of youth that combines the harmonious sounds of classic instruments used to perform Gullah Gospel music. Learn more.

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Visit Mitchelville

As enjoyable as all these events are, it would behoove visitors to visit a place where they will truly learn about Gullah history and its integral role not only in the history of Hilton Head Island, but of the United States: Mitchelville, the First Self-Governed Freedmen’s Town in America. Before the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 and at the height of the Civil War, a group of escaped slaves, considered “contraband of war”, set about creating their own town on the grounds of the former Drayton Plantation called ‘Fish Haul’.

Here Union General Ormsby Mitchel, created an actual town and the newly minted citizens went about their business with elections, enacting various laws, collecting taxes, making a living, and enacting a compulsory education edict for children — most likely the first such law in the South.

Within the past few years the Mitchelville Freedom Park, located on Beach City Road, has been fitted with a covered gazebo, an observation platform looking out toward Port Royal Sound, and kiosks telling the Mitchelville story through words and historical images. While this park is a work in progress, it is a wonderful place to reflect as you stand on the same earth and take in the same view as the Mitchelville Gullah did 150 years ago!

Gullah Arts
The Gullah retain a strong and direct link to their African ancestry by preserving their folkway traditions in their language, music, and distinctive arts and crafts like sweetgrass baskets. Woven from indigenous marsh grasses, long leaf pine straw and occasionally even fabric, Gullah artists combine ancestral skills in ancient ways to produce remarkable wares. Check out the Coastal Discovery Museum gift shop located at Honey Horn, for that perfect basket to complete your collection.

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The unique painting style of Amiri Geuka Farris has established him as one of the shining stars of the arts rich South Carolina Lowcountry.  Amiri’s style is one of multi layered bright colors incorporating stamps, West African Adrinka symbols and drips to define his concept of time and space – “Fine art with a Gullah Flare”.  He has participated in juried art shows throughout the country and his works are highly valued by private collectors.  His paintings have been displayed at the United States Capitol and locally Amiri was selected to interpret “Bluffton Heart of the Lowcountry “.   Amiri received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration and Design, and a Masters of Fine Art in Painting from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  He is currently on the faculty of the University of South Carolina Beaufort where he teaches studio art.

Tours & More!
For an interactive overview of Gullah history on the Island, check out Emory Campbell’s Gullah Heritage Tours, which departs from the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. Not only is Mr. Campbell a leading expert on Gullah cultural heritage, he is also past Executive Director of the historic Penn Center, and a SC Commissioner for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Be sure to stop in at the Coastal Discovery Museum too, which houses a fascinating permanent exhibit connecting Gullah history to the Island.

sea island okra gumbo
Hungry for authentic Gullah fare?
Like a good gumbo, Gullah cooking was and is still, layered with ingredients, flavors and cooking techniques borrowed over time from many cultures – West African, European, Caribbean and even native American. Check out these local Gullah Eateries and Catering:
Dye’s Gullah Fix’ins
Gullah Grub Restaurant
Kinfolks Gullah Grubs & Seafood Restaurant
Sallie Ann Robinson
Ruby Lee’s

Looking to cook up your own Gullah grub? There is no shortage of delectable local produce and seafood to choose from at the Hilton Head Island Farmers Market, Farmers Market Bluffton or one of our locally owned and operated seafood markets, where, in most cases the shrimp boats loaded with the day’s catch moor right out the back door!
Benny Hudson Seafood
Bluffton Oyster Company
Hudson’s Seafood House On The Docks

More History and Resources
To learn more about the Gullah history and how it lives on today, visit www.hiltonheadisland.org/gullah.