Over a period of almost four centuries, four milion Africans were transported to North America and the Caribbean Islands in the Atlantic slave trade. Captured from their homeland and seperated from their tribes and families they were enslaved in a new world, where all familiar customs were absent. The African diaspora is the story of how Africans, though scattered disperesed, managed to retain their traditions and reform their identities in a new world. Elements of African culture such as religion, language, and folklore endured and were their links to their past lives. In the process of americanization, Africans formed another culture known as Afro-Americans or Creoles.
The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in the world. It created permanent ties between Africa and North America. Africans were shipped from many regions of Africa but mostly from those areas along the coast. The Bantu, along the Guinea coast had largest homogenous culture followed by the Mande, thus the culture of African-Americans was influenced the most by the people of these regions.
In the colonies the economic demand for slaves and the demographics of the slave population had an enormous effect on the developement of Afro-American culture. Never did their exist one Afro-American culture, for each area had a different social, economic, and political relience on slavery, which characterized a unique slave culture. For example, areas that depended on plantation farming such as the deep South and the Chesepeake had a huge number of slaves, while in comparison the North had relitively few slaves. As a result, the southern colonies more frequently imported new African slaves which constantly re-established African traditions. Each area in the colonies had the developement of a specific Afro-American culture.
Though Afro-American culture was specific to each area, there were several general cultural themes that ran throughout the Afro-American population in the colonies, one was religion. Christianinty is an execellent example of how Africans merged their own beliefs with the existing religion, and produced a theology of their own. Christianity spread rapidly throughout the slave communities during the Great Awakening, a surgence of evangelical Christianiy which swept the colonies. This movement illuminated the mystical and magical elements of Christianinty, a side which the Africans could understand and identify with. It is ironic, for white slaveholders originally used Christianinty as a tool to perpetuate obedience and docility in slaves; yet, Africans recognized the hypocrsy in the white's version of Christianity, realizing they were equal in God's eyes. Africans took the tool ment to manipulate them and used Christianinty to give them hope for the future and to strenghten their bonds between one another. While slaves were Christianized and assimilated to white culture they kept elements of their native culture alive.
African Americans blended old style with new when cooking, smithing, woodcarving, storytelling, and gospel singing traditions. Africans added their own spices and cooking style to some pre-existing European dishes. Slaveowners were also influenced by African cooking styles which is an example of the blending of the cultures. Many African traditions were kept alive by placing familiar, symbols (such as the snake) in smithed gates and window frames. The wood that the carver chose played an important role in native culture preservation. This meticulous tradition lead the way for woodcarvers to make canes, statues, and sculptures such as chains, to show the bondage they endured. The carvings were very detailed and had relevance to the family and friends of the woodcarver. Songs that began in the fields of the plantations to pass the work day evolved into a new type of music, gospel. Gospel music combined the themes of salvation and freedom of Christianity with a native style of singing and dancing. These examples show the integration of native culture with traditional european culture.
In the past the Pigeon English spoken by Africans was seen as proof that Africans were not intelligent enough to learn the English language. Through recent studies, we have learned that in the English spoken by African Americans, ties to African Languages can be traced. The Creole languages like Gullah and Pigeon English, still spoken in parts of the U.S. today, reflect pieces of the African culture that survived slavery, not an inability to learn English.
The English spoken by the slaves was greatly influenced by their native languages. Gullah was influenced by the languages of the Fante, Ga, Kikongo, Kimbundu, Mandinka, Twi, Ewe, Ibo and Yorba. As time went on, the Creole languages (influenced and) were also influenced by the languages of settlers, such as, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, as well as Native Americans such as theCreek, Cherokee and many others. By mixing parts of the languages spoken around them, African-Americans created a way to express themselves and communicate with others in the "New World."
For more specific regional information on the diaspora, refer to:
William D. Pierson. Black Yankees(Boston, 1988)
Charles Joyner. Down by the Riverside(Chiacgo, 1984)
Ira Berlin, "Time, Space, and the Evolution of Afro-American Society on the British Mainland North America"American Historical Review 85, 1(1980)
Joseph E. Holloway, ed. Africanisms in American Culture(Indiana, 1990)
For further information on the diaspora in the Carribean, Brazil, and Latin America refer to:
Michael L. Conniff and Thomas J. Davis, Africans in the Americas(New York, 1994)
For further information on religion refer to:
Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion(New York, 1978)
For further information on cultural aspects refer to:
Black People and their Culture, Selected Writings from the African Diaspora,(Washington D.C., 1976)
To learn more about the African Diaspora, here are some cool links:
The roots of Afro-American music can be explored in Native African Music.
links to brush up on African history.