The language is a mixture of Creole, English, and African, heard and only truly understood by someone born and bred in the “low country.” The word Gullah may be a derivative of the name of the southwestern African country of Angola; many Gullahs trace their lineage to this region.
Another school of thought attributes the word’s origin to the Gola tribe that inhabits the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Various sources put forth both theories. Although there seems to be no complete resolution on the issue, there is basic agreement about the west African root of the word.
Because Hilton Head was, in effect, cut off from much of the modern world from the end of the Civil War through the mid-20th century, the Gullah people maintained a lifestyle unique in almost every aspect: how they farmed and fished, sewed and cooked, sang and praised during worship, and educated their children.
The Island seemed to escape the notice of the outside world until it caught the eye of hunters and developers in the 1950s.
Three years into that decade, the first car ferry was operational; three years after that, a toll bridge connected Hilton Head Island to the mainland, and its days of seclusion were at an end. Not surprisingly, however, development of the Island did not automatically bring prosperity to the native islanders.
Regardless, the Gullah remain a proud people who are determined to cherish and retain their cultural heritage. In efforts to reach out to their extended west African family members, Gullah groups have traveled to Sierra Leone to participate in homecomings in 1989, 1997, and 2005.