Jump to other news and events
Purdue signature
Culture Briefs
Number 5 · Fall 2013

Music and Creative Expression

Twana Harris


The music of the Gullah tradition is rich with instrumentation and story.  On the plantation, “work songs” were the safest way for enslaved Africans to communicate with one another.  Through song, they communicated plans for escape, opportunities for meeting, as well as remembered and honored their connection to Africa.

The drum was a principal instrument to the Gullah peoples, and in keeping with African tradition, drums, rattles, stringed instruments were fashioned from gourds, hollowed wood and animal skin.  The drum was the heartbeat of the people and the community.  Rhythm was important to every aspect of life and work. 

At the Praise House, rhythm was kept by drums, sticks, stomps and claps.  It was understood that if you didn’t have any rhythm that something in your connection to God and your community was out of sync.  Work Songs and Spirituals gave birth to the Blues. 

Creative Expressions

Music is not the only form of creative expression in the Gullah tradition.  Dance, basket making, quilt making, food, storytelling, woodcarving, and ink/dye printing are ways that the richness of tradition within the community is cultivated and preserved. 

Hand crafted creations are greatly respected, as the Gullah people believe that God works through the hands of the crafter.  Baskets were crafted for practical purposes i.e. the containing of goods to be sold, but they were also a visible link to African culture.  During the crafting process, stories and songs were shared that highlighted various aspects of history, tradition, fable and folklore.  Each expression highlights African retentions, but also the synchronization of the African with American adaptations.


Opala, J. A. (1987). The Gullah: Rice, slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American connection. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State. Retrieved from www.yale.edu/glc/gullah

Shumaker, A. (2001). Gullah music. Retrieved from http://www.knowitall.org/gullahmusic