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Gullah Geechee Indigenous Articulation in the Americas


Gullah Geechee are descendants of enslaved West Africans who have articulated cultural traditions of their ancestors with the land- and seascapes of the Sea Islands. The ecological similarities of Sierra Leone’s coastal region facilitated the importation of African traditions into what became South Carolina, thus resulting in land-based cultural practices that can be defined in an unexpected way as indigenous (Reardon and TallBear 2012). The Gullah Geechee disrupts the dichotomy of traditional or historical indigeneity and diasporic identity (Clifford 2001, Yeh 2007). They are diasporic and also situated in a particular place. De jure sovereignty is not the reality but rather de facto assertions of belonging to the land. Rather than a biological hybridization inheritance analysis, my research uses a geographical and social type of co-constitution to illustrate Gullah Geechee indigenous articulation in the Americas (Ng'weno 2007, Sturm 2002). Rising from the legacies of the American South, the Gullah Geechee secured land abandoned after the civil war legally and through community sanctions. My analysis illustrates Gullah Geechee indigeneity and sovereignty constituted in relation to cultural practices linked to the land. Transitioning from a Western anthropocentric worldview to an African ethical framework of human and nonhuman reciprocity and cooperation, my research reveals the power dynamics of structures of authority producing identity and indigeneity within small-scale fisheries managed as common pool resources (CPR) in the Sea Islands. Although conventional resource management strategies typically ignore gendered perspectives in favor of male-biased frameworks that actually obscure women’s work, my study reveals Gullah Geechee indigenous livelihood strategies and self-determination pursuits inclusive of women’s critical engagement (Ray 2007). I also show how the performative is part of the identity politics of the Gullah Geechee as they articulate themselves as indigenous, but in a surprising way, in the Americas (Ebron 2002).

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