Ron Daise

Biography: "How oona do?" That's Gullah for "How are you?" I'm a fourth-generation Gullah--and proud of it. The youngest of nine children born to Henry "Chansome" and Kathleen Daise, I grew up in the Cedar Grove community of St. Helena Island, SC.

Although I grew up in a Gullah community and appreciated my Sea Island heritage, I had little appreciation or understanding of any greater cultural significance until adulthood. Gullah heritage began in West Africa and our culture thrives among the inhabitants of the coastal communities of South Carolina and Georgia--from Jacksonville, FL to Jacksonville, NC. We speak a creole language, similar to Patois in Jamaica and Krio in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Because my mother, a school teacher, and my father, a carpenter, both were 1933 graduates of the Penn School, one of the first schools in the South for freed slaves, speaking Gullah at home wasn't allowed. In fact, throughout my childhood, absolutely no aspect of Gullah heritage was considered
"How oona do?" That's Gullah for "How are you?" I'm a fourth-generation Gullah--and proud of it. The youngest of nine children born to Henry "Chansome" and Kathleen Daise, I grew up in the Cedar Grove community of St. Helena Island, SC.

Although I grew up in a Gullah community and appreciated my Sea Island heritage, I had little appreciation or understanding of any greater cultural significance until adulthood. Gullah heritage began in West Africa and our culture thrives among the inhabitants of the coastal communities of South Carolina and Georgia--from Jacksonville, FL to Jacksonville, NC. We speak a creole language, similar to Patois in Jamaica and Krio in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Because my mother, a school teacher, and my father, a carpenter, both were 1933 graduates of the Penn School, one of the first schools in the South for freed slaves, speaking Gullah at home wasn't allowed. In fact, throughout my childhood, absolutely no aspect of Gullah heritage was considered positive. To identify oneself as a Gullah or Geechee meant that you were destined not to amount to much in life. But I'm glad that that notion has changed. And I'm glad my wife Natalie and I have been helpful in changing it. The songs, the stories, the speech, the crafts, the superstitions and the dietary practices of the Gullah people have influenced world culture. And the Gullah communities were the gateway for most Africans who were brought to America during the slave trade. We're a group of independent, persevering, spiritually-minded people, and I'm proud of my heritage.
I grew up singing. In church choirs, at school and community events--anywhere. My family and the elders in my church and community instilled in me the belief that I could succeed at whatever I put my mind to. I never gave in to the sentiment that those who are Gullah or Geechee would never amount to much, you see, because foremost I never thought of myself as Gullah. Since I was very young, though, I've always believed that one day I would be famous. That's right. Now I never set out to fulfill this vision. You see, being famous is not an end-all goal of mine. But I did prepare for it to come about by daily striving to use my God-given gifts and talents to the best of my ability. A Gullah expression is "Wha fa ya, fa ya!" If something's going to be, it will. I've learned to put my best foot forward at all times. For me, it's a way of life.
Some think Gullah people live in shacks only, sing only plantation ditties, dress only in antebellum or regal West African apparel, and work only as farmers or craftspersons. Not so! Gullah people are included among all levels of economic strata and social renown. My sojourn to shedding shame about my culture began piecemeal. I never identified myself as Gullah during childhood, and whenever I spoke the language it was to poke fun at someone else. I didn't speak that way. I knew better. To be Gullah or Geechee, after all, was a mark of shame. During my first day of college (at Hampton Institute in Virginia), however, although I was thousands of miles away from home, I heard speaking that sounded familiar at the table behind me while I was sitting in the cafeteria. It was speech that sounded like it was from home. I turned quickly and approached my new classmates who I discovered were from the Virgin Islands. We spoke "cousin" languages. While at Hampton Institute, I also met West Africans who looked like family members or who resembled people from St. Helena Island. Many of them told me that they had left someone who looked like me on the African continent. I was told I had a different mindset from other Americans. We had "cousin" cultures and common physical features. My world-view about Gullah culture began to change.
My growing appreciation of my heritage continued after my graduation in 1978, with a B.A. in Mass Media Arts. I returned home to St. Helena Island and became the first African-American reporter hired by The Beaufort Gazette. I was the first Gazette reporter to write feature stories about elderly St. Helena Island residents. Some of these original articles became the core for my first book, Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage. It's a montage of oral histories and narratives on Gullah customs, traditions and superstitions accompanied by historical black-and-white photographs and a collection of spirituals. The book is now in its Fourth Printing.
As a way of bringing Reminiscences to life, Natalie and I transformed the written materials, songs, and photographs into a multi-media musical theater performance called "Sea Island Montage." We toured the U.S. from 1987 through 1996, performing at schools and universities, museums, libraries, theaters, churches, festivals and conferences. Our two-person performance of a capella songs, storytelling, dramatizations and slides told of the contributions of Gullah heritage to American and world culture. Our historical entertainment helped increase public appreciation of Gullah people and their close links to West African heritage.
The Nick Jr. TV show, Gullah Gullah Island, in which Natalie and I starred, also has helped many to embrace our culture. Because of its international broadcast and widespread acclaim, children and adults worldwide sing, "Let's all go to Gullah Gullah Island!" without shame or embarrassment. We're grateful for our involvement in altering negative perceptions about a culture we hold dear.
Our cultural and child-friendly books and recordings have been well received by adults and children, and we continue individually and collectively to perform, write and present for family audiences. Would you like to know what projects I'm working on now? I continue to use my God-given talents to the best of my ability. That brings me joy! And I'm hopeful that you'll continue to find my songs, stories and performances of interest. Your appreciation makes my joy complete!
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Title: Year: Credit: User score:
tbd Gullah, Gullah Island: Season 1 Oct 24, 1994 Ron Alston tbd
tbd Gullah, Gullah Island: Season 2 Oct 24, 1994 Ron Alston tbd
tbd Gullah, Gullah Island: Season 3 Oct 24, 1994 Ron Alston tbd
tbd Gullah, Gullah Island: Season 4 Oct 24, 1994 Ron Alston tbd
tbd Gullah, Gullah Island: Season 5 Oct 24, 1994 Ron Alston tbd