Sea Islanders - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Most Sea Islanders are at least nominal members of the Baptist or Methodist churches, although many of the smaller island congregations can no longer sustain a full-time minister. The praise house system, as described above for St. Helena, was once widespread on the islands and allowed for immediate, local-level participation in weekday praise meetings which supplemented Sunday services. Praise houses in former times were the settings for "ring shouts," a form of religiously inspired dance. With the decline in the African American population, most praise houses and many churches have fallen into disrepair.

Medicine. Local medical practitioners, primarily women who were also skilled as midwives, or "grannies," are also rapidly disappearing in the face of restrictive state regulations. The grannies are remembered with great affection and respect for their ability to "put you on your feet out of the woods" through the use of locally available herbal medicines. The general feeling is that White-run hospitals and doctors use the same "plants" in their pills as were known to the grannies, but charge much more for their services. The ability to cause others harm through illness as well as the ability to heal is likewise held to be available to skilled and knowledgeable people.

Death and Afterlife. Concepts of death and the afterlife depart from standard Christian doctrine in the belief in multiple souls. While the "soul" leaves the body and returns to God at death, the "spirit" remains on earth, connected to and still interested in its living descendants. Graves are decorated with favorite objects belonging to the deceased in life and elaborate funerals are planned and saved for by the living. Many of the practices relating to the treatment of dead bodies, graves, and burial grounds have clear West African origins. The historical continuity of practices still observable today has been documented by Creel.

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