Cover image for The Gullah people and their African heritage
The Gullah people and their African heritage
Pollitzer, William S., 1923-
Publication Information:
Athens : University of Georgia Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 298 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.93.S7 P65 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The Gullah people are one of our most distinctive cultural groups. Isolated off the South Carolina-Georgia coast for nearly three centuries, the native black population of the Sea Islands has developed a vibrant way of life that remains, in many ways, as African as it is American. This landmark volume tells a multifaceted story of this venerable society, emphasizing its roots in Africa, its unique imprint on America, and current threats to its survival.

With a keen sense of the limits to establishing origins and tracing adaptations, William S. Pollitzer discusses such aspects of Gullah history and culture as language, religion, family and social relationships, music, folklore, trades and skills, and arts and crafts. Readers will learn of the indigo- and rice-growing skills that slaves taught to their masters, the echoes of an African past that are woven into baskets and stitched into quilts, the forms and phrasings that identify Gullah speech, and much more. Pollitzer also presents a wealth of data on blood composition, bone structure, disease, and other biological factors. This research not only underscores ongoing health challenges to the Gullah people but also helps to highlight their complex ties to various African peoples.

Drawing on fields from archaeology and anthropology to linguistics and medicine, The Gullah People and Their African Heritage celebrates a remarkable people and calls on us to help protect their irreplaceable culture.

Author Notes

William S. Pollitzer was a professor emeritus of anatomy and anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. A past president of both the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the Human Biology Council, Pollitzer published almost one hundred articles, most of them dealing with Indian, African American, or triracial populations and their history and admixture.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

The Gullah-speaking people of the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands have long fascinated scholars and anthropologists because their culture retains a greater African influence than the culture of African Americans generally. Their creolized language, naming practices, handicrafts, musical styles, folktales, and folk beliefs all give strong evidence of the sea islanders' African roots. Pollitzer, an anthropologist and native of the South Carolina Low Country, presents a thoughtful and thorough examination of the language, culture, history, and population genetics of the Gullah-speaking people. His research into the customs and languages of modern African groups, along with a detailed history of the slave trade, provides tantalizing clues to the regional African origins of some aspects of Gullah culture. Pollitzer's work is scholarly but wide-ranging and engagingly written. Recommended for academic collections in anthropology and African American studies.--Elizabeth Anne Salt, Otterbein Coll. Lib., Westerville, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Pollitzer's book had its beginnings more than four decades ago in his doctoral dissertation, which studied genetic admixture as a factor of population change over time among coastal Carolina and Georgia blacks, commonly known as Gullah. Intrigued that these blacks seemed to be closer to their African ancestors and less mixed with whites than other black Americans, Pollitzer spent many years studying exactly what African traits they maintained. He generally avoids the pitfalls common to this type of work, the most notable being an attempt to prove African retentions by listing traits common to both Africa and the Sea Islands. Thus, he notes that although an owl hooting means someone is going to die in West Africa and among the Gullah, he wisely cautions against making too much of this because this belief is widespread. Pollitzer's main accomplishments here are providing syntheses of current thinking about the "Africanness" of the Gullah and presenting solid data on source populations, relative percentages of those populations among the Gullah, and showing influences of the different groups on Gullah life and culture. These achievements make this a valuable work. Upper-division undergraduates and above. W. K. McNeil; Ozark Folk Center