History of Carolina Indigo From An Indigenous Point Of View
My family history connection to Georgetown, South Carolina indigo is kidnapping, slavery, oppression and rape. To those of us born to the land of the Carolinas, South Carolina is described as “The Low Country.” We called Indigofera suffruticosa “The Indigo Blues.” However, our Anglo overseers consumed with indigo fever knew it as “Blue Gold.” I’ve researched the history of indigo around the world, and it’s a horrific tale of indigenous people of color being exploited for profit. My Gullah ancestors and my history with “Low Country” indigo is part of the greater story of slavery in South Carolina.
As contemporary society is reconnecting with the hypnotic seductive deep blue color of natural indigo, the stain of its dark legacy is resurfacing. Many indigo practitioners choose to overlook or white wash the pain associated with this deep purplish cool blue color. As an indigenous Carolina practitioner, I embrace the pain of my ancestors by celebrating indigo as a sacred medicine. The transformative power from wet green cloth to oxidized blue mersized me as a child of five, and it thrills me just as much at 70. Every vat of indigo is a spiritual experience that drowns me in the tears of my ancestors.
It’s no accident that indigo is waking up creative hands in a world broken by fear of cultural others, and the ruthless desire for domination. The medicine of indigo demonstrates transformation. My Momma’s teaching that if we witness transformation on cloth, we can be empowered to transform our individual lives. Watching blue emerge on fabric from green before your eyes gives hope. Seeing blue indigo fabric blowing on a clothesline in the wind is a peaceful experience to dye for.
The accumulated pain of my “Low Country” family ties made speaking the generational trauma impossible. The stories of survival were transmitted in making resist bundles of cloth tied with tobacco twine and cotton sinew that bound up our collective pain into a medicine bundle. Indigo dyed muslin was a “poor colored woman’s cloth” as Ma called it. She washed, cleaned and cooked for an Anglo woman during Jim Crow who never paid her in money but only with unbleached muslin cloth.
I dye yardage in indigo because that’s what the women in my family did. We wore indigo blue three-tier tear cotton skirts as a proud symbol of sisterhood that we survived. We made indigo blue blankets to wrap ourselves and our families in the warmth of protection in a society that believed that our lives had no value. We twined strips of blue hemp into mats as our ancestors had done before colonization to give witness that rape and slavery didn’t destroy our souls. Yes we are a mixed blood remnant of the children of the Tuscarora Confederacy forced marched to Charleston, South Carolina and enslaved after the massacre at Fort Neyukeru:ke in 1713. And, yes we are still here on the land drenched in the blood and sweat of our ancestors creating indigo blues to dye for!