By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Even though some of the African traditions that the Gullah maintained within the church might not continue to be consistently followed, it doesn’t mean that they are forgotten. One such African tradition is of the ring shout. In a time when slaves did not have access to instruments, the ability to make music or a beat was made from their using objects found close by or in most cases, their bodies. Drums were made from whatever raw materials that were available.

A ring shout was used in different ways. Often used as a discreet form of communicating messages to one another, eventually it became a form of worship or a “grown folks only” form of entertainment. During the shout, an individual pounds a large tree branch on a hardwood floor to enthusiastically develop a rhythmic beat joined by a chant that involves and motivates the group into participation, usually in a call and response format. The chant, prayer or song, is not dissimilar in style to a modern-day rap that is accompanied by dancing, clapping and shuffling of feet to the beat. Each ring shout has a different meaning and version of the shout. In some cases, the shout is indicative of a particular family or area.

On Hilton Head, there are popular versions called the knee bone and the buzzard loop. The knee bone is one of the oldest known shouts around today. Named from its association to having your knees bent in prayer or at times when, as people traveled by boat, their knees were bent in a boat and their elbows were bent while rowing. Each body part important in enabling the boat to be propelled forward. The buzzard loop was used more for entertainment, by placing a towel on the floor and repeating what was heard. This shout was used at times for coded messages within the shout. If someone was preparing to run the words “move Daniel move eagle fly” would be sung to send the message that the coast is clear for you to go.

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