Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fareba en Fareba

I come from a part of the American south that is no stranger to Creole traditions, Creole cooking or the dialect, and though our family has no Creole blood, a part of my childhood was colored by Br’er Rabbit stories (Compair Lapin in Creole French), eating the food and listening to the patois. In spite of that, I had to come to Japan to hear my first words of Gullah dialect. Sitting in church one Tokyo morning, the pastor asked his congregation to identify the Bible verse he was about to read. That wasn’t much of a challenge, as the first words of the verse were, ‘De Lawd me Shepud!’ Pretty hard to miss the opening to Psalm 23, church regular or not. I was entranced by all six of the well-known Psalm’s verses, and later pored over, read, reread and studied a copy of the pastor’s version.

19th Century black slaves living on the offshore islands along the South Carolina coast, spoke what is called the Gullah dialect. It is a Creole form of English, and began as pidgin, but became a language in its own right within only one generation of slaves born in America. Most of the vocabulary is of English origin, but grammar and much of the pronunciation come from West African languages, such as Mandinka, Igbo and Yoruba. The name, “Gullah” probably derives from “Angola,” as a large number of slaves arrived from that part of Africa in the early 1800s. Over 20,000 slaves came to South Carolina from Africa between 1804 and 1807 alone, and 14,000 of this number came from Angola and Congo. The newly arrived slaves breathed new life into African traditions already established on the islands, and a new infusion of pidgin influences had strong impact on the existing creole language. Traditions, language and myth stayed long with the coastal Carolina Gullahs, because they were allowed a greater latitude of self-sufficiency and were relatively isolated on the Sea Islands. I have not visited the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, but understand the Gullah dialect is still a vibrant part of the culture there.

Please don’t suppose I am trying to give anyone a Sunday School lesson here. My only purpose is to share with others the special beauty and feeling of this Psalm in the Gullah dialect. In the lines below, The King James version follows each verse of Gullah.

De Lawd me Shepud! A hab ebrthting wa A need.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

E mek me fa res een green fiel: en E lead meta still wata wa fresh en good fa drink.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

E tek me soul en pit em back weh e spose ta be. E da lead me long de right paat, fa E name sake, same lok E binna promise.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Aaldo A waak tru de walley a de shada a det, A ent gwine faid no ebul, Lawd, kase You dey longside me. Ya rod en ya staff protec me.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

You don papeah nof bittle fa me, whe all me ennyme kin shum. You gib me haaty wilcom. You nint me hed wid ail;

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Fa true, you gwine lob me en tek cyah a me long es A lib.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

En A gwine ta stay ya house fareba.

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Anyone interested in a complete study of the Gullah dialect can find the above book at Amazon.


  1. Fabulous blog. I loved it, of course and you know why.

    I have seen the Gullah version of the 23rd Psalm before and it is touching.

  2. This was the first time I've seen the 23rd Psalm in Gullah. Wonderful!


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America