Christmas Season Historical
BAJAN – GULLAH/GEECHEE COLONIAL SEASONING
The hurry-scurry of the holiday season is here. Some wish for a white Christmas. Others long for a tropical Christmas to escape winter’s cold and wintry blast. Everywhere, the sounds and scents of Christmas stimulate the imagination and the senses. Business is booming – the dizzying pace that accents the season is at its peak.
People journey by air, by sea, or by land to reconnect with families and friends. For many, Christmas is more than a religious celebration to commemorate Jesus’ birth – it is also food, fellowship, fun, and gifts. Gift giving is an integral part of the holiday season. It includes sharing family stories, passing on customs and traditions, creating memories and legacies, and imprinting cultural family markers on to the next generation.
Christmas is also a time of birth, revelation, and reflection. The season’s seduction surrounds me, and I drift into my virtual world where there are no restrictions or limitations. I’m free to explore ideas and seek answers blurred by the din and business of the season. Known terms and familiar words taunt me with layered meanings, which challenge historical explanations and implications. Let’s see where enhanced perception leads.
Families scattered now gather as delicious aromas fill the air. The scents and sounds of Christmas waft as if bringing glad tidings and goodwill to people everywhere. In my ubiquitous realm, my imagination prances like Santa’s reindeer, then lingers. Why the pause? In my virtual cognitive state, correlations are made between past and present. Mirages of Bajan and Gullah/Geechee ancestors appear before me. Slave traders forcibly remove them from their homeland. They appear struggling – resisting – retreating. They are captured once overtaken and overpowered. These now broken families are chained – separated from each other and loaded like dispensable cargo onto ships on the West African Coast. The unanticipated transition across the Atlantic begins. They will not see land again until they arrive in Barbados, where “seasoning” begins.
“Seasoning” occurred for both Europeans and Africans in the New World during the colonial period. It became a more sinister process for the enslaved. “Seasoning” became linked to slavery and denoted the ongoing demeaning and redefining characteristics ascribed to the enslaved Africans during that period of history. The enslaved were conditioned to view themselves as inferior – beasts of burden – laborers rather than proud, noble, intelligent beings that some of them knew themselves to be. That was seasoning!
The blue aquamarine waters and white sandy beaches of Barbados held little appeal for arriving enslaved Africans. Today, some experts in the field of human history espouse that the family dysfunction initiated during this period impaired many families of African descent throughout the Diaspora. The practice of dismantling family units is one of the lasting legacies of the colonial era in the Americas.
Concern for the well-being of the enslaved families was not a guiding moral imperative for plantation owners and slave traders. In Barbados, enslaved Africans were bought and traded as commodities. Large plantation owners retained some on the island. Merchants and traders who had interests in the North American coastal colonies, such as Charleston, South Carolina, unloaded and sold their cargo. Barbados and Charleston became two major ports of entry through which enslaved people entered the Caribbean and North America. Barbados and Charleston now share this link that unites people known as Bajans and the Gullah/Geechee people in a shared history.
On this virtual jaunt, the play on words and the unpacking of their layered contents and applications has become as exciting as unwrapping a gift from under the Christmas tree. I muse that the Bajan and the Gullah/Geechee symbiotic link is compelling even today.
However, I will now go back to the process of colonial “seasoning.” What is the farfetched correlation here? Division and distrust became products in a system of divide and conquer on what became plantation societies throughout the Americas. The African Diaspora allowed for misinformation and ignorance about shared cultural remembrances that survived the Atlantic crossing to dissipate or sometimes be erased.
Christmas is a festive time for friends and families. It’s a time to reminisce, share family stories, continue traditions and legacies that define families. Descendants of the enslaved see the season as one of the opportunities to dispel myths that demean and provide positive reinforcement and inspiration for their offspring. “Seasoning? penetrates the subject matter and produces change.
I’m drawn back to reality by the aroma that now pervades the air. Cookies, bread, and cakes baking in ovens across the land awaken appetites and stimulate salivary glands and taste buds. Hams, well-seasoned (marinated) poultry, and roasts of various descriptions fill the atmosphere with smells of savory delights. Delicacies enhanced by “seasoning” is welcomed as is Christmas.
History reminds us of the detrimental effects endured by families that experience the trauma of separation. May this holiday season remind us of the importance of uniting and nurturing families. May we endeavor to build strong families and unite people because strong families make strong societies.
During this Christmas season – the 12 days of Christmas – I invite you who love to connect historical dots to revisit the past with me. Division and dislocation of families were widespread during the colonial period. Let’s stretch our imaginations and understand the imperatives the past places on us in the present. While kindred and acquaintances seek “peace on earth goodwill to men,” it’s an applicable time to remember and understand the history and similar experiences the Bajan and the Gullah/Geechee people share. If there’s any doubt, sometimes family history and genealogy remind us how connected we are.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!
Rhoda A. Green
Founder and CEO
Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation