2008.11.21: November 21, 2008: Headlines: Figures: COS - Sierra Leone: Anthropology: African American Issues: All Africa: Historian Joseph Opala Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sierra Leone: Special Report: Historian and Anthropologist Sierra Leone RPCV Joseph Opala: February 9, 2005: Index: PCOL Exclusive: RPCV Joseph Opala (Sierra Leone) : 2008.11.21: November 21, 2008: Headlines: Figures: COS - Sierra Leone: Anthropology: African American Issues: All Africa: Historian Joseph Opala Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

By Admin1 (admin) (151.196.12.195) on Saturday, December 13, 2008 - 1:09 pm: Edit Post

Historian Joseph Opala Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

Historian Joseph Opala Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

"Rice plantation owners would pay extra for slaves from Sierra Leone and other West African nations in the area known as the 'Rice Coast' because these people knew how to cultivate rice," Opala said. "It was this connection that would later prove crucial in my research, leading to a direct familial connection between the Gullah community in South Carolina and Sierra Leone." Opala said that approximately 35,000 Sierra Leone natives were shipped as slaves from Bunce Island, which lies in the harbor where Freetown, the nation's capital, is located. "Many people have asked me why people from that area would sell fellow Africans into slavery," Opala said. "The answer would cover another lecture that would be at least as long as the one I'm giving here. Suffice to say Africans during that period were divided along tribal lines and did not see themselves in a collective pan-African identity." Anthropologist Joseph Opala served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sierra Leone.

Historian Joseph Opala Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

Sierra Leone: A World Away: Historian Connects African Nation to Gullah Community Through a Slave Girl Named Priscilla

Phil Sarata

20 November 2008

Freetown Still in a celebratory mood over the election of America's first black president, students and guests at South Carolina State University's I.P. Stanback Museum and Planetarium on Thursday evening were made privy to the compelling story of one alumna who completed a metaphorical connection to her African origins -- all through a family member brought to the Palmetto State as a slave 250 years ago.

A 17-year resident of the West African nation of Sierra Leone, anthropologist and James Madison University lecturer Joseph Opala presented "Priscilla's Homecoming: A Gullah Woman Finds Her Roots in Sierra Leone" that recounted the result of his field research linking S.C. State graduate Thomalind Martin Polite, a primary school speech therapist in Charleston, as the direct descendent of a 10-year-old girl named Priscilla. The young girl was brought to Charleston on a slave ship in 1756 and sold to a South Carolina rice plantation family.

Opala laid the foundation for his story by talking about a series of events that led him to Bunce Island in 1979, home to a British slave-trading fortress from 1670 to 1807. It was from there that many Sierra Leoneans were sold into slavery by native slave traders.

"It was here that I learned about the South Carolina connection to Bunce Island," Opala said. "On the island is the grave of Thomas Knight, who was the commander of the fortress for over 20 years. The records available from that time show that Knight shipped slaves to Bunce Island's South Carolina agent Henry Laurens, a well-known figure in history and one of the colony's delegates to the Continental Congress.

"Rice plantation owners would pay extra for slaves from Sierra Leone and other West African nations in the area known as the 'Rice Coast' because these people knew how to cultivate rice," Opala said. "It was this connection that would later prove crucial in my research, leading to a direct familial connection between the Gullah community in South Carolina and Sierra Leone."

Opala said that approximately 35,000 Sierra Leone natives were shipped as slaves from Bunce Island, which lies in the harbor where Freetown, the nation's capital, is located.

"Many people have asked me why people from that area would sell fellow Africans into slavery," Opala said. "The answer would cover another lecture that would be at least as long as the one I'm giving here. Suffice to say Africans during that period were divided along tribal lines and did not see themselves in a collective pan-African identity."

In 1988, Sierra Leone President Gen. Joseph Saidu Momo made a visit with Opala to South Carolina after being made aware of the Gullah culture in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. It was during that occasion that Momo was introduced to a gathering in Beaufort by a local Gullah man in the Gullah dialect.

"President Momo was so excited in hearing the similarity of Gullah to his native language that he nearly knocked the man off the podium," Opala laughed. "But what Momo told the audience had several native South Carolina Gullahs in tears because he spoke to them of the language's proud history. These were people who had been told all their lives that Gullah was an inferior language and how it was nothing more than 'pidgin English.'"

That event led to a number of people in the Gullah communities of South Carolina and Georgia traveling back to Sierra Leone in 1989, which included current state Sen. John Matthews. The homecoming was the basis for an SC-ETV special titled "Families Across the Sea."

After learning of the Gullah connection, Opala said many Sierra Leoneans began to press him to discover a direct family connection between the American Gullah community and ancestors in Sierra Leone. Opala's first connection between the American Gullah communities and Sierra Leone was made through the efforts of another academia who had recorded a Gullah woman singing an African song in 1933.

"It was after a lengthy journey of playing the recording of her singing the song in an African language to many people in the Gullah communities that eventually led us to a woman from Georgia who knew the song," Opala said. "She agreed to come back to Sierra Leone and meet with the president in 1997, which made national news."

However, the breakthrough came thanks to a combination of Opala's research with the New York Historical Society and the work of South Carolina author Edward Ball, who wrote "Slaves In The Family," which contained plantation records of the slaves purchased by Ball's rice plantation family.

"Edward's family had kept voluminous records on its slave purchases," Opala said. "It was here that he discovered one of his ancestors had purchased a 10-year-old girl they named Priscilla. From there, we were able to track the records about Priscilla that led to the identification of her great-great-great-great grandson, Thomas Martin, who was then a principal at a Charleston school.

"The Ball family records were corroborated by the records of the American slave ship Hare out of Rhode Island," he said. "It was the first time I was aware that anyone had been able to match up the plantation records to those of the slave ship and the slave trader."

By the time the last records were finally uncovered, Martin had died. Opala tracked down Martin's daughter, Thomalind Martin Polite, who agreed to travel to Sierra Leone. The 2005 "Priscilla's Homecoming" was a national event in the West African nation and made national news in the U.S. Polite was received by that country's president as a long-lost relative because, as Opala explained, Sierra Leoneans believe that Polite brought back the spirit of the young girl taken away 250 years ago.

"She was a wonderful ambassador for the Gullah community in South Carolina, South Carolina State University and the United States," Opala said. "While she was there, Polite was given an African name and honored with a song especially written and performed for the occasion by the premier singing group in Freetown. She was so moved by the song, whose lyrics included the words 'Go tell the people/Open the gates/Priscilla's come home.'"

Opala's presentation was part of "The Journey Continues" lecture, workshop and performance series associated with the I.P. Stanback Museum's "Journey from Africa to Gullah" exhibition, on display through Jan. 12, 2009. In addition to Matthews, other dignitaries in attendance Thursday were Sierra Leone ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Bockarie Kortu Stevens, Orangeburg state Rep. Jerry Govan and the wife of S.C. State President Dr. George E. Cooper. Also scheduled to appear was Professor Amadu Massally, chairman of the Sierra Leone-Gullah Heritage Association.




Links to Related Topics (Tags):

Headlines: November, 2008; RPCV Joseph Opala (Sierra Leone); Figures; Peace Corps Sierra Leone; Directory of Sierra Leone RPCVs; Messages and Announcements for Sierra Leone RPCVs; Anthropology; African American Issues





When this story was posted in December 2008, this was on the front page of PCOL:




Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers RSS Feed

 Site Index Search PCOL with Google Contact PCOL Recent Posts Bulletin Board Open Discussion RPCV Directory Register


Director Ron Tschetter:  The PCOL Interview Date: December 9 2008 No: 1296 Director Ron Tschetter: The PCOL Interview
Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter sat down for an in-depth interview to discuss the evacuation from Bolivia, political appointees at Peace Corps headquarters, the five year rule, the Peace Corps Foundation, the internet and the Peace Corps, how the transition is going, and what the prospects are for doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011. Read the interview and you are sure to learn something new about the Peace Corps. PCOL previously did an interview with Director Gaddi Vasquez.

PCOL's Candidate for Peace Corps Director Date: December 2 2008 No: 1288 PCOL's Candidate for Peace Corps Director
Honduras RPCV Jon Carson, 33, presided over thousands of workers as national field director for the Obama campaign and said the biggest challenge -- and surprise -- was the volume of volunteer help, including more than 15,000 "super volunteers," who were a big part of what made Obama's campaign so successful. PCOL endorses Jon Carson as the man who can revitalize the Peace Corps, bring it into the internet age, and meet Obama's goal of doubling the size of the Peace Corps by 2011.

November 5, 2008: This Month's Top Stories  Date: November 5 2008 No: 1282 November 5, 2008: This Month's Top Stories
World Welcomes Obama Win 5 Nov
Shays Loses Congressional Seat in Connecticut 5 Nov
Steve Driehaus wins Congressional Seat in Ohio 5 Nov
Bill Josephson to speak at UMBC on Nov 13 30 Oct
Peace Corps to Resume Work in Liberia 23 Oct
Tschetter proposes PC Foundation to Further Third Goal 23 Oct
George Packer writes: Roof is falling in on Conservatism 23 Oct
O'Hanlon writes: How to finish the job in Iraq 22 Oct
Mike Paquette writes: Bolivia situation is very troubling 20 Oct
McPherson says bureaucracy delays development initiatives 20 Oct
Philip Razem writes: Reveling in the spirit of politics 19 Oct
Amy Zulman writes: Improving America's Reputation 15 Oct
RPCVs film "Once in Afghanistan" 14 Oct
Some PCVS angry at Peace Corps Bolivia pullout 11 Oct
Hill proposes compromise in Korea talks 11 Oct
Mark Schneider proposes mandatory public service 10 Oct
Ambassador Stephens Visits School after 33 Years Ago 9 Oct
RPCVs promote organic farming with "magic bus" 7 Oct
Obama talks about Doubling the Peace Corps 7 Oct
Conference on Moritz Thomsen held in Quito 5 Oct

New: More Stories from September 2008 and October

Some PCVs return to Bolivia on their own Date: October 23 2008 No: 1279 Some PCVs return to Bolivia on their own
Peace Corps has withdrawn all volunteers from Bolivia because of "growing instability" and the expulsion of US Ambassador Philip Goldberg after Bolivian President Evo Morales accused the American government of inciting violence in the country. This is not the first controversy surrounding Goldberg's tenure as US ambassador to Bolivia. Latest: Some volunteers have returned to Bolivia on their own to complete their projects.

PCVs Evacuated from Georgia Date: August 19 2008 No: 1254 PCVs Evacuated from Georgia
The Peace Corps has announced that all Volunteers and trainees serving in the Republic of Georgia are safe and they have been temporarily relocated to neighboring Armenia. Read the analysis by one RPCV on how Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili believed that he could launch a lightning assault on South Ossetia and reclaim the republic without substantial grief from Moscow and that Saakashvili's statements once the war began demonstrated that he expected real Western help in confronting Russia.



Read the stories and leave your comments.








Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: All Africa

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Figures; COS - Sierra Leone; Anthropology; African American Issues

PCOL42527
61


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: