Feb. 20, 2003 – With a quick hop, Marquetta L. Goodwine, who carries the title Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, was up on the platform and dancing with a group of Lockhart Elementary School fourth graders to the compelling lyrics of "Shake It Up."
Goodwine is the official liaison and spokesperson of the Gullah/Geechee Nation of the South Carolina islands of St. Helena, Polowana and Dataw. And she is the featured guest at the V.I. National Park's 12th annual Folklife Festival this week at Annaberg Plantation.
"I feel connected here. It's like a family reunion," she said.
There are many similarities between the Gullah/Geechee culture and that of the Virgin Islands, Goodwine said. While the hundreds of school children who attended the celebration had a bit of trouble understanding her when she spoke in her native language, she said it has similarities with the Creole language of the Virgin Islands.
And she sees a connection between her islands' plantation history and that of the territory. Her ancestors and those of Virgin Islanders, she said, "had the same kind of hardships, bondage and isolation on an island."
Goodwine said there is even a parallel in the historical account of slaves in the 1733 St. John rebellion jumping off the cliffs at nearby Mary's Point to their death on the rocks in the water below, rather than face recapture, torture and death at the hands of their captors.
She said that her islands saw a similar experience. In that case, the rebels walked into the water to escape slavery. "The islands are flat," she pointed out.
Yolandra Morton, busy selling calabash bowls, bird feeders and jewelry, also felt connected to those who jumped from the Mary's Point cliffs. "That's where my people died. I'm here to let their spirits know they can rest," she said.
Khalil Osiris, who accompanied Goodwine, said he felt a spiritual connection to Annaberg. "It's a pilgrimage for me, more than a trip," he said, describing how moved he felt when he visited Annaberg's dungeon.
Lockhart teacher Tisha Faulkner said it is important for students to experience black history at Annaberg. "Most of these children never heard of slavery," she said.
While the more than 50 students from Lockhart along with hundreds more from other schools learned about slavery at the folklife fest, they also explored plantation life.
"I learned they used a windmill to crush the cane to make the juice," Travis Clarke, 10, said.
The dungeon impressed Kayana Walters, 9. "It's where the slaves went when they did something bad," she said.
While history reigns at Annaberg, the students also got a smattering of nature in their lessons. "I learned don't touch certain trees unless you have supervision," said Dhuha Abiff, 9.
The festival brought out some of St. John's more senior residents, too.
Andromeada Childs, strolling with her friend Vashti Boynes, said it was good to get back to her roots. "It touches something deep inside of you … hearing an old time story or seeing a game," Childs said.
St. John residents Kent and Paula Savel were on hand as volunteer docents, giving park rangers a hand in helping visitors learn about the history of Annaberg and the island. "Just looking at a sign doesn't give you a sense of history," Paula Savel said.
It was very much a learning experience for St. Louis residents Knoll and Gail Walter, who just happened on the Folklife Festival as they were touring St. John on Thursday. "It taught us of life we're not familiar with," Knoll Walter said.
The festival continues through Saturday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. For more background, see "Park folklife fest to focus on Gullah culture".
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