South Carolina is my home. My maternal grandfather's family has been in South Carolina since 1736.
The sweetgrass basket is South Carolina's official state handcraft. Just like milk is our state beverage, The Shag is our state dance, Boiled Peanuts our state snack, and the Boykin Spaniel our state dog.
The sweetgrass basket is special because it is not made using typical weaving techniques like plaiting or twisting, which are common in other parts of the world. Instead, sweetgrass baskets use the West African tradition of coiling. Dried sweetgrass is bundled together and coiled in circles. Thin strands of palmetto fronds hold the piece in place, and bulrush and pine needles are then added for decoration and strength.
The coiling of sweetgrass was common along the Rice Coast of West Africa where Africans had experience with rice cultivation and a similar climate to that of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Knowledge and experience made Africans from this region particularly sought after in the Atlantic Slave Trade to the Lowcountry where rice was a major cash crop. African enslaved people brought this art form to South Carolina and these baskets aided in rice production, particularly separating the seed from the chaff. They are now a treasured art form that is passed down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, through the Gullah community.
Sweetgrass baskets are an important part of Gullah culture, tradition and heritage. As a South Carolinian, it's important for me to commemorate the legacy and history of sweetgrass baskets and their makers.