Reflecting on Geechee Traditions with Master Basket Maker, Yvonne Grovner of Sapelo Island, Georgia

Jennifer Berglund

Welcome to HMSC Connects!, where we go behind the scenes of four Harvard museums to explore the connections between us, our big, beautiful world, and even what lies beyond. My name is Jennifer Berglund, part of the exhibits team here at the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, and I'll be your host!

 

Jennifer Berglund

In celebration of the recent Juneteenth holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, I'm speaking with Mrs. Yvonne Grovner, a resident of Sapelo Island, Georgia and Master basketmaker, whose talents are featured in our new mini exhibit: "Rice: Seeds from Africa" set within the Peabody Museum's Resetting the Table exhibition. The exhibit examines the legacy of rice cultivation in the Americas, exposing the essential African knowledge systems required to establish what became a thriving industry, the horrific human toll the Atlantic slave trade took to maintain it. And the vibrant, enduring culture of the Gullah Geechee: descendants of enslaved Africans whose basketmaking and coastal subsistence traditions continue today. Here she is!

 

Jennifer Berglund

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner, welcome to the show!

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Thank you. Glad to be here.

 

Jennifer Berglund

You live on Sapelo Island. It's a barrier island off the coast of Georgia, which is home to a vibrant Geechee community. So who are the Geechee? And why is your Sapelo community unique?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Sapelo is real unique because we only have a population about 28 permanent residents and they've been there from generation after generation. It's real unique because you don't find places like Sapelo no more. The peace and quiet and still have all the Geechee culture of doing some of the Geechee stuff, basketweaving, some of the Geechee cooking and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Who are the Geechee?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

They are descendants from the slave of Thomas Spalding and Bilali. They've been here for generations. They bought from Sierra Leone to grow rice and plant cotton and stuff on Sapelo years ago.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Cornelia Bailey, the Geechee historian who lived on Sapelo. She talked about there being freshwater Geechee and saltwater Geechee. What does that mean? And what's the significance of that?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

What they call saltwater Geechee is people who live real close to the saltwater. And if you live about 25 to 30 miles inland, they're referred to as the freshwater Geechee. So people are like a Macintosh on Sapelo Island. And even to like Liberty County, they are saltwater Geechees. So it's the freshwater Geechees are kind of like the mainland. Mainland. Okay, and then saltwater Geechees are the islands, close to the islands.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So you were born into a freshwater Geechee family, but you married into a saltwater Geechee family on Sapelo. Can you talk a little bit about the differences? Are there differences between the traditions?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

There's not much different between you know, the saltwater and freshwater Geechees. It's just the area. But like my husband, you know, he was born and raised there on the island, and he's considered saltwater Geechee. And it's not much different. You might hear a few language a little different from, you know, the people on the mainland.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah, how so?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

The way they talk. They'll say, "I been here, you come here. I'll be here when you goin' from here." That means, "I've been here. You came here. I'll be here when you gone." Been here, come here.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And one of the unique things about the Gullah Geechee is that a lot of the traditions that have been maintained are rooted in African traditions.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

If you go to a lot of black churches, you notice when they go in church. Like me and my husband, we go in church, and most of the black churches, they have two doors. When you go in the main door, and then when you get ready to go in the sanctuary, it's two doors. The men usually go in on one side, the men sit on one side and ladies sit on one side. That's one tradition that the Geechee or Gullah people used to use. And then the way that people cook. They cook and a lot of Gullah food, a lot of Geechee food and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And so entering the church, is that from a Muslim tradition that came from Africa?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, Muslim.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Okay, so most of the traditions that remain are more food-based?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Food-based and the basket weaving, cast net making, making making the net to go casting, and go out to cast to catch the fish. You know, you find a lot of that too.

 

Jennifer Berglund

One of the traditions that you have been extremely important in maintaining is you are a master basket maker. And in fact, you were trained by a gentleman named Allen Green who made a rice basket that we have on display in the Peabody Museum. And so you're kind of his protege. First of all, tell me about the baskets. What are they made from? And what were they used for? I know they're not used for the same things today, but what were they used for? And why do you make them today?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

The basket weaving is a tradition that came from Africa and Mr. Green, he taught me how to do the basket. And they used to make the basket for working in the fields. And also like the rice fanner, they used to use to fan and rice. They had a mortar and pestle. They used to beat the rice and then pour it into the basket. And you shake it up in the wind so the wind can pull the shaft out and the rice fall back in the basket. And you had another round basket, which is called the winnow basket. They used to pour that into it that's to catch the rice. The ladies used to have basket like sewing basket. When they sew, they put all the sewing materials and stuff in it. And you have like the fruit dish, but people make basket now a lot of people want them because they handmade and some people use them as bread basket and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

I just think this is so cool. One of the baskets that you made was in former President Obama's inaugural parade. Tell me about that basket.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

We made that. Me and my husband probably got about close to 100 hours in that basket. And we made it like the Moses basket for my grandbaby. My first grandbaby. We made that basket for her and we got a picture of her laying in it. And they had a Gullah Geechee float in Obama's last inauguration, and they wanted one basket from South Carolina and one from Georgia. And that basket was in a president parade. And also, in 2020, the governor usually picks 10 people to give the Governor's Award, and they picked me. They gave me the Governor's Award for 2020. And so last year, they contracted me to make the 10 people that got the Governor's Award last year, a $350 basket each. And each one of them got one of my baskets as an award.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Tell me a little bit about the materials that you use for your rice baskets.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, it's called Sweet Grass. And we got two types of sweet grass we get regular sweet grass called purple muhlenbergia. And also we have sweet grass call Spartina paten. And it made from sweet grass and Palmetto. Sawtooth Palmetto. I mean you gotta cut their grass, it's flat, and you have to let it dry like is now it's 89 degrees. Within about two weeks that you can use the grass. And with the Palmetto you have to shave the Palmetto and scrape it down and make the basket. And like if I'm using the Palmetto and I can shave it down and keep it at least about two weeks, put in a Ziploc bag, put it in the frigerator and I get ready to use it, take it out, put it in a bucket of water and I can use it. And if you want to give you basket different colors, you can also add pine needles, get the brown pine needles, never use green, grass green, never use the pine needle green, always use dry.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Why is that?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Because if you use it while is all green eventually it's gonna dry cause all that water going to dry out of it. And you're gonna make your basket real week. And you can do different shapes of baskets,too.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And so these materials are materials that are abundant on the island.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Everything natural off the island. Yes,

 

Jennifer Berglund

I remember going out there with you. And I mean, the sweet grass is everywhere. It's in the underbrush, the canopy under the massive beautiful oak trees with the Spanish moss, just the landscape. It's just mystical, magical place.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Also, that's why our basket are much cheaper than basket in South Carolina. Because you know, we can go out and just cut grass. And in South Carolina, they have a shortage of grass and they have to pay people to go out and get grass for them.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Why is that?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Because a lot of places in South Carolina have been developed where they used to get baskets and stuff like that. In Sapelo, we don't have all that development. So we got plenty of grass.

 

Jennifer Berglund

This is one thing that's really special about Sapelo is that there's sort of a depth to what you're saying. Because Sapelo is really, if I'm understanding correctly, the last remaining holdout community where the environment is relatively intact, and the community is relatively intact. And in other barrier islands where the Gullah Geechee previously inhabited, those are areas that have now been developed. So you really are this community of how many people did you say 28? It's the last holdout.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Intact community. Yeah. And that's a struggle now, trying to keep that though. Because, you know, we're 28 and we have like four school kids. We just had one graduate. So every year the population keep going down because older people passing away, the younger one leaving because of no job. So I'm afraid what's gonna happen to the community in the next 10-20 years from now.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah, cause you were saying that a couple of decades ago, you had hundreds of people in your community. Is that right?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, when I married and moved to Sapelo 42 years ago, in hog hammock, there was like 175 people. So for from 42 years to now, you know, you're talking about 28.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Wow. I mean, that's, that's dramatic.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, it is.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And so how have the opportunities changed from then to now? Is that a fair question?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Like job opportunities?

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Well, not that many jobs. So that's why the kids have to leave and not that many jobs on the island. And so that's why our population keeps going down, because both of my kids both of them had to leave after they finish high school because there's no job.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What they have chosen to stay if they could have?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh yeah. Well, I know definitely my son. If there was jobs over there, he would definitely say but he still do his own private tours and his own tour businness that he's doing on Sapelo.

 

Jennifer Berglund

You're retired. Tell me a little bit about what you did on Sapelo before you retired.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

When I first started I worked at the Reynolds Mansion for nine and a half years. It's like a big mansion they have on Sapelo, they rent it out, it's run under the Park Service Division. They rent it out for groups. All kinds of groups can rent a mansion. And I used to work in the in the kitchen, help cook and stuff like that. And I left the mansion in '94 and went to work the Georgia Department National Resource as a tour guide. And I retired in 2020. So now I do my own private tours and do my baskets. And sometimes cook for groups like DNR have tour groups. And sometimes they call me and cook lunch for them. And like this week, I got two basket class like a University of Tennessee coming to the island. And another group coming to camp for two weeks. I have to do two classes. There's a group of teachers coming to university, I teach them how to do the baskets.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So also on the island, we should probably say there's a research station.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yep, University of Georgia have a research center on Sapelo.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And is it like a coastal ecology, coastal biology research station.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

They do a lot of research in the marsh and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So it's basically the research station, the Reynolds mansion, and then the Department of Natural Resources. And then tour guiding. Those are the big industries on Sapelo.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, those are the only job and you know there's not many jobs on Sapelo. So that's why the population is still going down. So but nobody from hog hammock work from the university. They work for either the Park Service Division of Wildlife Resources Division or Sapelo. Island Reserve.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Is there a reason for that?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I guess cause nobody on the island who went studying research but they still have other jobs over there. So.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So most of the people that work there have come from off the Island? Okay. And then Department of Natural Resources is a little different. They're more of the Sapelo residents are employed by the Department of Natural Resources.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, you have some employees from Georgia Department of Natural resources, they commute to the island every day also when you have some that work from the island and work and like the guys who work on the ferry, some of them is from the mainland some of them are from the island. It's a struggle trying to fight the keep jobs and stuff on Sapelo and you know, keep the people over there.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Are there Sapelo residents that have been able to move directly onto the mainland and make a living there but have kind of stuck around the area?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah we have Sapelo resident like finish high school leave go to college, come back and they stay in Brunswick, or Darien or Savannah and like Allen Bailey, also, he's from the island he's a pro football player. And he went to Kansas City, play for the Kansas City Chiefs and he went and left, then went to Atlanta Falcons and now he retired. Some work as nurses and different stuff.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And do a lot of these former residents, do they maintain their properties on Sapelo?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, a lot of them keep their property or their parents still have property. Some of them have parents still there but most of them keep their property. We have had some people have sold property and that will really push our taxes up with people selling you know, land and the person who buy it keeps selling to another person and keep a big amount of money and that pushing our taxes up. That's also forcing our taxes up higher.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Who are the people that are buying property and Sapelo?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

We got one black girl that's from New Jersey, she bought a piece of property, she built a house and then the rest of most of the white Atlantans who have bought property outside and some bought property. If you notice when you was over there, all houses up on stilts. And you see they're much bigger than most of the household Sapelo what we call shotgun houses.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What's the shotgun house?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Shotgun houses when you can see out the front door through the back door.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So you could shoot a shotgun like straight straight through all the way to the back door.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Those are the kind of houses that you know, a long time real people used to do on most of the island were called shotgun houses.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And so the ones on stilts are built that way because of flooding? Is there typically a lot of flooding on the island?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Well, no, because the last time the island really was the major hurricane hit was 1898. But when Hurricane Irma we had a little bit of flood anybody didn't get that high, because they got up to my top step, that's the highest it got to my house. Most of them build them up on there, because they got in finance to the bank, they have to have them on stilts, but not as high as some of those houses. They don't have to be that high.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Let's talk a little bit more about the origins of the basket making craft. Because we were talking a little bit about the materials that you use to make baskets and the materials that were available traditionally, and currently available on Sapelo Island. So there's a lot of sweet grass. There's a lot of the sawtooth palmetto, which you used to bind the grass as you're wrapping the baskets, and pine needles, of course, if you want to add color. But the technique for making the baskets, at least from what I've seen because also on display in our exhibit is a basket that was made in Africa. And you can see that the technique is very similar. And the same, you might say, but the materials are different. Can you talk a little bit about that? Like the materials that would have been used in at Sierra Leone? And western Africa?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I don't know what type grass they use the Sierra Leone but it mostly about the same. And you know, the technique the same as they're doing it, but long time ago, you know, like we used to nail on and stuff. That's what Mr. Green taught us how to do it. A long time ago, you know, they didn't have nails and stuff. So they used to get deer horns and sharpen them and stuff. Like any kind of tool they could make to do the basket with.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Let's talk about the technique. Correct me if I'm wrong, you have a clump of sweet grass. And then you tie a knot. And and this is like the trickiest part of making the basket because you have to get this part right.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, that's the hardest part is starting it off.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Okay, yeah. And so you have the knot, and then you wrap the sweet grass kind of around the knot,

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

You're going to take wherever tool you 're working with stick a hole right in the middle hard part of the knot. Okay, and then wrap it around. And then you just keep going around. And as you go around, you have to keep feeding grass into it as you're working.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And you wrap it, you bind the grass together, kind of in a spiral with flat pieces of sawtooth palmetto, yeah, that you've cut, you use a knife, but what do you think would have been used back a long time ago?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I have seen they take like a piece of oyster shells and take the end of it and scrape it down. So it's just like if you see the basket in Charleston, it's a little different from our basket. Now they use the Purple muhlenbergia. They don't use Spartina patens at all. Okay, they use muhlenbergia and they don't use sawtooth palmetto. They use the sin of the palm tree. Because one day they came to visit me a couple of weeks ago and because he wanted to get some palm tree and I took her out and she cut some palm and use that center of the palm.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

What kind of palm is it, just a regular palm? Okay, what is it cabbage palm is that what it's called?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh yeah, mostly cabbage palm. They get the center out. And you know, when they first start sprouting in the middle they get that and it opens up and it grows another one, the palm tree will grow another one back in the middle. So it don't hurt the palm tree.

 

Jennifer Berglund

That's another part of this right?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

It's like the grass. You cut the grass. The more you cut it the more grows and a lot of time and the guys doing the control burn. I like for them to burn it cause it makes the grass grow better.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So this is another thing so you have regular controlled burns on the island. And that really helps the ecosystem because it would have been happening naturally anyway because of lightning and whatnot. So burning the grass away it basically encourages growth.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

During the wintertime, you know, the grass begins to turn brown and die and you don't want to get them in because that's why I cut my grass like this time of year. This is when I cut my grass and put it up to have it that will last me till next summer. What I did about 15-20 years ago, I wrote to the Reynolds Foundation, they gave me a grant. They built me like a little drying shed to dry my grass in, and they gave me the grant also to teach the kids on the island to weave the basket. But now all those kids now have graduate and they're gone from the island.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What are they all doing now?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Like Allen was one of them, he's a football player. And Franny Bailey. She was one but she works in the Reynolds Mansion now cooking. But the rest of them live on the mainland and work in Brunswick at the hospital or something like it.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Does Allen still make baskets, do you know?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

No. Yeah, both my kids know how to make them. They know how to make them because they used to make them because when they was in high school, I made them make basketsto buy their tennis shoes they wanted. My daughter like to get them fancy hairdo's. So I made them make baskets and sell them and do it. My granddaughter now she making baskets. She going to come and help me with this class this week.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Oh, that's wonderful. How old's your granddaughter?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

She's twelve.

 

Jennifer Berglund

We were talking about different materials from Africa here on the American side. And the materials used in South Carolina are muhlenbergia grass, and it's called purple grass.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Some people call it pink, some say purple muhlenbergia. You have to look it up in the book and it will tell you.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah. And yeah, and I definitely encourage people to look it up because it's just it's a beautiful grass.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

You know, a lot of places people use it in landscaping. Yeah. You know, they buy it and do landscaping. Yeah, I think I saw some out here.

 

Jennifer Berglund

That's so interesting that it's kind of hard to get that grass in South Carolina nowadays.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah. You see, we have both of that grass on Sapelo.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Why do you feel it's important to teach others the craft of basket making,

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I think it's important to teach because it is a tradition that came from Africa and is a dying art. So if I don't teach people like how Mr.Green taught me. It took him a while to teach me when I first came to Sapelo. I always wanted to learn, but he wouldn't teach anybody. He said "no, I'm going to take to my grave." He got to grant. The historical society, they gave him a grant. And that's when he taught about five of us how to do it. And so that's why I put in the grant to teach people and I still teach people how to do baskets and I go different places teaching. But I think it's important to keep it going. Because you know, that is something that your ancestors used to do long time ago. And using the basket for working in the field. So we want to keep it. We don't want it to die out.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Do you feel the presence of your ancestors when you make the baskets?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh yeah, to feel how they used to work, because you know, making a basket, you can't just make a basket in an hour, couple hours. It takes some 10-12 hours or more to make. That's stitching time. It doesn't include getting everything prepared for it. And to see how they used to have to do them and they sell a basket they might didn't get but $1 $2 for those baskets then.

 

Jennifer Berglund

This is an important week. It's the week before Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. And Sapelo has just started celebrating Juneteenth. And they've just started celebrating Juneteenth on the mainland adjacent to Sapelo, really, since it became a national holiday. Is this a tradition that you feel will continue to be important on Sapelo? And on the mainland? Is it something that you plan on participating in and celebrating and why?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, they started Juneteenth last year, it was the first little festival we had on Sapelo. And it wasn't a real big one, but it turned out to be a good little crowd came over and they invited people from the mainland to come over for it. And they, you know, they did a lot of barbecues and stuff. And I think it's important because that's when the slave was free. And so I think it will get bigger and bigger each year now that we've started to have it. I think it'd be very important to get this, and I will participate because I will have to cook because they're asking everybody to bring a covered dish and they got all the guys. So guys get together and barbecue the ribs and chicken and all that stuff, so.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And you have to make your rice and the beans and, you know, all these-

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Peas and rice for them for this weekend.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yes, the red peas, not the beans, right.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yep, red peas. And that's one of the little peas that we grow here on the island. And that's what the slaves used to plant. That's one that they used to plant on the island a long time ago.

 

Jennifer Berglund

The red peas, this is another thing that you're working to preserve. The tradition of growing red peas on the island. I'm asking this out of ignorance, but were the red peas something that were brought from Africa or were they cultivated from a variety? Do you know?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I think they say that's original red peas from Africa and you know, they used to go that and the purple ribbon sugarcane. So Clemson University have donated some of those seeds of the sugarcane to SICARS, that's an organization in the community. And now Maurice Bailey is now working to grow the sugarcane. It's about the third year they have grown their sugarcane and grinding, make syrup, and sell syrup from it. And like my husband and SICARS just do the red peas. So like we got red peas growing now so we have both these and you can keep the seed from one year to the next year to keep planting it. He got a good bit of red peas growing now.

 

Jennifer Berglund

That's sounds delicious. Seafood is very important in the Sapelo culinary tradition, particularly smoked mullet, oysters, clams. Is this something that you all still harvest?

 

Jennifer Berglund

Which festival is this?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, like oysters, they go out and get oysters, Sapelo have the best oysters because we have fresh nice freshwater. And the clams. You gotta get clam and then they go out and cast for the fish. My husband is one - like they have the festival every year. He'd be the one that smoke all the mullet. He usually smokes from 2-300 pounds of mullet and people come out and buy the mullet like crazy. Nothing like a fresh mullet right off the scaffold.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

The Cultural Day Festival they always have in October. But he does it also a lot of time on the mainland to my house on the mainland. And people do All science as well, he can have about 300 pounds of mullet. But if you don't get there before 1:30-2:00 it's all gone. You know, okra. Okra is a good thing a lot of the Geechees used. They like rice and they're like okra to make gumbo and stuff like that. But smoked mullet and okra are good too over dry rice.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So it's interesting. It seems like a lot of the Geechee traditions that have been maintained, have to do with food. Yeah. You have your traditions like the two different doors -

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

They learn how to catch the food and catch the sea food and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And what about in the nets? What are the Geechee nets made of?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

They're made out of like twine screen.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What's that?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

It's more like cotton, it's much heavier than regular net that you buy out the store when they get wet.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And that would draw the net further down and to make it sink in the water?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Well, what they call a little bullet thing. They make to go in the end, the lead that makes it sink. The twine is the net part.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And so that's ideal for catching mullet because mullet are bottom feeders.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Any kind of fish or shrimp and stuff.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So that's an important part of the culinary tradition. You also had mentioned before wild hogs.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh yeah. Gotta hunt the hogs.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Yeah, which are not native, they were brought over at one point. But you regularly hunt them.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

And deer. But they want the hogs gone off in the island because the hogs all they do is root up everything and especially like this time of year the turtle nests and they get out into the beach and eat the turtle eggs and stuff like that so you want them gone.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Oh yeah. Well, it's interesting though, because it seems like it's an important food source.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh yeah, you barbecue those hogs.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And they're delicious. I guess in terms of your culinary traditions, maybe you wouldn't want to see them disappear completely but in terms of the ecology.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

I guarantee you somebody's gonna be cooking some wild hogs on that grill with the regular pork meat they buy with the ribs and stuff.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Oh my god that sounds so good. One more thing about Juneteenth, we were just talking to your friend, Carlita Jordan, and she was talking about the Shouters, the McIntosh County Shouters who were the McIntosh county shouters. And what's the sort of historical significance?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

McIntosh County Shouters is a group for McIntosh, they all from right there in McIntosh. They do what you call a rain dance. Where they shout and they dress with the ladies have their hair all wrapped and have the long dresses on like the ladies used to do long time ago working in the field. And they sing along a lot of slave songs. The songs that slave used to sing when they were working in the fields. And they do the rain dance. When they do the rain dance, you can't pick your feet up off the ground. And the guys, they don't use no kinds of instrument. They got a stick, the guys beat the stick, and the washboards like how they used to have the washboards a long time ago. And everything is no instruments. Everything is all music made from stick and washboards and they sing the song. The guys are beating and the ladies be doing the rain dance. And they clap their hands like how they used to clap their hands and stuff.

 

Jennifer Berglund

So this is another tradition that has been carried on outside of Juneteenth. You know, this is a whole group of people that have continued this tradition for a long time but hopefully will be continued to perform on on Juneteenth. I think it's interesting, though, that it has taken Juneteenth becoming a national holiday for you all to start celebrating it. Yeah, I think it's interesting to reflect on that for a second, like the meaning of making something as significant as Juneteenth. It took making it a national holiday. I mean, I don't think this is unique to you all. But it wasn't something I knew much about before it became a national holiday. And it there was a lot of activism leading up to the creation of it as a national holiday. But before that, I personally didn't know much about it. And it's interesting to hear you talk about not knowing much about it. Just reflecting on that. Do you feel comfortable talking at all about the fact that it is now a national holiday? Like does that mean something to you and terms of the country recognizing?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Yeah, you know, that they recognize it because they know how slavery used to be long time ago, and now that they recognize it, you know, making it a national holiday to let people see, you know, what the slaves have gone through long time ago. So I think it's very important to have, you know, it's nice that they did this.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And for all of us to really remember.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What are the greatest challenges that your Sapelo community faces as we move into the future?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

The greatest challenge is people holding on to their land. To keep the population, try to keep some population on the island. And I bring, if we can get some jobs over there to bring people back to the island. Because otherwise if, you know, you don't get jobs back then all kids leave. And I'm now in my 60s and my husband is in his late 60s. And you know, a lot of people in the community now getting up in age, you know, there won't be nobody there to keep the community going. It'd be like, since I'm in a little vacation place for people to come on vacation, if you don't have the community there no more. And just try to fight with the county and keep our taxes down. Right now we got lawsuits against the McIntosh County on a lot of stuff going on, they're not doing for us and we paying all taxes so it's a struggle trying to fight to keep it going.

 

Jennifer Berglund

If you all are no longer there, what happens to this history, you know. You all are doing so much to preserve that history and that culture through basket weaving, through growing red peas, and rice, and the traditional foodstuffs. And also, there's an effort to make a museum on the island, as well.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Well, we're hoping to. I don't know how they're gonna come out later on. So we hope to have a museum over there. And so the county, they had a meeting with us about the senior citizen building, so people have put in proposal what they want that building to become. So we're hoping to do something with that senior citizen building to make it-

 

Jennifer Berglund

And make it a museum on Sapelo Geechee culture.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

You know, stuff on the islands, stuff like that. I'd love to see that happen. Me too.

 

Jennifer Berglund

What's your greatest hope for your community and your traditions on Sapelo?

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

You know, it's not the people who live on the island selling land, it's most of the people who found out who moved away have sold. If we can get the people not to sell the land, if you want to do something, lease it out, don't sell it. And keep that land and get more jobs, get them back on the island, getting more people there. And so we keep the community going and stuff like that. You know, people always say like so how you feel about tourists coming to Sapelo? It's good that tourists come because that help, like the little store and help people. I mean, you do tours, that's money for us in the community. When you're on a private tour, instead of taking the state tour and stuff like that, too. That'd be nice for more African American to come over to see, you know, the people on the island because the people on the island, most of them are African American. So we'd like to see more black people come on the tours, to see Sapelo and see the struggle they go through to keep their land on the island stuff like that. So just like in the Fuskey Island, they was fighting to try to keep their land. I think they still kind of fighting on some of that. And then like the one in Harris Neck in Georgia. Yeah, that's in McIntosh. They fighting. That's not on the island that's on the mainland from Sapelo. And they fighting for their land. If we get people to stop selling the land, and people stop building all the big houses that keep our taxes down. Because otherwise the taxes are gonna force you off the island, especially when you got people on fixed income and stuff like that.

 

Jennifer Berglund

And another thing that I remember you're talking about is how you'd wanted to see more children on the island.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I'd love to see more kids, you know, because they're the ones who are the future. So if we can get more kids on island, you know, that's the future of Sapelo and keep the population going

 

Jennifer Berglund

Mrs. Grovner, thank you so much for being here. This has been wonderful.

 

Mrs. Yvonne Grovner

You're welcome. I was glad to be here, glad to do it. I hope to see you again on Sapelo though. All right, thank you.

 

Jennifer Berglund

Today's HMSC Connects! podcast was edited by Emma Knudsen and produced by me, Jennifer Berglund, and the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture. Special thanks to the residents of Sapelo Island, Georgia and Mrs. Yvonne Grovner for her wisdom and expertise. Thank you so much for listening. If you liked today's podcast, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podbean or wherever you get your podcasts. See you in a couple of weeks!