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Cultural Consequences of the US Slavery: 1620-1870 Essay

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Updated: Aug 27th, 2020

The collision of culture started when the English invaded and settled in America and the Atlantic slave trade followed, resulting in the interaction of Native American, European, and African customs. Unfortunately, the Africans were at a greater disadvantage because cultural components were superimposed on them; hence, they had to adopt new cultures while retaining some of their old cultural norms1. The Native Americans on the other hand retained their cultural autonomy, and they also had an influence on the African culture. The process of cultural change and assimilation of a new cultural orientation was challenging for the older Africans compared to the younger ones, who easily acquired the new European culture. Hence, this paper aims to discuss the cultural consequences of slavery in the U.S. between 1620 and 1870.

The first Africans arrived as slaves for the Spanish, and they are referred to as ladinos in various literal sources. As more Africans were transported as slaves, an African-American culture developed in a give and take process influenced by the “degree of interaction with the whites, class status back in Africa, age, and isolation from countrymen.”2 Young Africans adopted to the new culture more readily than the older ones; hence, they easily learned the new language: English. African slaves in the plantation fields did not assimilate the Western culture as easily as the African slaves in urban settings. The Africans were imported to help meet the growing demand for labor as the Europeans strove to make more profits from their production. In addition to the African slaves, there were White slaves who had to work for several years to attain their freedom, and their interaction with the Africans predominantly gave rise to a new generation of African-Americans.

As slaves, it was necessary to understand the commands that were delivered in a European style; thus, learning a new language to allow communication was essential. However, the slaves compared syntax of the new language and their local African languages and designed syntax around familiar pattern in view of their local African languages. This comparison led to the creation of a new language, referred to as Creole that was characterized by a great deal of African vocabulary: the African-American speech. Despite the fact that it can viewed as a form of assimilation of the Western culture, retention of African patterns helped the Africans to reserve their identity and gave them a feeling of ethnic consciousness.3 In the same way that the African had adopted the new language and devised their own language, the Whites began to be influenced by their style of talking and their speech began to be corrupted by the African-American pronunciation, accent, and dialect. Hence, law forbidding the literacy of the African slaves were enacted and as a result learning took on a new form. Education became a communal endeavor in that children learned from fellow slaves, friends, parents, and relatives. It was not until the American Civil War that African-American began to make strides towards achieving education.4 It was feared that the growing number of slaves would bring about war and violence in America

The African-American slaves did not give up their pursuit for freedom and neither did they seek to relinquish their status. Instead, they expressed themselves through music and dance during their free time. Since education was denied to the slaves in fear that their identity would corrupt that of the Whites, they engaged in music and dance to show case their creativity and cultural heritage. Other than music and dance, the African American were talented in creating artifacts, such as baskets, jewelry, quilts, and pots to bring hope to the harsh world in which they were living. 5 Initially, the African-American slaves engaged in secular songs that told of their deplorable lives, not in a sorrowful manner, but in a manner that ridiculed and commented on inhumane and immoral behavior. The African instrumentation, which included drums, rattles, banjos, and tambourines, was integrated into the European’s flutes, horns, and flutes. However, the Europeans’ dislike for the drum discouraged its use and Europeans styles and tunes were readily adopted. In order to make up for the drum, the African-American vibrant and energetic dancing styles became the people’s favorite to the extent that it shaped American dance. On a different note, the Whites considered the African-American dance movements as indecent and lewd. The blacks were metaphorical in speech, and they used this technique to describe the cannibalism, black greed, and kidnapping cases that led to their enslavement in a satirical manner. An example of such satirical language is

Boccarorra (meaning White men) make de black man workee, make de Horse workee, make de Ox workee, make ebery ting workee; only de Hog. He, de hog, no workee; he eat, he drink, he walk about, he go to sleep when he please, he libb like a Gentleman.6

The metaphorical African language found its way into the mainstream American language, for example, the metaphorical implication of a rabbit was derived from the African tales.

The extended family structures began to be eroded after Africans were forcefully transported to America as slaves. The traditional guidance and inclusion of kinsmen when making marriage choices. Unfortunately, due to their poor living conditions, and the fact that they were deemed mere property and commodity, the African Americans could not get into marriage. Even though they entered into relationships, these were null and void because they were not protected by state laws.7 There were informal marriages between the White laborers and African slaves resulting in varied outcomes but individuals that were able to stay together as a couple adopted the European-American style of marriage where monogamy, importance to nuclear families was considered as well as bilateral inheritance. These practices opposed those of the African norms that encouraged polygamy and traced ancestry through one line only: the patriarchal ancestry. In addition, the African set-up gave importance to extended families. Considering their servitude, the African-Americans considered marriage as a social contract that was susceptible to dissolution due to sale of spouses to other masters. The European masters used this strategy to ensure that the African-American did not get comfortable; hence, one spouse would have several partners at different areas.8

Originally, the Africans were agrarian by the mere fact they came from agriculturalist societies. Men worked in the farms while women cooked and helped in planting. As African from various descents meet in a common place, they exchanged their former ways of doing things, including recipes. Hence, there was a shift in the foods prepared by the Africans while in the New World compared to those they prepared while in their home countries. Native American, also taught the Africans to prepare food using native plants. During their time in slavery, the Africans consumed small cornmeal cakes and molasses for breakfast, and this was meant to sustain them as they worked from dawn till dusk. New recipes sprang up during this period to fill in the gap of limited supplies, such as jambalaya, which entailed “herbs and rice alongside ham, sausage, oysters, shrimp, or chicken.”9 The African moved from a culture where food was in plenty to one where they had to hunt and fish to supplement the little ration provided by their masters. Despite all their suffering, the Africans and African-Americans, they never engaged in private warfare against the Whites. Instead, they used “intellectual and social skirmishing.”10

The religion of African was largely entwined in ancestor worship that was largely characterized by magic, rituals, and devotion to spirits. A majority of the Africans subjected to slavery were from West Africa, which until now, was predominantly influenced by Islam that coexisted with the various polytheistic religions. The Western African slaves believed in the existence of a Supreme Creator among lesser goods, to whom prayers and sacrifices were offered. Religion in West Africa enabled the individuals to seek balance between natural and spiritual worlds; music and dance was an integral part of their worship. While in the New World, the African slaves kept their religion orientation through songs and stories.11 Even after education was prohibited, the church was fundamental in providing informal lessons of teaching the Bible to the slaves, and in this way, Christianity slowly gained form in the African sphere. In the beginning of the 1770s, the first independent black congregation occurred in South Carolina.

In conclusion, it is evident that slavery had great adverse effects of the lives of the slaves, who included both white and Africans, giving rise to a new generation: African-American generations. The African had to learn a new language and even though they were denied education, they learned the English language through informal means and those that had earlier learned the language were able to pass it down to their children. The marriage institution was disrupted as guiding norms were not available and the slaves engaged in demeanor that was loathe by the European masters. All the same, the African embraced their cultural heritage, and this enabled them to survive. They were able to use their cooking backgrounds to improvise new recipes, and their art gave them hope. There was a change in religion as Christianity cleaved into the African and African-American way of worship. Even though, they had to adopt a new cultural, they strived also sought to maintain some elements of their African culture.

Bibliography

Bigelow, Barbara C. Advameg, Inc. Web.

Hallam, Jennifer. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Web.

Jacobs, Harriet A. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Piersen, William D. “African-American Culture.” Gale Cengage Learning. Web.

Sambol-Tosco, Kimberly. Educational Broadcasting Corporation. Web.

Wilson, Anna Victoria. Texas State Historical Association. Web.

Footnotes

1 William D. Piersen, “African-American Culture,” Gale Cengage Learning, Web.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Anna Victoria Wilson, “Education for African Americans,” Texas State Historical Association, Web.

5 Kimberly Sambol-Tosco, “The Slave Experience: Education, Arts, & Culture,” Educational Broadcasting Corporation, Web.

6 William, 2016.

7 Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), 9.

8 Jennifer Hallam, “The Slave Experience: Family,” Educational Broadcasting Corporation, Web.

9 Barbara C. Bigelow, “African Americans,” Advameg, Inc., Web.

10 Williams, 2016.

11 Kimberly, 2004.

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