The world-renowned Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters performed at the University of Virginia on Friday in celebration of Liberation and Freedom Day, a Charlottesville holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 Union Major General Philip Sheridan and his troops arrived in the city and liberated more than 14,000 enslaved Black people.
More than 50 people came out of the rain and into a ballroom to celebrate the holiday with a Geechee Gullah performance and history lesson.
The Shouters used the traditional Gullah ring dance to tell stories that described the way of life for Geechee Gullah people through storytelling, mainly using the cultural English-Creole dialect that combines English, Native American dialects and West African languages.
The Geechee Gullah people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on rice and cotton plantations in coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, often on isolated coastal islands. In part because of their isolation, they developed unique language, music and culture that has been preserved and passed down over the centuries.
Through ring shouting, the group told the origin story of one of the most widely recognized spiritual songs in the Black American community: “Amazing Grace.” It is just one example of widely known tunes with Gullah Geechee origins.
The group also shared the history behind another widely known song.
“One sound, perhaps every one of you knows, I’m thinking people all over the world know, but most people don’t know that it originated from a Gullah Geechee song many years ago,” one Ring Shouter said. “We’re going to give you the real version of the sound you know as ‘Kumbaya.’ ”
Ring shouting is a traditional Gullah dance in which a group of people moves counterclockwise in a ring while singing in call-and-response singing and percussion through drums and clapping. This tradition can expand to several rings, depending on the size of the group.
The Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVa was inspired by the tradition, as it sits on Central Grounds with one ring inside of the other.
The Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters have performed around the world and have appeared in documentaries including Netflix’s “High on the Hog” and the 2016 “Roots” movie. Next, the group will travel to counties throughout Africa to perform and educate audiences on the Gullah ring shouting tradition.
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