Student # 7: Multicultural Project and Symbols for Sand Tray Therapy Class
by Student # 7
Tree as a symbol of prosperity and the natural gifts of the earth
Introduction to the Gullah/Geechee Culture
Sand Tray Therapy Class Symbol Midterm
The Gullah/Geechee culture is one that is very unique in that it is a group of people who have been able to preserve their African roots for hundreds of years. Although the culture is said to be dying out, it still has a major influence in the lives of many African Americans all over the United States whether they realize it or not. The name “Geechee” may have derived from the Ogeechee River and is the term used in Georgia while “Gullah” is the term used in the Carolinas. Enslaved people from this culture were brought to Charleston, South Carolina from West Africa as early as the 1700s to work as slaves on plantations growing rice, cotton, etc...
Most research supports claims that the “Gullah” originate from West African ethnic groups such as Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc… Gullah people are descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa who were forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The Gullah people are survivors - unique groups of African-Americans who lived near the coast and on barrier islands that were separated from the mainland by creeks, rivers, and marshes. Native Americans were also members of these communities and as a result, have some cultural influences on the Gullah culture as well.
Because of their geographic protection from outsiders and strong sense of family and community,Gullah people maintained a separate Creole language and developed distinct cultural patterns which was a combination of the African cultural tradition as well as Native American beliefs; the Gullah culture is credited for being able to preserve more of their African culture than any other group of African-Americans in other parts of the United States. Even though the culture was preserved because of isolated living conditions on the sea island regions, its influence has reached far beyond ever imagined to all parts of the United States. Because this is one of the few cultures in America that has been able to preserve its African roots, there are symbols in the culture that are not only easy to recognize but also serve a distinct purpose in the culture.
Baskets, Quilts, and other Hand-Made Goods
Anyone who has ever made a quilt, basket, or any other material good knows that it takes time to complete these objects. Hand-made baskets, quilts, etc…are another very distinct feature in the Gullah culture and symbolizes patience as well as understanding that God gives people gifts to be able to make such objects. “Gullah/Geechee people insist that energy flows from the Almighty through the hands of each human” (Jarrett, C, 2000, pg. 25). The Gullah people are famous for their baskets, quilts, fishing nets, casting nets, etc… In this culture, it is also important to live in harmony and peace with the Earth; these materials represent that harmony because they are all made from materials that are indigenous to the earth. “The crafting of sweet grass baskets form a visible link to the African heritage of the Gullah people” (Jarrett, C, 2000, pg. 24). These baskets were vital in the production of rice, cotton and indigo. The miniature that is an appropriate metaphor to symbolize not only the importance of nature but also the ability to utilize the natural gifts that God has made available for our use is a tree. Trees are symbols of prosperity and abundance. This culture has been able to take the natural gifts that God has provided and turning those gifts into beautiful hand-made objects thus showing their appreciation and close connection with the Earth.
In sand tray therapy, it would be important for clients to realize and appreciate the natural gifts that they possess. Oftentimes, we go through life without living up to our full potential. This could be due to fear of failure, rejection, or simply not being aware of all of the wonderful gifts we have to offer to the world. Having clients to make a gifts sand tray will encourage them to find miniatures that represent any talents or special gifts they have and bring those gifts into their awareness, so that they may be able to help others.
The Gullah culture has its foundation on religious beliefs. This culture believes that God is first in everything. Even though this culture is grounded in Christian beliefs, there are also legends and folklore that also serve as a driving force for their religious foundations. For example, when a loved one dies, it is believed that even though the person’s soul goes back to God, their spirit is still here on the earth. In order to demonstrate this belief, graves are elaborately decorated or “dressed” with the possessions of the deceased. In Gullah culture, it is believed that the dead walk among us and people’s ancestors are able to walk, guide, and lead their family through spiritual means. Therefore, the grave is not viewed as a final goodbye; it symbolizes a person being able to exist in two realms; here on earth and in heaven with Jesus.
The miniature I have chosen to represent spirituality in the Gullah culture is a grave. In the symbols dictionary, a tomb (or grave) symbolizes the place where the body changes into a spirit; it is also a symbol of eternal life. In some African cultures, tombs were used to localize souls of the dead so they wouldn’t wander and disturb the peaceful lives of the living. In this culture; however, the spirit of the dead is welcome on the Earth to assist their loved ones through any situations they face. Religious and cultural beliefs provide nourishment for the soul in this culture and provide hope.
A possible sand tray activity that can be used cross-culturally is having clients think about some of the things in their lives that provide nurture, safety, and encouragement for their spirit. Sometimes we go through circumstances in life that leave our spirit broken; working on a sand tray that helps us think about what we have in our life that keeps us whole and complete could help provide healing.
Storytelling and Oral Traditions
Storytelling is a major piece of the Gullah culture. Through storytelling, many lessons have been passed down from generation to generation. Passing down stories through oral tradition is a way to provide entertainment as well as teach important life lessons that can sustain people regardless of race or culture. Gullah fables often showcase animals as the main characters and usually involve one character out-smarting another which is very similar to African tales. One of the most popular characters used in Gullah folklore is the cunning trickster named Brer Rabbit who often out-smarts his adversaries; in addition to Brer Rabbit, other characters include Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and Brer Snake.
In the symbols dictionary, the hare symbolizes cultural heroes or mythical ancestors. In this culture, Brer Rabbit is somewhat of a hero because he is always finding ways to outwit the other characters. In the Gullah culture, animals have a deeper meaning that simply representing themselves as a literal animal; in the Gullah culture, they symbolize the culture’s appreciation of art, entertainment, and being able to teach life lessons to others. Many times, we may not look at animals and think that they can be used in creative ways to teach a lesson; this culture is unique in that it has done just that.
An interesting sand tray to use in therapy would be for them to pick different animals that represent themselves or others in their personal lives and show how these animals interact with one another. This may be a way for the client to explore why they chose certain animals to represent either themselves or others and to explore how those personality differences affect the way they interact with one another.
Food as a Symbol in Gullah Culture
Food is very important in the Geechee culture; it is a symbol of closeness to African roots as most of the dishes closely resemble popular African dishes. In addition, food in the Gullah culture also represents or symbolizes closeness to family and sharing love and appreciation for one another. A lot of the dishes original to the Gullah/Geechee people such as “hoppin john,” “okra soup,” and “red rice” are meals that are eaten quite frequently and are very common among dishes in the south. “Red rice” bears great resemblance to “jollof rice” which is a West African dish.
These dishes are a representation of the importance of preserving one’s culture even through very trying times. This symbol demonstrates the strength and closeness of members of this cultural group and their dedication to knowingly or unknowingly pass down traditions through food from one generation to the next. Additionally, food is not just about providing nourishment for the body; it is also a time to celebrate and rejoice in the fact that food provides healing. The miniature that I have picked to symbolize the healing power of food in this culture is a medicine bottle. When we take medicine, it makes us feel better. In this culture, cooking, eating, and sharing food is a way to provide healing. “Good food is medicine for the soul” (Jarrett, C, 2000, pg. 24).
Jarrett, C. Introducing Folknography: A study of the gullah culture.