African Culture Changed--Never Completely Lost

Often, Blacks carried musical traditions from Africa into church on Sunday. This

included extensive spirit-filled singing, and some dancing and rhythmic hand clapping. When one “Got the Holy Ghost” the movements resembled those of West African dance custom and tradition.     African-American music itself is rooted in the polyrhythmic song of ethnic groups of Africa, specifically those in the Western, Sahel and Sub-Saharan regions. African oral traditions encouraged the use of music to pass on history, teach lessons, ease suffering, and relay messages. Drumming and religious songs were often coded to plan or facilitate escapes. Black people have not completely lost their culture, but it became tailored to fit circumstances.


In Africa, the naming of a child was a very special affair. Many Africans named their child seven days after the birth.  An abundant amount of attention went into the naming of a newborn. In America, a number of slaves clandestinely retained their African names and referred to themselves by the country of their beginning. When a specific event had meaning in the life of a slave, using holiday names was often chosen to emphasize an important day—like “Christmas or Easter.” This was done to celebrate a day off from forced brutal slave labor in the fields.


To praise their children, names like “Redemption, Refuge, Precious, Fortune,” and the desire to gain respect often produced names like “Citizen, Major, General,” and others. These names reflected the creativity of an oppressed people despite the horrors of white supremacy. When the slave master’s wife urged slaves to pray for the defeat of Lincoln, blacks often pretended to do this, but were praying for a northern victory and the death of their master. Religious Holidays were often viewed as special in only the fact that they were given that day off from slave work.


African naming practices included naming children after important dates, seasons, times, or days; such as Easter, Wednesday, June, Morning, etc. African tribal names sometimes sounded similar to English names—like Becky for Beke, Fantee for Fanti. When freed, blacks often chose the names “Freeman, Newman, Liberty, and John Brown. Gullah children, on the islands near Georgia, had names like Blossom, Morning, Cotton, Storm, and Freeze; all reflected the time of birth. They also had names like “Pleasant, Hard Times,” and others. Today, this is the leftover of why many blacks choose unusual or creative names.


Also, it was a practice in African-American culture involving a verbal strategy of indirection, to fool the master, which exploited the gap between the denotative and figurative meanings of words. Tales of the “Signifying Monkey” had their origins in slavery. Hundreds of these have been recorded since the nineteenth century. In black music, Jazz Gillum, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Oscar Browne, Jr., Little Willie Dixon, Nat "King" Cole, Otis Redding, Wilson Picket, and Johnny Otis-at least-have recorded songs called either "The Signifying Monkey" or simply "Signifying."  The tradition of the “Signifying Monkey” dates back to Yoruba Mythology as an animal spirit, that imitates, parodies, lies, and sweet-talks others. In America, slaves used their tongues to survive.


Food was very important. The mixing and cooking of leftover ingredients from their owners (often less desirable cuts of meats and vegetables), produced great tasting dishes.  African Americans took the detestable and created desirable dishes. Through sharing of this food in churches or with gatherings, they not only shared the food, but also the experience, feelings, attachments, and sense of unity that brings community together. Today, this is done at church and at family gatherings or barbeques. African culture was changed but never completely lost.



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