ST. HELENA ISLAND -- More than three decades after translators began putting the words of the New Testament into Gullah, everyone can now hear those words in the creole language spoken by slaves and their descendants along the sea islands of the nation's Southeast coast.
"Healin fa de Soul," -- "Healing for the Soul" -- a five-CD set of readings from the Gullah Bible, including a dramatized version of the Gospel of John, was released this month at the Penn Center, founded in 1862 as one of the nation's first freedmen's schools after Union troops captured the area during the Civil War.
The sea island culture -- called Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Florida and Georgia -- remained intact with descendants of slaves because of the isolation of the area.
Although numbers are uncertain, there are thought to be 250,000 Gullah people in the four-state coastal area and thousands are thought to speak Gullah as their main language.
The CDs are the largest collection of Gullah recordings ever made available to the public and rival those that noted linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner made on sea islands during the 1930s, said Emory Campbell, a former director of the Penn Center who performs on the recordings and worked on the Bible translation.
Some of Turner's recordings are part of the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit "Word, Shout, Song" on display currently at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. "I would say this is as extensive," Campbell said. "They are very accessible. People can buy them and personally own them and I think they have a much better opportunity to study the language."