The numerous cultures represented in the Hinesville area were celebrated Saturday at the annual Small World Festival at Bryant Commons.
Families had the opportunity to taste authentic cuisine in the international food court while enjoying entertainment acts ranging from traditional performances by dancers and singers to martial-arts routines.
The Hispanic Heritage Club performed custom Puerto Rican dances in colorful garments in between acts from One Nation Under Praise and the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, who sang historical African-American songs. The Grupo Uncao Capoeira performed Brazilian dances as well as martial-arts practices.
Each cultural act signified how important tradition is to families in the area.
Members of the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters from McIntosh County represented the area’s abundant African-American history. Many of their members have been shouting for more than 50 years.
“Ring shouts evolved from the plantations, when the Methodists and Baptists brought Christianity to the slaves,” Geechee Gullah Ring Shouter manager Griffin Lotson said. They adopted the Christian religion and mixed in former West-African beliefs.
“We were brought to America because we were expert rice-planters, and we were immune to mosquito bites,” he said.
The Geechees and Gullahs were native tribes in Africa and are an important part of America history, according to Lotson.
“This is one part that you can’t forget; you can’t just choose to forget it,” he said. “This is our history, and we want to preserve and protect our history.”
The culture started to die out during the past few decades, he said, until Congress signed a bill to help keep awareness alive.
“It was kinda like the movie, ‘Last of the Mohicans,’ … we were dying out, so Congress decided that they would put a few dollars in to help keep it alive,” Lotson said.
The Geechee-Gullah performance group has traveled around the country teaching their heritage since the 1980s.
At the festival, their performance included traditional songs that date back to the 1700s as well as washboard and walking-stick accompaniments.
“People don’t realize that in the 1700s, they made a law forbidding us from using drums because we were communicating with them, so we had to find other ways of making a beat,” Lotson said. “So we took the wood from the forest, and we started tapping the ground with sticks … that’s all we could use for a beat.”
The group attends cultural events like the Small World Festival to teach this history to people who, he said, are becoming more interested in the Geechee-Gullah heritage.
“Today, people are really interested in this culture,” Lotson said. “That’s why these festivals are important … they help preserve our history and educate our communities.”
“It’s amazing how much we can learn here about other cultures … this is great,” said Troy Maualuga, a Samoan native who lives in Hinesville. Maualuga’s group performed on stage to represent the Samoan culture in area. His church group also prepared authentic Samoan cuisine in the international food court.
“I think my favorite food was the Jamaican,” he said. “And the Chinese food … but all the food was great.”
Maualuga left Samoa when he was young and moved to Hinesville with his large family for military reasons.
“We should host these kinds of festivals more often,” he said. “I love seeing everyone getting together to share their cultures … this is just amazing.”
In addition to the food court and performances, families shopped at the world market place for traditional arts and crafts, while children got their faces painted or ate snow cones.