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Culture Briefs
Number 2 · Fall 2013

Gullah Folklore

JUANITA CRIDER

Did you know…?

If you travel throughout the Gullah region (i.e. the “Low Country”) you will notice that many porch ceilings and window sills are painted a light blue. There is some folklore associated with this tradition. The color is also known as “Haint Blue.” What is a haint, you ask? Well, haints are what we would refer to as ghosts. According to Gullah folklore, the painting of the porch ceiling blue is to keep away the haints.

One explanation is that “haint blue” is a heavenly color and that the haint won’t have anything to do with heaven. However, another common explanation stems from the Gullah belief that haints are spirits that are caught between mortal and immortal worlds and cannot cross water. Therefore the “haint blue” which in its many variations, always resembles the color of water, will confuse the spirits. Blue also figures prominently in another Gullah folklore tradition; that of blue bottle trees. These trees are seen in many variations throughout the Lowcountry. Like many Gullah practices some scholars believe the origin of the blue bottle tree can be traced to African spiritual practices, more specifically to that of the Congo. The tree’s purpose is to keep the evil spirits; i.e. “haints” from entering the home. The spirits are attracted as the light passes through the bottles. When the “haints follow the light they become trapped in the bottles.

Some scientists also point to a practical benefit of the blue bottle trees. The limestone which was once used to make the bottles blue was also an insect repellant which kept many bugs indigenous to the area out of homes. However, lime is no longer used in the process of making bottles blue. Blue bottles are no longer as easy to find as they once were. Sadly as the area became inundated with resort like tourist attractions some neighborhoods made covenants which nolonger allow the trees to be constructed.


References

Chiorazzi, A. (2010, Sep. 13). In the land of God and Gullah: God and gospel meet African tradition in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Busted Halo. Retrieved from http://bustedhalo.com/features/in-the-land-of-god-and-gullah

Kurtz, C. (2013, Mar. 12). Fun fact: Haint blue and the Gullah people. [Web log]. Retrieved from http://www.networx.com/blog/fun-fact-haint-blue-and-the-gullah-peop