14 October 2021
Our group arrived at Pin Point Heritage Museum, located on the grounds of the former A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory, on a pleasant afternoon in Savannah, Georgia. There was a light, warm breeze blowing across the marsh from the Moon River as the afternoon sun danced playfully down onto a wooden deck
through the hairy arms of a southern live oak tree. Our tour started at a massive pot that was about four feet in diameter and two feet deep which sat over a brick fire pit. This is where we met our tour guide, Gail Smith, who then led us through the crab picking house where the Gullah Geechee women used to pick crabs. After that we went over to the oyster house where the women would also be the ones shucking the oysters. Our guide explained that the men would go out on the bateaux to harvest the crabs and the oysters from the marsh. We then headed into a showroom with several items like a handmade cast net, toy bow and arrow, corn husk doll, and a woman being baptized in local waters. Ms. Smith tested us our on our Gullah Geechee language. Our tour ended on the wooden deck on which Ms. Smith led us in a ring shout where we sang together to finish our tour.
I enjoyed learning about the Gullah Geechee people's way of living off the land. Their isolation in the romantic landscape necessitated a way of life that consisted of growing produce, raising livestock, fishing, foraging, and hunting. This isolated lifestyle led them to have lots social autonomy over how they lived their lives because on Pin Point they could effectively govern themselves. According to the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission “the Gullah Geechee people are descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast. Many came from the rice-growing region of West Africa.” Because the climate and environment of West Africa are similar to that of the Lowcountry and Georgia Sea Islands, once enslaved people were no longer enslaved, their skills and knowledge empowered them to be self-sufficient. This is perhaps why the Gullah Geechee did well at the A.S. Varn & Son Oyster and Crab Factory.
This past summer I worked at an oyster farm, so naturally my favorite part of the tour was when Gail Smith told us about the oyster operation. In my experience we kept the oysters in cages, which required us to wash the oysters and sort them based off of size. The Gullah approach was much more laid back, and they simply harvested oysters out of the wild oyster racks. At the company where I worked we, unlike the women at the Pin Point factory, did not shuck our oysters before selling them. We simply bagged them, shell and all, after they had been run through the machine that washes them. Wild caught oysters are also much skinnier and smaller because the oysters constantly grow over each other. The shell of a farmed oyster can be equally as long, but ends up being flatter and wider because they have more space to grow in the cages. If I were to do something in the future that had to do with learning about Gullah Geechee people, I would want to go oystering, fishing, or hunting with someone from the Gullah Geechee community. That way I could spend time getting to know them and ask them about how things have changed in the way they go about crabbing, oystering, fishing, and hunting.