By Adeline Chen and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN
(CNN) – Along the lush sea-islands and the Atlantic coastal plains of the southern East coast of America, a distinctive group of tidewater communities has stuck together throughout the centuries, preserving its African cultural heritage and carving out a lifestyle that is uniquely its own.
The Gullah/Geechee people are direct descendants of West African slaves brought into the United States around the 1700s. They were forced to work in rice paddies, cotton fields and indigo plantations along the South Carolina-Georgia seaboard where the moist climate and fertile land were very similar to their African homelands.
After the abolition of slavery, they settled in remote villages around the coastal swath, where, thanks to their relative isolation, they formed strong communal ties and a unique culture that has endured for centuries.
“The Gullah/Geechee Nation is an extremely tightly knit community,” says Chieftess Queen Quet, who was chosen to represent the Gullah/Geechee people in 2000. “It is as tightly knit as a sweet grass basket that’s sewn together and as tightly knit as a cast net is sewn together – there’s strength in it and that means if you pull on it, you can’t just get it to break apart.”