Joe Opala’s Research
He has also shown that many customs and traditions of the modern Gullahs can be traced back to Sierra Leone and the surrounding regions. This includes their basket-making tradition and preparation of rice dishes. The Gullahs also have a creole language that closely resembles Sierra Leone’s Krio.
Opala’s research resulted in a visit by Sierra Leone's President Joseph Saidu Momoh to a Gullah community in South Carolina in 1988, and an historic "Gullah Homecoming" to Sierra Leone in 1989 by nine Gullahs from South Carolina and Georgia. These events were chronicled in "Family Across the Sea”, which can be viewed below.
In 1997, Opala organized the “Moran Family Homecoming” by a Gullah family from coastal Georgia that has preserved a song in the Mende language for more than 200 years. This visit was documented in “The Language You Cry In” (linked below). In 2005, he organized “Priscilla’s Homecoming” involving a Gullah family from Charleston, South Carolina with an unbroken paper trail of 250 years.
These events were powerful for the participants on both sides, but they also broke new ground historically. The song handed down by the Georgia family is the longest text in an African language known to have been preserved by a black family in the U.S. The paper trail that links the South Carolina family to Sierra Leone is the only known instance of an unbroken series of documents (including slave ship records, slave sale records, and plantation records) connecting a black family of slavery origin to its ancestral home.
JOSEPH OPALA is an American historian who is most notable for his research on the long historical thread that links Sierra Leone to the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, known as the "Gullah Connection” . Opala has spent over 40 years using his historical discoveries to bring Sierra Leoneans and Gullahs together in a series of high-profile homecomings.
The Language I Cry In