In celebration of sweetgrass

Lucilla Akinjobi, 65, of Mount Pleasant, is a fifth-generation sweetgrass basket maker. She was selling her baskets at the Sweetgrass Festival at Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park on Saturday.

As the hot sun beat down on Mount Pleasant Waterfront Park, the beating of African drums kept the attention of the Sweetgrass Festival’s visitors. Others huddled under tents or cooled off with an icy slushy. Some children plunged down a blow-up slide into a pool of cool water.

The festival revolves around the sweetgrass basket, a Gullah Geechee tradition. Lucilla Akinjobi, 65, of Mount Pleasant sat under one of the festival’s tents and repaired a basket on Saturday afternoon during the festivities.

She’s a fifth-generation basket weaver, but the county’s economic climate in recent years has taken a toll on her sales. She has a basket stand in Mount Pleasant on U.S. Highway 17 and she said business is not what it used to be. “I remember when it was booming,” Akinjobi said.

She said the last time business was really good was in 2007. Then, the economy took a turn and people’s purse strings were cut shorter. That changed the way she did business. Akinjobi said now she bargains with potential customers as they stop at her stand.

“I ask how much they want to spend, and if it’s close to the price on the tag, I let them have it for that price,” she said.

It’s a sacrifice that must be made in order to keep the tradition alive. Tradition is important for Akinjobi, who has attended every year of the Sweetgrass Festival. “I like to support the tradition, the festival and the Gullah Geechee art and craft,” she said.

The festival also showcased a Ugandan children’s choir, Imani Milele, which is currently touring the east coast and held several performances during the festival.

“I love it (Charleston),” said 13-year-old Anna Nandawula, one of the choir’s singers.

The choir is made up of orphaned children who are beneficiaries of Imani Milele Children, a nonprofit group that rescues and cares for the orphaned children in the desolate areas of Uganda.

Those huddled under shaded tents ventured even closer to the stage under the beaming sun as the children performed and captivated the audience with their sound and energy.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or