Where African Americans More African or American, Essay Example
The following essay is an analysis of slavery as presented in the book “The slave community: plantation life in the Antebellum south” by John W. Blassingame and also in the book named “Through the Prism of Folklore: The Black Ethos in Slavery” by Sterling Stuckey. The thesis question of this essay asks whether African Americans were more Africans or Americans. The development of the thesis question is based on the existing historical debate among African scholars regarding the identity of the African Americans and the nature of the slave culture. Through analyzing African American cultural traits, their relationship with the European and their experience of slavery, I will give my honest and truthful opinion regarding the identity of the African Americans.
The history of African slavery dates back to the 16th century where the first African slaves were brought all the way from the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia. The main purpose for bringing the African slaves was for them to work in the production of lucrative crops such as tobacco, indigo plantation and rice. Though there is no accurate figure on the number of slaves brought from Africa, historians estimated an import figure of 6 to 7 million slaves from Africa after the American Revolution. Most saves lived on the large or small plantations where they were working. The slave owners sought to make slaves completely dependent on them through a system of restrictive codes and regulations, which governed the life, as well as, the existence of slaves. The practice of slavery continued throughout the American colonies until the mid 19h century. This is where a great debate over slavery erupted and tore the nation apart through the bloody American Civil War.
Judging from the history of black slavery, my opinion regarding the debate, is that African Americans were more Africans than Americans based on how other races treated them and the development of their lifestyle from the slave culture. Ever since their arrival in America, African slaves were treated differently from other type of people especially due to their skin color. They experienced discrimination and seclusion from their masters and other individuals who considered their skin color to be superior. Unlike other Americans, African slaves were prohibited from reading and writing, from marriage and civil rights such as voting and securing better paying jobs. Although slave marriage had no legal basis, African slaves still married and raised large families. According to the African tradition, large families were a symbol of health and wealth. They did not abandon this traditional practice even after years of living in a foreign land.
Stuckey explains that, through the African folk songs generated by the slaves during the colonial period, the slaves obtained the ability of fashioning a lifestyle and a set of values, which prevented them from being imprisoned (431). According to the author, slave folklore affirms the existence of a large number of vital and tough-minded human beings who found a way of enduring and preserving their humanity when facing insuperable odds. During the antebellum days, African slave still sang and danced folk songs of different meaning, which was a common culture in their native country. For example, they would sing sad songs to explain their misery, work songs to motivate them in clearing and cultivating land, and rebellious songs aimed at attacking the slavery system among others (426). Through the creation, of such songs, the African slaves could express their feelings, and as it turned out, they became leaders in this vital area of art. For example, some folk songs were used to improve a considerable portion of other songs.
Blassingame argues that the African slaves brought to America did not look forward to be ransomed. Although these slaves behaved like the ransomed white slaves in the first years of their captivity, most of the enslaved Africans had to make few adjustments regarding their lifestyle (68). For example, they had to learn their captor’s language, adopt their culture and even accept their God. However, these African slaves retained most of their Africanism in music, dance, religion and language. For example, Christianity attracted most of the native Africans enslaved since they believed in creation stories, spirits, priests, healers Supreme Being and elaborate moral and ethical systems present in their African religion. As a result, African slaves formed their own southern churches based on Christianity that allowed African tenets and practices (73). A number of slaves adopted such Christianity due to its animistic features that were similar to the African beliefs.
Most black slaves maintained the language, which they used while in their native country. Although they tried to learn English to communicate with their masters, they spoke in vernacular language to each other and to their children. Blassingame identifies that southern clergymen learned that, one of the greatest barriers when it came to instructing Africans in the 16th and 17th centuries was; the inability of adult slaves to understand both spoken and written English. This meant that they still used their native language since, it was the only thing they understood. The language barrier coupled with the adherence of the Africans to their previous religious beliefs forced clergymen to turn their focus to slave children (76).
In addition, Blassingame states that African have traditionally been among the world’s leading linguists as a result of learning different dialects and languages from people with whom they have traded, fought or interacted. Africans learned the essentials of their language and gave the European language an African tint. For example, most whites in the south adopted African words to communicate with the Africans. Such words included Mandingo, Ibo and Hausa. Since language was one of the unalienable cultural possessions, slaves together with their descendants, retained African equivalents and form in their conversation and oratory (84).
The other cultural traits retained by Africans apart from language and religion, were agricultural practices, sexual attitudes, architecture, food and social relations and rhythm of life. During the colonial period, the slaves planted rice according to their African practice. They believed in their African tradition of cooperative work accompanied by rhythmic music. Such practices led some masters into adopting gang labor. Other masters adopted the African task system where slaves received a portion of each to labor since Africans had learned to work in a relatively slow pace to survive the heat as they had come from a tropical zone (Blassingame 99).
The enslaved Africans also used their traditional skills in curing various diseases. Most of them, did not believe in modern medicine since it was a new thing for them. Since the African traditional skill of curing diseases worked, the southern whites’ material medical received infusions from most of these African skills. The whites and other individual would often seek help from the African slaves when experiencing diseases in which they could not obtain their cure. Additionally, the slaves forced their masters to adapt to African tastes in food since they could not eat European dishes without adding African spices. They also used to make savory stews and rice dishes for their owners unlike the lightly seasoned English dishes, which they had known (Blassingame 103).
The Antebellum black slaves created various unique cultural forms, which promoted group solidarity, lightened their burden of oppression, provided ways for verbalizing aggression, building their self-esteem and representing their areas of lives, which were free from the control of the whites. Elements of slave culture such as language, beliefs, customs, and ceremonies, set them apart from their masters. Their thoughts, values, behavior and ideals, were greatly influenced by these processes. The more the cultural forms of African slaves differed from their masters, the more the slaves became immune to the control of the whites and the more they gained in positive self-concept and personal autonomy. Through social organizations of the quarters, African slaves obtained an environment where they could practice their ethical rules, foster cooperation among one another, mutually assist each other and enhance black solidarity.
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