The Gullah People and Their African Heritage
Rowland, Lawrence S., South Carolina Historical Magazine
The Gullah People and Their African Heritage. By William S. Pollitzer. (Athens: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1999. Pp. xxiii, 298. $40.00, cloth).
This is an excellent book. It should be added to every reading list for students of South Carolina history. The literature on the unique Gullah culture of the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands is growing in volume and substance each year. Much speculation and some invention surrounds this intriguing subject and fundamental questions of South Carolina history persist. Who are the "Gullah"? Where did they come from? What is the origin of their oft-observed African cultural retentions? Added to pioneering work by Samuel G. Stoney, Mason Crum, Guy B. Johnson, Guion G. Johnson, T.J. Woofter, Malcom Bell and Lorenzo Dow Turner in the 1930s and 1940s are excellent new studies such as Charles Joyner's Down by the Riverside (1984) and Margaret Washington Creel's Peculiar People (1988). To this distinguished list must now be added William S. Pollitzer's new book.
Professor Pollitzer has spent a career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as professor of anatomy and anthropology. He brings a new perspective to the mystery of the Gullah, that of a medical geneticist. He is descended from a prominent family of post-Civil War Beaufort, South Carolina, and has visited the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia regularly for more than fifty years gathering evidence for this study. His review of the literature is comprehensive and his analysis and summary is precise and convincing. What Pollitzer adds to this study is his own original scientific research on gene-types, genetic anomalies and blood-types as relates to Americans of African origin. The results are fascinating and add the authority of science to the cultural and historical observations of many previous scholars. Pollitzer's conclusion is that while African-American cultural and linguistic retentions derive from a variety of African origins, the predominant influence on the sea island Gullah culture is from the Congo and Angola (N'Gullah in Bantu) region of Africa. …