Editorial | Disappointment and Hope for Gullah

February 13, 2013 

Speaking of local history, we were dismayed to learn that the Gullah O’oman shop and museum run by Vermelle “Bunny” Rodrigues’ and her husband Andrew had closed recently, after nearly 15 years of educating locals and visitors alike about the rich Gullah Geechee culture and heritage our area is steeped in.

The Rodrigueses have said they hope to reopen in a different location after losing their lease in Pawleys Island, and we certainly hope they do so. The couple’s stories, artifacts and passion for the Gullah Geechee culture have been a vital part of the effort to keep the area’s past alive, and it would be more than unfortunate to lose those links, especially just as the long-planned Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor ramps up its efforts to highlight the unique African-American sea island culture.

“It’s about time we taught our culture,” Bunny Rodrigues told The Sun News reporter Johanna Wilson in 2000. “We must tell the story.’”

“We have been made to be ashamed of the language,” Rodrigues said at a National Park Service meeting about heritage preservation the same year in Little River. “I’m a saltwater Geechee gal, and I have never been ashamed. We have to let this country know it was built on the back of the Gullah people.”

Rodrigues, a former schoolteacher, and her husband will no doubt continue to spread their tales, crafts and history through festivals and presentations, but another museum, a place where interested folks can learn and immerse themselves in the culture, would be even better. We certainly wish them the best and encourage them not to give up now. Whatever happens, the area should be proud of the work the couple has already done and optimistic that it will not have been in vain. Gullah memories aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Bunny Rodrigues said as much in a 2001 interview with The Sun News reporter Laura Lewis: “Since the language and culture have been here for 400 years, we still have a chance to keep it.”

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