Black Spirituality Religion : Were Traditional African Religions a Threat To The slave master?

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Sekhemu, Dec 13, 2005.

  1. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The African belief in one Supreme Being, in a realistic distinction between good and evil, in lesser spiritual powers, and in creation as the handiwork of God, paralleled much in the Hebraic background of Christianity. These similarities lessened the cultural shock as the African came into contact with the tenets of white Evangelicalism. But on occasion there was conflict. A white methodist reported an aged "Negro" to whom he had been trying to explain the dogma of the Trinity, once asked which of the three "was the head man to which he should go when asking for anything."

    During the early history of slavery, the Africanisms that were retained in African American spirituality were oftern seen to be (by whites) a pagan faith. These rituals and dogmas were variously described as Voodoo, Hoodoo, Witchcraft, and superstitions and were particuliarly prominent among the Gulla speakers of South Carolina. Whites often commented on these "pagan practices" and fetishes, and were THREATENED BY THEM. As a result, great effort was expended on eradicating these practices, and many were lost within generation.

    The degree to which whites were successful in this, however, is the subject of great debate. Melville J. Hershovits has advanced the thesis that the success of Baptists in attracting blacks was rooted in the appeal of immersion which sugggests a connection in the slaves' mind withthe river of spirits in West African Religions. Others have attacked this position including, the black scholar E. Franklin Frazier who argues that enslavement largely destroyed the social basis of religion among blacks, and that the appeal of Baptists to blacks concerns the emotional content of their worship. Stanley Elkins (whose views were heavily influenced by what took place in the concentration camps of World War ll Europe), has argued--like Frazier--that slavery was so demeaning that blacks (like the Jews in the camps) were eventually stripped of dignity and humanity, including their faith. John Blassingame, on the other hand, has provided a significant body of evidence that blacks hung on to their religion as a form of resistence.

    What is clear is that African-American were fairly quick to adopt the prevailing evangelical culture. Denominations such as the Episcopalians and Presbyterians stressed order did not attract the slaves. Most African-Americans instead gravitated to the emotionalism of the Methodist and Baptists. Indeed. in a number of ways the religion of the south's black population shared much more in common with the Evangelical Protestantism of the region's whites than it diverged from it. After all, it was the evangelicals among southern whites who were motivated to bring slaves to the Christian faith.

    But blacks also bequeathed something black to the evangelical tradition. There is a fair body of evidence that suggests some whites copied certain practices of black worshippers. Shouting in worship, for example, was one such borrowing. Many blacks looked down on whites who shouted in worship being poor copies themselves, or in the parlance of our day, as "wanna-be's." The call and response pattern also appears to be derived from the African heritage.

    Even though Black evangelcalism shared much in common with its white counterpart, when African-Americans held their services, whether approved or overseen by whites or held CLANDESTINELY, they added their own flourishes and unique styles to the white religious legacy. In so doing, they created an "invisible institution," a church that was their own. Because Black evangelicalism was not identitical to its white counterpart, the points of difference betwen the two tell us a great deal about the religious world of the slave.
     
  2. river

    river Watch Her Flow MEMBER

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    Were Traditional African Religions a Threat To The slave master?

    Is water wet? Does the Atlantic ocean have salt in it? Do collard greens taste good?

    You ask the question and you know the answer.

    Since christianity has been the whtie man's main way to control and subdue not only Black people but even his own white masses they could not allow us to have our own religion. That would make us autonomous and provide us with a tie to our past, our freedom, our humanity, dignity, heritage and all such things that are inimical to the making of a slave.

    It was necessary to make us think evil of the spirituality our African parents practiced just as they did with the spirituality of Khemet.

    But like you said no matter how much the white man tried to separate us from that which is truly ours we still took what he gave us and turned it into something he'd never seen before.
     
  3. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    This is true. So then the question becomes, how to we retrieve it all to emancipate ourselves from the condition we find ourselves in today?

    What are we doing differently from what our ancestors did when facing similar opposition?
     
  4. river

    river Watch Her Flow MEMBER

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    You are right in saying we are not yet emancipated. Abe Lincoln's papers did not set us free. They just allowed some of us to put a gold plate around our chains.

    From what I have read the government is already using the knowledge and whites are also trying to tap into it. we are the only ones who do not know or value our own heritage.

    If we just start trying to spred the knowledge widespread they will corrupt it with capitalism and commercialism. That's why divine wisdom and spiritual methods are of utmost importance. If we truly have the power of the Creator then why not use that power instead of the deceitful machinery of this world to help our people get back to their heritage?
     
  5. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Couldn't have said it better myself.
     
  6. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Driving Vodun underground, by Nnedi Okorafor

    If one were to survey African Americans, most would say, "I don't believe in it, but I wouldn't mess with it either." Zora Neale Hurston talked about it in her book Tell My Horse. African empires were built on its intricate belief system.

    So what happened? How did a "religion" so complex and sacred become reduced to magical mumbo jumbo centered on pins stuck into dolls and heads bitten off of chickens? According to some experts, the answer lies in the processes of slavery and colonization.

    The erasure in America of Vodun, a traditional religion of West African origin, was part of the master plan, said Rod Davis, journalist and author of American Voudou: Journey into a Hidden World (University of North Texas Press, 2000). "If ever the nation harbored a cover-up it did Voudou, "Davis said. To Davis, the suppression of Voudou went hand and hand with the oppression of slaves.

    Voudou is the generic term used to refer to almost any of the New World theologies emanating from the Yoruba religion/kingdoms. There are several different spellings: Vodou, Voudoun, Vaudoux, Vandou, Vodun, Vo-Du, and the cliche'd and somewhat racist "voodoo." Davis chose "Voudou" because it is the creole-based version common to 18th and 19th century louisiana.

    Many of the slaves that came from West Africa were influenced by Voudou. In those cultures especially what is now Nigeria, theocracies were the governing system; the priests and kings were one and the same. Since so many African Americans are at least partly descended from areas where Voudou was practiced, the US should be teeming with Voudou culture, Davis said.

    However, if one wanted to control a group of people, he'd take away their leadership, Davis said. He'd outlaw the sytem of culture and beliefs, the religion, and he'd do way with the priests. He'd then replace it with a foreign religion. In the case of slavery and colonialism, the replacement was christianity, Davis said.

    "In doing so, you seriously dislocate not just social culture but the political and military also. It's all connected,' Davis said. "You look at the revolt in Haiti, there was apparently a lot of Voudou leadership there. In the US, you had almost a complete wipeout of Voudou. And you wonder why were people so disorganized." Although most of Voudou's cultural legacy was erased in the US, there are still some remnants: Davis pointed out that even now the majority of African American leaders are preachers.

    In American Voudou, Davis hypothesizes that the suppression of African religions in the US decreased the revolutionary potential of slaves. Without it, they had no references to their past and this heightened the sensation of feeling kidnapped, he said. In the Caribbean and Brazil there were vast plantations. Slaves were more or less left to do what they wanted when they weren't working. They had more mental freedom and thus African traditional religions remain a strong influence in these places.

    "In the US, slaves were more monitored," Davis said. "You had 'black codes' that regulated slave behavior both before and after the Civil War. Drumming and dancing were outlawed." Slave masters imposed Christianity on slaves, incorporating the idea that African religions were evil, pegging their practices as satanic. In some places, practicing African religions was even against the law. "In New Orleans, however, there were places like Congo Square where blacks were allowed to dance and drum," Davis said. It was through such loopholes that the Middle Passage didn't completely wash away all of Voudou. "I wanted to find out where Voudou stands in this country," Davis said of his objective in American Voudou. His curiosity led him on a one-year journey across the American south, specifically Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Mississippi, and of course, New Orleans. Written in flowing first person narrative and heavy with historical facts, American Voudou takes the reader directly into the world of Voudou. And from what Davis found, Voudou is very much alive in North America.

    He found Africa in America when he located a hidden village in South Carolina called Oyotunji. Everything in the village, constructed by hand, was built with Nigeria as its model. One resident, Ava Kay Jones, left her career as an attorney to devote her life to the orishas. Davis also came across churches where the powerful Elegba was also worshipped as St. Michael.

    "It's a real theology. People are initiated into it. There's a belief system, a number of deities, lesser deities, as in the Hindu religion, Greek mythology, or Catholicism. There are a number of rules, " Davis said. "To be initiated into it, one must study and learn it. There's an ancient complex divination system called Ifa, which involves the throwing of palm nuts and interpreting the pattern in which they fall."

    There are 256 combinations that the palm nuts can fall in. Priests of Ifa must learn all of them. They also must memorize 256 parables, containing the meaning of each way of comparison, the I Ching, the "Book of Changes," as ancient Chinese system of divination, has 64 different combinations. A voudou Priest is called a houngan and a priestess is called a mambo. Each has EQUAL POWER AND AUTHORITY.

    A voudou temple is called a hounfour. Davis also said that remnants of Voudou are all around us, in black arts, in the thousands of black churches where African influences are powerful, and in the general culture. "It's like a parallel universe," Davis writes.

    During the tragedy of slavery, many researchers believe that Voudou was driven further underground by a widely read book written by S. St. John in 1884, Haiti or the Black Republic. Many of the 'details' in the book were allegedly extracted from Vodun priests through torture. Hollywood made great use of the books's inaccurate portrayal of the religion, popularizing ist association with zombies, voodoo dolls, cannibalism and bloody sacrifices, when in fact, the "voodoo" doll used in "Hoodoo," an offshoot of Voudou relying on hexes and potions, can actually be traced to European witchcraft, according to Davis. Horror movies began in the 30's and continue even today to misrepresent Voudou. It is only since the late 1950's that more accurate studies by anthropologists have been published.

    In the US, over time Voudou has been influenced by Native American and European beliefs. Also, due to the enforced practiced of Christianity among slaves, some forms of Voudou openly incorporate Christianity. In different places Voudou takes different forms. "In Haiti, the religion metamorphosed into Vodun or Vaudou, in Cuba, Santeria; In Brazil, Candomble; in trinidad, Shango Baptist; in Mexico, Curanderismo,; in Jamaica, Obeah,: Davis writes.

    And in the US, although one may have to look closely to notice it, American Voudou is alive and growing.

    "There is a whole renaissance of interest in Voudou..by African Americans determined to reclaim that heritage," Davis said.

    With American Voudou, Davis has created a valuable resource for black Americans interested in learning about Voudou and its suppression in America, shedding light on an important aspect of black history.

    As he writes on the last page of his book, "It should never again be possible not to see the destruction of Voudou as the lynchpin of African subjugation in the United States."
     
  7. river

    river Watch Her Flow MEMBER

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    Per Excellence, brotha Sek. Keep on with the knowledge, my teacher.

    That's interesting that the traditional African religion in Haiti led them to freedom while the Black preachers here are telling us not to worry about what Bush is doing--just feed the hungery refugees.

    When I first moved to the south I was astonished and delighted by the friendly racial relations here. Now I see that this too is a form of oppression. Behind those smiling white faces is an unspoken threat that teaches long-time residents to keep quiet. I want to scream but I think I'll just work on getting my tail out of here. Knowamsane?
     
  8. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Yes, I knowhatyasane :)

    I'll keep you posted.
     
  9. Omowale Jabali

    Omowale Jabali The Cosmic Journeyman PREMIUM MEMBER

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    Brother Sekhemu this is an excellent breakdown. Over the years I have often stated that I feel as if I exist in a "parallel universe" and here you are presenting Davis who mentions this very same thing. Its now a lot clearer to me what I have been experiencing. Thanks again.
     
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