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African Diaspora

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African Diaspora

By: Andrew Wright

The study of cultures in the African Diaspora is relatively young. Slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade brought numerous Africans, under forced and brutal conditions, to the New World. Of particular interest to many recent historians and Africanists is the extent to which Africans were able to transfer, retain, modify or transform their cultures under the conditions of their new environments. Three main schools of thought have emerged in scholarly discussion and research on this topic. Some argue that there are no significant connections between Africans and African American communities in the Americas. Others argue that Africans retained significant aspects of their cultures. Similar to this argument, some have argued that Africans, responding to their new environments, retained and transformed African cultures into new African-American ethnic units. Detailed research done on slave communities in Surinam, South Carolina and Louisiana allow us to look deeper into the stated arguments. Having recently addressed the same issues using Colonial South Carolina as a case study, I will focus largely on some of the arguments and conclusions drawn from this study. The evidence from South Carolina, Louisiana and Surinam supports the second and third arguments much more than the first. The third argument, that of cultural transformation, is the argument I find to be most valid. John Thornton's analysis of this issue is extremely helpful. He addresses the "no connections" arguments in chapters 6, 7 and 8. He outlines the claims made by scholars Franklin Frazier, Stanley Elkins, Sidney Mintz and Richard Price. Frazier and Mintz believe that the extreme trauma and disruption experienced by Africans during the process of enslavement and the middle passage minimized the possibility that they maintained aspects of their cultures in the new world. They argue that this process "had the effect of traumatizing and marginalizing them, so that they would became cultural receptacles rather than donors" (152). Mintz and Price have argued the slave trade had the effect of "permanently breaking numerous social bonds that had tied Africans together..." (153). Another element of the "no connections" argument claims that Africans did not receive enough associational time with each other or with those of similar ethnic backgrounds to ensure survival of cultural practices. Drawing largely upon the study of Anthropology, Thornton attempts to outline conditions for cultural survival and transformation. He contends these arguments stating that opportunities existed for viable communities to be formed, that there were prospects for passing on "changing cultural heritage to a new generation through training of offspring" and that there existed opportunities for Africans to associate with themselves (153). Thornton finds much more evidence for cultural transformation than cultural "transplantation." He notes the tendency of researchers to focus on specific "Africanisms" rather than the cultural totality and stresses the fact that "cultures change through constant interaction with other cultures..." (209, 207). I agree with Thornton's analysis. As stated in a passage from our paper: It would be na've to think that after being enslaved and transported across the sea to a foreign continent African slaves were able to physically transplant their cultures in this new environment. It would be equally na've to believe no elements of African culture made their way to this region... Africans were interacting with Europeans and other Africans of different ethnic groups, adapting to the realities of their new environments and transforming elements of both old and new into their own African-American culture. (Bright & Broderick 10). Evidence exists that shows Africans were allowed enough associational time to form viable communities, that they maintained strong family structures and that they exercised a large degree of control in the raising their own children. An example for the argument of significant retention of Africanisms could be that of the Maroon communities in Surinam. In the film I Shall Molder Before I am Taken, we saw examples of African descendants separated from European masters, living largely isolated in the Jungle in a similar manner to that of their ancestors. The community was strikingly similar to the Asante communities described in the film Atumpan . There was much ceremonial detail in addressing the chief or headman of the village. Just as with the Asante, citizens and visitors had to address the headman through an interpreter. Leadership was also determined through matrilineal lines as in Akan societies of Ghana. In felling a tree, the Saramaka would explain to the spirits how the tree was necessary for their survival and would be used wisely. They concluded by thanking the spirits and the forest for the tree and leaving an offering for its taking. The Saramaka also used mediums such as song, dance and stories to recreate and teach important elements of their history and culture. All of these practices can be almost directly traced to their previous African societies. Still, the Saramaka Maroons lend sufficient proof to the argument of cultural transformation. Even after hundreds of years of isolation in the jungle, the Saramaka showed significant examples of cultural adaptation and borrowing. As ...

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Keywords: african diaspora definition, african diaspora ap world history, african diaspora development institute, african diaspora museum, african diaspora definition world history, african diaspora network, african diaspora facts, african diaspora flag

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