The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery
|Digital History ID 3043|
Through their families, religion, folklore, and music, as well as more direct forms of resistance, Africans-Americans resisted the debilitating effects of slavery and created a vital culture supportive of human dignity. In addition, slaves exerted a profound influence on all aspects of American culture.
The American language is filled with Africanisms. Such words as bogus, bug, phony, yam, tote, gumbo, jamboree, jazz, and funky all have African roots. Our cuisine, too, is heavily influenced by African practices. Deep-fat frying, gumbos, and fricassees stem from West and Central Africa. Our music is heavily dependent on African traditions. Sea chanties and yodeling, as well as spirituals and the use of falsetto were heavily influenced by African traditions. The frame construction of houses; the "call and response" pattern in sermons; the stress on the Holy Spirit and an emotional conversion experience--these too appear to derive at least partly from African customs. Finally, Africans played a critical role in the production of such crops as rice or sweet potatoes that the English had not previously encountered.
Slave religious and cultural traditions played a particularly important role in helping slaves survive the harshness and misery of life under slavery. Many slaves drew on African customs when they buried their dead. Conjurors adapted and blended African religious rites that made use of herbs and supernatural powers. Slaves also perpetuated a rich tradition of West and Central African parables, proverbs, verbal games, and legends. They also retained in their folklore certain central figures. Cunning tricksters, often represented as tortoises, spiders, or rabbits, outwitted their more powerful enemies.
Through folklore, slaves also sustained a sense of separate identity and conveyed valuable lessons to their children. Among the most popular folktales were animal trickster stories, like the Brer Rabbit tales, derived from similar African stories, which told of powerless creatures who achieved their will through wit and guile, not power and authority.