The Credits | The Music | Cinematic Style
The sea islands of the South are a low-lying chain of sandy islands off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Today the sea islands retain a predominantly African American population that has developed a distinct culture and dialect known as Gullah (or Geechee).
RONALD DAISE, author of”Reminiscences of Sea Island Heritage”and Gullah language translator and dialect coach on “Daughters of the Dust” writes, ” Today, “Gullah” denotes a way of life for a peculiar and special group of African Americans who have maintained the purest forms of African mores in tis country… Gullah bonds its speakers with others of the African diaspora. About 90 percent of the vocabulary is English, but the grammatical and intonational features are largely West African. Our West African forebears skillfully developed Gullah as a communication system effective enough to make themselves understood in a strange land where even their talking drums (which could transcend cultural and lingual barriers) were prohibited. When the enslaved Africans were brought to the coastal islands of South Carolina and Georgia, their secondary, or trade language, became the dominantly used creole language, known today as Gullah. They’ve maintained their African-born speech patterns an dcustoms because the unbridged waterways isolated them from the mainlands for years.”
Set in the legendary sea islands of the South at the turn of the century, “Daughters of the Dust” follows a Gullah family on the eve of its migration to me North. Led by a remarkable group of African American women, who are carriers of ancient African traditions and beliefs, the extended family readies itself to leave behind friends, loved ones and an entire insulated way of life. Can these women hold fast to their ancient religious beliefs, or will they be swept away into the race toward an era of science and industry? This richly costumed drama, structured in tableaux to mirror the art and icons of its ancient African past, is a testimony to the secret celebrations and packed-away sorrows of African American women.
The story unfolds over the course of a family picnic, a last supper. Along the way, the film saturates us with impressionistic colors, African symbolisim, Gullah rituals, cooking, dialect and the sound of field cries, all expressing the complex resonance’s of the Gullah lifestyle. The film is structured in the way that an African Griot would recall and recount a family’s history. Rather than having a linear structure, the Peazant family’s story is recalled and remembered and recollected in a manner that evokes the African American oral tradition. “Daughters of the Dust” focuses on the women of the Peazant family, the carriers of traditions and beliefs that are firmly linked to an African heritage. They are the descendants of African captives who worked the indigo, rice and cotton plantations during slavery. These unique African Americans speak a distinct language called “Gullah” or “Geechee.” The women carry in their heads and pockets, scraps of memories–bits and pieces of family memorabilia left by their earlist remembered ancestors. Among those memories are recollections of a group of Ibo (Egbo) captives who, refusing to live in slavery, walked on water to get back to Africa.
Most characters in American narrative film are grounded in parameters dictated by the archetypal Greek god and goddesses of classical western literature. The crucial underlying references for the Peazant family in “Daughters of the Dust,” are the deities of classical West African cosmologies.
NANA PEAZANT (Cora Lee Day) the great grandmother of the Peazant family is the link between the old and the new. Nana represents a traditional African based socio-cultural belief system that must come to grips with a westernized belife system in the New World. Nana represents Obatala, a Yoruba deity of the sky. (See The Voodoo Server) Her European equivalent would be Jupiter or Zeus. Nana Peazant views the Peazant women, those leaving home, as daughters of Oshun. Oshun is a Yoruba goddess, the young daughter who leaves home to seek her fourtune in the city. The European equivalent would be Venus or Aphrodite. EULA PEAZANT (Alva Rogers) represents the continuation of the Peazant family. Her character adapts well in both the sacred and secular worlds. Eula represents the West African deity, OYA YANSA, the spirit of the winds of change.
ELI PEAZANT (Adisa Anderson), is Eula’s distraught husband. He is the family blacksmith, the wild man of the woods, he represents the Yoruba diety OGUN, his European equivalent would be the Greek god Pluto.
THE UNBORN CHILD, (Kai-Lynn Warren) is the storm raging inside of Eula’s womb. She occupies space in the world of the sacred and the secular. She embodies the duality of existence that those of the African dispora have come to understand as the double consciouness (W.E.B. Dubois) The Unborn Child has one foot in this world and one foot in another. She is ESHU ELEGBA, trickster, linguist, Yoruba god, guardian of the crossroads. Her Eroupean equivalent would be Mercury or Hermes.
YELLOW MARY PEAZANT, (Barbara-O) represents the African American woman’s loss of her self-esteem during slavery and Reconstruction. Yellow Mary is a prostitute, a woman of independent means. Yellow Mary’s name is derived from the name of the Yoruba goddess YEMONJA (Mami Wata-Ghana). She is the Mother of the Sea, the Mother of Dreams, the Mother of Secrets and often referred to as the Veiled Isis. Yellow Mary’s return home is depicted as a universal rite of transition, she is isolated in an intermediate position in life, on a boat traveling to Ibo Landing. Yellow Mary’s European equivalents would be Neptune, Poseidon, Juno or Hera.
TRULA, (Trula Hoosier) is Yellow Mary’s traveling companion and girlfriend. Yellow Mary and Trula stop by Ibo Landing for the farewell picnic, they plan to continue on to Nova Scotia, Trula’s place of birth. Nova Scotia was one of the final destinations on the underground railroad, so Yellow Mary and Trula are taking a fmiliar route.
VIOLA PEAZANT, (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) joins Yellow Mary and Trula on the boat to the family picnic at Ibo Landing. Viola is Yellow Mary’s first cousin who is a missionary. Viola reflects a syncretism of ancient African beliefs and Christianity. Her character attempts to escape her history and the trauma of her second class citizenship in her Baptist religious beliefs.
HAAGAR PEAZANT, (Kaycee Moore) is a self-educated progressive striver who desire to leave behind all that ties her family to their African heritage. Haagar embodies the ethos of the African American urban migration–that primordial push that propels us all to move forward, to seek more for our children, to grow with the winds of change. Her dream is to leave behind an isolated and insulated traditional society for the inclusive bureaucratic impersonality of the modern world is a continually unfolding drama.