A Conversation with Joseph Opala, the Noted Historian Best Known for the "Gullah Connection"

Oct 25, 2017

On this edition of ST, we speak with Joseph Opala, an American historian who's known for his research on the so-called "Gullah Connection," i.e., the long historical thread linking the West African nation of Sierra Leone to the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Opala, an Oklahoma native, first learned of the Gullah people while serving in the Peace Corps, just after college; by now, he has spent more than four decades making historical discoveries about these people, their language, their culture, their lineage, and so forth. As we learn on today's show, Opala began his research with a study of Bunce Island, the British slave castle in Sierra Leone that sent many of its captives to colonies in both South Carolina and Georgia in the middle- and late-1700s. The rice planters in those colonies were eager to acquire slaves with the rice-growing knowledge-base that captives from Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa possessed. Thus Opala has shown that modern Gullahs have preserved many customs and traditions that can be traced back to Sierra Leone and the surrounding region, including their basket-making practices, how they prepare their rice dishes, and their Creole language (which closely resembles the Sierra Leone tongue known as Krio). Please note that tonight, the 24th -- in honor of United Nations Day -- Joseph Opala will speak about the "Gullah Connection" at the Gilcrease Museum here in Tulsa. This event will raise funds in order to expand and increase Model United Nations programs in Tulsa-area schools.