By Bonnie Drew | Haint blue is the pale blue color you will often see on the porch ceilings in historic Beaufort. “Haint” is the Gullah pronunciation for “haunt,” or spirit. Caught between life and death, these frustrated spirits would find a dwelling to haunt if not for one weakness: they cannot cross water. Tricked by the pale blue ceilings or painted window frames, these angry spirits fear the “water” and avoid the house. This method of driving evil away was told and retold by the Africans from Angola when they were brought here as slaves to the sea islands to grow rice and indigo in the 1700’s.
The refreshing pale blue has grown in popularity across America for its aesthetic quality, but it is most often seen in areas that were influenced by African folklore: coastal Georgia and South Carolina, New Orleans and even in the Caribbean. Local materials including milk paint formulas, lime and other available pigments were mixed together in pits dug in the ground to make the paint. It is possible that the blue color was made by some people in this area by diluting the rich blue dye that was processed from the Indigo plant. Because it was mixed by hand, there was no formula to create an exact shade of blue. Therefore, “haint blue” is open to interpretation. All shades of blues and greens have been sighted in downtown Beaufort.
The formulation for haint blue at the Lady’s Island Sherwin Williams was created at local stores to serve the Lowcountry in Beaufort and Charleston. You will not find a color called “haint blue” on the store’s website. Store manager Derrick Bellinger keeps a light blue piece of paper right behind the counter with the words “HAINT BLUE” written across the front as an example. If a customer in Washington, D.C. wants a “haint blue” ceiling, the stores in Beaufort and Charleston are called upon to share the formulation.
Even if you are not superstitious, you may need pest control. Mud dauber wasps will not build a nest on a blue ceiling and neither will a bird build a nest in any underlying nook or cranny. The blue ceiling appears as an extension of the sky to these creatures, not an ideal place to bed down. You and your guests will be effectively protected from stings and droppings. This color is a painted conversation-starter! So join in with a local tradition that has roots in history.