Gullah artist Vermelle "Bunny" Smith Rodrigues is a native of Georgetown, S.C. Bunny specializes in creating and fabricating story quilts and in recreating the folk art of the Carolina Low Country. Her story quilts are prized and sought after by museums and private collectors. Her Gullah Ooman Story Quilt  tells the story of the Gullah people, from a West African village to Emancipation from slavery in the Low Country. (A copy of the Gullah Ooman Story Quilt is on permanent display in the Children's Museum of Houston.)

Bunny and her husband, Andrew, use the story quilt as a teaching tool in lectures at the Gullah Museum in Georgetown, S.C. Did you know that "Cumbaya," aka "Kumbaya," is a Gullah spiritual? Yes, "Cumbaya means "Come by here" in Gullah. Did you know that the musical "Porgy and Bess" is about Gullah people? Did you know that gumbo, red rice and slow-cooked collard greens are Southern dishes that the Gullahs brought from West Africa? Did you know every time you use the words “tote,” “okra,” yam,” or “goober” that you are speaking Gullah?

She was inspired to create the quilt after the couple did extensive research of African and Gullah South Carolina Low Country history, related African history, and the history of Africans in the Diaspora to the Americas. The quilt also explains the role of the Gullah's technological knowledge and physical labor in the successful development of open land cattle farming, and rice and indigo cultures that were the foundation of South Carolina's extremely rich colonial agricultural economy, with rice continuing to be a mainstay into the 20th century.  

Each panel of the quilt tells the story of  how the Gullah people came together to create a culture that continues to influence America today. The centerpiece panel depicts the strong "Gullah Ooman" who carried and still carries our dreams, hopes, and aspirations; who taught us then and now how to survive in a hostile environment; and through it all, gave us strength to endure then and now.

Clockwise from bottom left:

 1. Pyramids - Africa, the origin of all mankind and the Motherland of all African American.

 2. House - a peaceful African village in a pastoral agrarian society.

3. People - enjoying village life before the first Europeans arrival.

4. Dove of Peace and Enslavement Net - The first Europeans arrived and were handed the dove of peace; in turn they captured the Africans for the transatlantic slave trade.

5. Slave Ship - slave traders and the beginning of the African diaspora.

6. African holding pens - slaves were held on the West African coast and sea islands (Bunce, Elmina, Goree, and Cape Verde).

7. Middle Passage - (top) the horror, and the bones of millions of African ancestors at the bottom of the Atlantic - those who died or were killed during passage, on the same route that hurricanes now travel.

8. American Holding Pens - Sullivan Island, where 40% of our ancestors entered the American "door of no return" into bondage and despair.

 9. Auction Block - slaves were sold as if they were the same as horses or cattle, and the rawhide whip of the overseer.

 10. Big House - a planter's house and outbuildings built by enslaved African craftsmen, symbolizing all that was dehumanizing and evil in slavery, and the many thousands of Africans and Gullahs who lived and died in swampy, pestilence ridden rice fields ante-bellum South Carolina and America wealthy.

 11. Big Mama - symbolic of all women on the plantation who did it all - physician, mid-wife, psychiatrist, mediator, liberator, sometimes involuntary mistress to the enslaver, she did all the work of a man, except the heaviest.

12. Staple Crop Field - the sizzling sun on cattle ranges, rice, indigo, and cotton fields where Africans and Gullah not only slave, but taught the Europeans the African methods of such farming, making the Carolinas one of the richest agricultural societies in the 18th century.

13. Religious Building - Traditional African religion - Islamic, Judaic, Christian - that helped us keep faith, through a living hell; until Emancipation, when we were given "nothing but freedom." The church represents "Watch Night Service," Dec. 31, 1862. [President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became law Jan. 1, 1863.]