Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Rice and Gullah: Linguistic Resistance and Economic Growth on Antebellum South Carolina Rice Plantations

Rice and Gullah: Linguistic Resistance and Economic Growth on Antebellum South Carolina Rice Plantations

Krystal Athena Hubbard

This paper examines how the Gullah language can be viewed as a form of linguistic resistance through the diffusion of rice cultivating knowledge and techniques and the inundation of West African slaves from the Windward Coast. Gullah is a creole language hybrid of English and various West African languages spoken by field slaves of South Carolina rice plantations. Gullah was a means of breaking down language barriers and creating a common language medium that retained Africanisms of the various languages spoken along the Windward Coast. This was a way to retain cultural identity while maneuvering through enslavement. Rice, as a cash crop, was introduced in the late 17th century but did not become successful until West African slaves cultivated rice in South Carolina using the Inland and Tidal swamp techniques used in Africa. The rice cultivators from West Africa were successful in cultivating rice because the micro-environments of West Africa and South Carolina were very similar. At the height of rice cultivation, in the early 19th century, rice from South Carolina was shipped to other parts of America and Europe for consumption. Comparing the other rice plantations in North Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida, South Carolina supplied two-thirds of the rice shipped nationally and abroad. When slavery was abolished in 1865, the rice economy drastically declined as slaves left the rice plantations, unlike cotton and tobacco which declined at a much slower rate. The decline of rice cultivation in conjunction with the abolishment of slavery can be juxtaposed with the rapid growth of rice cultivation and the growth of slave labor on South Carolina rice plantations. Gullah survives today on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia. While there is very little academic discourse on Gullah as a form of linguistic resistance, there is a need to investigate Gullah further from this perspective to better understand the input slaves had on the American economy.

April 16, 2011 - Posted by | abstract


  1. well written and well thought out..Bravo! you and very proud

    Comment by markallen | April 17, 2011 | Reply

  2. Krystal, in chatting about this with you, I got the impression that the Gullah speakers who left the rice plantations with the decline of the rice economy, took both their language and their foodways to the Sea Islands.
    I wonder if the combination of these two very powerful traditions are elements in a whole constellation of cultural factors that helped maintain ethnic identity. Might there be others? This has the makings of a long-term study!

    Comment by Dan Harrison | April 20, 2011 | Reply

  3. I am intrigued by your abstract and would love to read the entire paper. I conducted the field research which led to the creation of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. That extends along the coastline from NC to FL. Using the field work plus several years of additional research, I have written a book entitled The Gullah and Geechee People: An Historical Overview from Africa to the 21st Century. I am working on the final edits now, as the manuscript must be turned in to the Publisher in August. If possible, I would like to read your full paper with the possibility of citing it in my work. Please contact me by email at

    Comment by Cynthia Porcher | June 27, 2011 | Reply

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