Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ancient Art Of Sawgrass

This drawing is titled "The Basket Lady Sketch" by Randy Leibowitz Dean. It hangs in our kitchen. The woman in the sketch represents the Gullah people, who, descended from African slaves, and live on the outer islands of Georgia and South Carolina. They practice the art of sawgrass weaving, producing highly coveted baskets of all shapes and sizes. The art form is ancient, first being done to make baskets for the sifting of grain, and then for the storage of that same grain. With time came competition, with villages competing with one another to produce the finest baskets. Then slavery came and almost obliterated this art form, which fortunately was handed down for generations.

And the passing of the torch continues, with the yougsters of the area obtaining their licenses to sell in public, like this young man who was posted at the entrance to the Aquarium in Charleston the other day, busy weaving sawgrass into roses. There are also market places where specific strawgrass artists sell their own unique baskets and other forms of strawgrass art. It's amazing to watch them weave with such expertise, changing them from simple blades of grass into useful, and also beautiful, objects.

These roses will never wilt, or fade away. And having seen them made makes them all the more special. Historically, the Gullah are the remains of an African tribe which settled near Savannah, Georgia. They located themselves by the Ogeechee River, which gave birth to the name "Geechee", which is usually a derogatory term employed by others when referring to the Gullahs. Of all the African tribes affected by slavery, the Gullah have been the foremost in retaining their cultural roots. Even their language is based on their African heritage, with many words adopted during the "Middle Passage", lending an influence of Jamaican and Creole, along with Bahamian dialects thrown in, giving the language a musical, lilting sound. Along with the arts and crafts that have been passed down, Gullah stories, food and folk beliefs still make up this unusual community, which spans the coast from Georgia to North Carolina.

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