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"Raptors in the Ricelands" by Ron Daise: A Brilliant, Literary Masterpiece

By Akindele T.M. Decker, Sierra Leonean Poet and Writer

 

Part I

 

 

I have been reading Raptors in the Ricelands by Mr. Ron Daise as a friend of the Author, as a Sierra Leonean, and as someone with great interest in African American and Gullah Geechee history.  From all of these perspectives, I can say with ease that this is a brilliant, literary masterpiece that will remain a timeless classic for everyone.

 

Going through the book, it is hard to believe that this is Daise’s first novel in the historical-fiction genre.  There is so much brilliance in the style and technique of Daise’s writing to help us, the readers, navigate through the many complex layers and historical periods of Gullah Geechee culture.  

 

Raptors in the Ricelands is filled with exciting imagery that skillfully paints in the reader’s mind the depth of Gullah Geechee culture.  His careful shuffling of time sends the reader into an interaction with Afrofuturism and through a historical journey of the local history of Georgetown, SC. 

 

Daise doesn’t waste any space in telling us about the richness of Gullah history.  Every space is filled with knowledge sharing, storytelling, imagery, cultural symbolism, and history.  We learn about the historic Carolina rice cultivation before we even get to read the story.  We get introduced to the rice heritage of Gullah Geechee culture at the Table of Contents.  Daise constructs the chapters with the names of rice growing phases, unique to the Gullah Geechee and West African traditions such as Planting, Growing, Harvesting, Threshing and Milling.

 

Language becomes a vessel, carrying the reader along the way to experience the Caribbean with a Gullah Geechee traveler and get a sense of the important cross-cultural experiences that take place during heritage tourism.  Daise is an expert and veteran in cultural demonstrations, so he does not waste opportunities in this book to introduce us, not only to what is local to us but what it feels like to meet ourselves in other places and see ourselves in other cultures.  Throughout the book, one begins to unpack the complex layers of “beenyahs”, “comeyahs”, and Raptors in important historic communities like the Gullah Geechee. 

 

There are personal stories we come across in this book, in the very real and familiar characters of Vernon Russell Porcher, Chadwick Wineglass, Florence Tucker Wineglass, and others.   We explore love, ambition, family, faith and so many other social dynamics within the black community.  We get to know who the “Raptors in the Ricelands” are and to understand how the Gullah Geechee community in the Georgetown area evolved in response to them.

 

I first met Mr. Daise 18 years ago in Beaufort, SC, when Sierra Leoneans went there in 2006 as part of a tour group.  I met him a few more times during visits to the South Carolina Lowcountry and I came to understand more of why he is considered one of the main custodians of Gullah Geechee culture today.  I traveled to Sierra Leone, West Africa with Mr. Daise, his family, and others in 2019, for a study tour trip hosted by Fambul Tik Heritage Company.  While reading Raptors in the Ricelands, I often thought back to that trip with a more interpretive perspective of Gullah Geechee identity, not only with how it relates to West Africa, but to places in the Caribbean where it also finds a connected heritage.  



 

The reach of this book will be powerful, and its reception, I’m sure, will be profound.  I believe anyone of African descent, whose history is interwoven with the broader Atlantic world will appreciate this new historical perspective by Mr. Daise.  We need more books like this that aim to address the cross-border cultural exchanges and connections between different groups within the African Diaspora.  Mr. Daise’s ability to skillfully bring Gullah Geechee, Caribbean, and African heritage to an intersection in Raptors of the Ricelands should be applauded.  



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