The following article is a combination of two posts from https://lowcountrygullah.com/category/gullah-geechee-corridor/ and written by Luana M. Graves Sellars. Luana is a Gullah community activist, cultural influencer, and preservationist, she has used her skills as a writer to document, educate and promote the culture. We thank her for allowing Beaufort.com to share her vast knowledge and invaluable material with our readers.
The Gullah people have been guarding against dark spirits for centuries.
The bottle tree and the use of haint blue are traditional Gullah ways of protection from malevolent entities. Below, Luana Sellars explains their functions and origins.
Yard after yard, in the front of Gullah homes, variations of beautifully colored bottle trees dot the neighborhood. Today, it’s considered a Sea Island decoration that symbolizes good luck and a bountiful harvest or garden. The use of bottle trees, however, is another spiritual Gullah tradition with African roots that dates back centuries. Originally created by capping the end of crape-myrtle tree branches with bottles, the tree was especially significant to slaves dating as far back to the Old Testament, symbolic of freedom.
The bottles, which are mostly a rich cobalt blue, which can also be tied on, are meant to capture evil spirits prior to entering one’s home. The haints or spirits, who travel in the night, once captured, become stuck in the bottles. If wind blew across the bottles causing it to hum, it is believed that it was from a spirit’s efforts to escape by swirling within the bottles. With the rising of the morning sun, the captured spirits would be destroyed.
Sometimes called robins egg blue or Carolina blue, haint blue is more than just a popular Lowcountry color. Used on porch ceilings or a home’s front entrance, haint blue is rooted in Gullah tradition. It represents a deeper spiritual meaning.
Based in African culture, the Gullah spiritual tradition uses the color for comfort and protection or to ward off evil or unwanted spirits, called haints or boo hags, that might want to spread chaos. The haints were thought to be distracted or tricked by the color. The hue was thought to be confused with heaven, preventing menacing forces from crossing a porch or entering a home. The shade of blue is derived from the indigo plants that were grown throughout Lowcountry plantations. Haint blue is similar to the sky or of water, which the spirits could not cross.
By Luana M. Graves Sellars
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