Have you ever wondered why rice is used so often in Gullah dishes? The answer lies deep in the roots of Gullah history. For thousands of years before the ancestors of the Gullah stepped foot onto American soil, they were cultivating rice on the Rice Coast. The Rice Coast was an area of West Africa saturated by the rice industry. The farmers that worked these fields day after day became true masters of their trade.
Word of West African expertise in the rice industry spread to America in the 18th century. In the low lands of South Carolina and Georgia, rice fields were planted, and to the surprise of the planters, they flourished. It was not long before slaves from the West African Rice Coast were shackled and brought to a new land.
Not only were the slaves experienced and proficient in rice cultivation, but they also seemed to have a resilience towards diseases like Yellow Fever and Malaria, which were prominent in the moist low lands. The fear of catching an illness forced many Caucasians out of the area, leaving the West Africans as the majority.
The amount of African slaves working in the region, mixed with a lack of White interaction, allowed people to preserve and fabricate a very strong culture. When the mid 18th century rolled around, rice grew like wild fire across the southern regions of America, and at the center of one of the most profitable industries in early American history stood the Gullah ancestors.
Next time you sit down and dig into a delicious plate of red rice or a bowl of okra soup, you will know why rice is such a large part of Gullah history. Hopefully you will take a second to think of the people that made it possible for you to enjoy a staple that has been around for thousands of years.