Lowcountry Expressions

Boo hags –based on old Gullah folktales, these evil spirits are usually ugly, mean old women believed to be cohorts of the Devil.  They are notorious for sneaking into bedrooms at night and committing a variety of misdeeds. They can take the form of she-devils, sorceresses, or witches.  In some folktales, however, they appear as beautiful young seductresses.  Gullah customs to battle boo-hags include sleeping with a fork under the pillow or laying a broom on the floor.

Gullah or Geechee – a culture and language developed along the Carolina (Gullah) and Georgia (Geechee) coasts by slaves brought over from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The language once dominated the Sea Islands and is often characterized as a combination of Elizabethan English and West African dialects.  The culture and lifestyle is distinctive in its art, music, storytelling, food and religious practices.  On Hilton Head Island, the month of February is dedicated to this unique culture with the month-long Annual Gullah Celebration.

Haints – a variation of the word “haunt”, the haints of the Lowcountry refer to ghosts or supernatural beings.  The color “haint blue”(slightly lighter than royal blue) was developed by southerner African-Americans to paint on window trim to ward off evil spirits.

Heirs property – a designation for real estate which has been passed down since the Civil War era and divided amongst the legal heirs without deeds, written wills, or other real estate plans.  With each successive generation, the original property is further divided among more and more descendants, resulting in many smaller tracts of land.  This practice has made it particularly difficult for native islanders to prove ownership, to develop their property, and frequently results in the loss of the land through tax sales

Hoppin’ John – brown field peas cooked with rise.  It is included on the Sea Islands’ traditional New Year’s menu, but is eaten year around for good luck.  It is said that if you soak the dried peas on New Year’s Day, you’re peas will “take up” the luck.  It is customary to serve Hoppin’ John with collard greens which represent dollar bills.  It is said that the more collard greens you eat, the more money you will have.

Lowcountry – refers to the coastal region of South Carolina, generally extending from Charleston to the Georgia border.  It is noted for its flat, marshy topography.

Lowcountry boil or Frogmore stew – a relatively recent (within the last 50 years) local one-pot dish of fresh shrimp, yellow corn, sausage and potatoes.  It originated in the Frogmore community of St. Helena Island near Beaufort, but is now a popular dish throughout the southern coastal region. It is best served on newspaper for easy clean up. And there are no frogs in frogmore stew

Marsh tacky – also known as the Carolina Marsh Tacky, a rare breed of horse that is native to South Carolina, tracing its ancestry back about 400 years to the conquistadors.  Known for its ruggedness and ability to tolerate the Lowcountry’s marshy terrain, the Marsh Tacky is becoming extinct.  In an attempt to assure its survival, the South Carolina legislature is considering making the Marsh Tacky the official state horse.

Native Islander – name used by local residents to refer to families, both African-American and white, who have been here for at least four or five generations.  The Gullah phase, “we bin ya. They come ya.” means “we’ve been here for many generations”.

Oyster roasts & Fish fries – gatherings common in the Lowcountry generally held to celebrate special occasions with friends and families.  Locally caught fish and oysters are fried over an open bonfire and served with healthy helpings of mustard, hot sauce and spices.  Other popular dishes served include okra,  macaroni and cheese, and pecan pie.

Sea Islands – the islands located off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, including Hilton Head Island, which were historically isolated and where the noted Gullah culture developed.

Spanish moss – that long silvery threadlike stuff hanging down from trees in the South.  It  is neither Spanish nor is it moss.  It is actually in the same plant family bromliacae as the pineapple.  Other historic names for Spanish Moss include “tree hair” by the Native American’s, “Spanish Beard” by the French to insult their New World rivals, and likewise the Spaniard’s insulting retort, “French hair”.  Spanish Moss can absorb water up to ten times its dry weight.  It has been known to crack the branch on which it has grown.

Sweet-grass  – a fragrant grass which grows in moist soil, used to make woven coiled baskets.   The craft of making sweet-grass baskets once thrived in the Sea Islands and is now a tradition passed on by one generation to the next.  Every once in a while, a basket-maker will offer demonstrations or sell their products at local festivals, on street corners, or at craft shops.

Tabby – a construction material made of crushed oyster shells, sand, and lime.  Thought to be Spanish in origin, tabby was used as a concrete throughout the Sea Islands beginning in the late 1500s.