Many of the Gullahs’ ancestors were taken from what was then called the “Rice Coast” of West Africa, the area that includes six modern African countries: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where Africans had been cultivating rice for hundreds of years. Sierra Leone lies at the heart of the Rice Coast. Every African captive taken from there in the 18th Century would have been a rice farmer. And indeed, many rural Sierra Leoneans are rice farmers even today.
The British slave castle at Bunce Island, in the Sierra Leone River, is the only slave trade operation on the Rice Coast that sent African captives to Charleston and Savannah throughout the period of the transatlantic slave trade in South Carolina and Georgia. Bunce Island (or “Bance Island,” as it was called then) was known to every rice planter in those colonies, and the name “Bance Island” frequently appeared on slave auction adverts in the local newspapers in the second half of the 18th century
Our study tour will focus on the historical and cultural links between Gullahs and Sierra Leoneans. We will tour Bunce Island, which most visitors describe as a uniquely moving experience. Other slave castles in West Africa, like Goree in Senegal and Elmina in Ghana, were used after the end of the slave trade for various purposes right up to the present day. Bunce Island, on the other hand, was abandoned soon after Britain outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, and the only changes visitors will see there were caused by the tropical climate and the passage of time. Some call Bunce Island a “slave trade ghost town,” others call it “a place where history sleeps.”