PRINT February 1993


IN A TEXT PANEL in her recent photographic series “Sea Islands,” 1992, Carrie Mae Weems traces the African derivation of the Gullah dialect spoken on the Sea Islands off Georgia and South Carolina. “Gola Angola Gulla Gullah Geechee”: Weems’ citation performs a historical ellipsis, rhythmically connecting the region’s indigenous speech to the West African lands from which the inhabitants’ ancestors traveled, as slaves, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The artist’s allusion is also rife with ethnographic associations, however, inasmuch as Gullah is a key text in studies of the African contribution to American speech. To earlier, European scholars, Gullah appeared as a weak and simplified form of English, acquired by slaves through imitation of their captors, its reductions and elisions furnishing unequivocal proof of the English origins of “Negro” speech. But the concurrent erasure and

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