Haint blue is more than a collection of pale shades of blue-green that are traditionally used to paint porch ceilings in the southern United States.
The Gullah-Geechee people of the Sea Islands, which includes Daufuskie Island are direct descendents of the West Africans once enslaved on Lowcountry plantations. It is these people who are widely credited with using “haint blue” to deter spirits from entering the home.
Before bridges connected these isolated communities to the mainland, milk-paint formulas were often mixed on-site using local pigments and ingredients, including lime.
Several sources suggest the lime — or perhaps indigo — acted as an insect repellent, rather than the color itself. As for ghosts, some argue they are unable to cross over water and others claim “heaven blue” is a deterrent.
However, traditions and superstitions vary from island to island.
Local Gullah storyteller Louise Miller Cohen, who also serves on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, has tales of Booga Hags and supernatural “hot spots” where your hair will stand on end, but hadn’t heard the term “haint blue” growing up here.
Able to trace her family’s roots on Hilton Head back to the 1800s, Cohen notes many Native Islanders used blue as an exterior paint — but it was merely a preference, rather than a symbolic gesture.
Referring to it as a “transplant” idea, she laughingly points out that if blue did keep the haints away, EVERY house on the Island would have been the same color.
While other Gullah communities may practice this tradition, Cohen insists it had nothing to do with the color of her uncle‘s home, a.k.a. “Bubba Duey’s Little House.”
In an effort to protect, preserve and promote Gullah history and culture and showcase life “before the bridge,” Cohen is currently restoring her uncle‘s home on Hilton Head. The structure, one of several located on property her great-grandfather, William Simmons, purchased after the Civil War, will eventually become part of the non-profit Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island.
by Allyson Jones
For more information on the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island, call (843) 681-3254 or visit them online at www.gullahmuseumhhi.org.