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African American Culture

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Exam 1

Question 1

Beginning in the early 1600's and lasting well into the 1800's, the enslavement of African-Americans was not only a practiced but a common and accepted mode of labor. During this period, many divisions arose between the different African ethnic groups that had been brought to America. But, despite the separations created by ethnic, generational, class, gender, and religious differences, a new culture surfaced from among the many African groups which generated a common identity and built unity within the African American communities.

One of the major separations among the Africans was that created by generational gaps. Some slaves had been born in Africa, others had parents born in Africa and others had families that had had two or three generations born on American soil. The slaves that had been brought to America had a hard time relating to those who had been born in America and whose parents had been born in America because of the different experiences and knowledge that they had. Slaves born in Africa knew what it was like to be free and respected and knew that their lives had much more meaning to it than to be serving others. Slaves where many generations of their family line were American born had a harder time identifying with the African culture. Sankofa, the self-appointed guard of the sacred ground where the slave trade once took place, calls to all people of African descent to "go back to their roots", to familiarize with their ancestors struggles and accomplishments (Sankofa). A way in which the different generations united was through stories told by each other. The story of King Buzzard who allowed his people to be sold into slavery and was then punished by having to "wander alone and eat carrion for the rest of his life" emphasizes the need for African unity and the importance of remaining a community because larger numbers generate stronger resistances ( Stuckey 5). Although there were many gaps in the different generational groups pf African slaves, they allowed those differences to be ignored in order to bring them together and make them a more tight knit community.

Religious differences was also a very common factor that caused schisms between the African slaves but religion also proved to be one of the most uniting aspects of African-American culture. When the African slaves were brought to America, they were brought from different geographical regions as well as different communities in Africa and were forced into one community as Americans' slaves. They had very different religious practices and rituals from one another and they believed different myths and stories. Not only were they forced to now live and work together but they were also forced to practice their religions together. Many slave owners also forced the slaves to learn the fundamentals of Christianity and to believe what the Bible said was true. Although the ideas of Christianity that were emphasized to the slaves included the thought that slaves should obey their masters and that submission leads to salvation, the slaves also used the Bible for their own means. In the same way that slave owners tried to justify slavery through the teachings in the Bible, the African American slaves used the story in Exodus of the Hebrew escape to justify their own escapes and attempts at freedom. The slaves began to incorporate their own African practices in with the Christian rituals to create an entirely new form of Christianity. New churches rose up and the African Americans developed their own new rituals and practices. These religious practices brought unity to the African communities in America by unifying their beliefs and creating a common set of practices. Africans also used singing and dancing as means of ending the divisions among the slaves by changing the words of the hymns and using the new songs to communicate with each other and to build each other up. They also incorporated dancing into the church, which was unheard of in the white Christian practices. Dancing was a huge part of the African culture so by adding that to the services they were maintaining a piece of their old history and lives. African Americans used the incorporation of African rituals and practices with the fundamentals of Christianity to create a new denomination of religion and to bring the many African groups together on one set of beliefs.

Along with the numerous different cultures and practices that came to America during the slave trade, over a hundred different languages also traveled across the Atlantic to the shores of America. Initially a huge dividing factor among the slaves, mainly because they could not understand each other, language became one of the most unifying aspects of African American culture. They combined the English that they knew with different words and sounds from their own languages to form a new language often now referred to as Gullah, which is the "black English" spoken in New Orleans, or African American Vernacular English. This separation from the proper form of English allowed the slaves their own identity and culture that still remains today.

Despite the schisms among the Africans brought to America in regards to religion, generational and language, the African American slaves succeeded in creating a new unified identity for themselves by incorporating their many different practices brought from Africa with that of the new American practices.

Question 2

Syncretism is defined as the combination of ideals, ideas, religious practices or languages. Within the African American culture, most scholars define syncretism as the merging of black and white styles of music. When the African slaves were brought to America they brought with them many different forms of music and many different ideas of what music should sound and feel like. They were met by the whites with very dissimilar ideas of music. Much of the black music was rich in rhythm and beat whereas a lot of the music in America at the time was not as up beat.

With the combination of the different styles of music, much of the African rhythm and meter was maintained. The two types of slave music in the United States were a secular music that consisted of



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