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Adinkra  

Oluwatoyin Adepoju

Adinkra are visual forms that first achieved prominence among the Akan linguistic group whose members are now part of Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Its origin is uncertain but evidence suggests that it developed within the former Asante and Gyaman nations. Adinkra often involve designs that integrate striking aesthetic power, evocative mathematical structures, and philosophical conceptions ranging from the ethical to the cosmological, expressed in relation to proverbs and stories. The earliest known use of Adinkra integrates the world of the living, the departed, and the Supreme Being in designs on funeral garments. The designs evoke the understanding which each kra—the eternal essence of the person as understood in Akan thought—takes with it to the beyond, an awareness which also recalls the message the kra carried when it bade goodbye to its creator on leaving for the earth.

The earliest widely known use of Adinkra suggests the closing of ...

Article

Howard Paige and Mark H. Zanger

This entry includes two subentries:

To the Civil War

Since Emancipation

Article

Lupenga Mphande

Artistic forms of expression are deeply ingrained in the black cultural experience and in the lives of African peoples providing a forum for participation in the community and for exploring the mysteries of humanity The artistic forms exert a huge impact on Africa s cultural realities institutions the system of values and her vision for the future in a global context The oral art forms are the best examples of the African imaginative expression and their deployment in performance has become a rallying point for a call to an African renaissance and rejuvenation throughout the continent Although African societies have developed writing traditions Africans are primarily an oral people and it is that tradition that has dominated their cultural norms The term orature which means the artistic use of language in oral performance refers to something that is passed on through the spoken word and because it is based on ...

Article

African peoples have created hundreds of distinct religions that, despite centuries of contact with Islam and Christianity, remain important both in Africa itself and to followers in the Americas and in Europe. Approximately half of Africa's current population identify themselves as Muslim. A smaller number identify themselves as Christian or as followers of indigenous African religions, and small groups (under one million each) identify themselves as Jewish or Hindu. This essay focuses on those religions created by African peoples south of the Sahara. While there is considerable diversity in African religions, this essay will emphasize their commonalities.

Article

If by the term Afro-Latino culture, we are referring broadly to the cultural experience of Spanish-speaking black people in what has become the territory of the United States, then their role in the settlement of San Agustín, Florida, in 1565, and later in building the city's Castle of San Marcos (1672–1695) and Fort Mose (1702), places Afro-Latinos at the threshold of American history. Or perhaps, given the foundational symbolism of Jamestown (1620) and Plymouth (1607 those initial Afro Latino experiences in Spanish Florida are more the antechamber the less ceremonious advance contact between European invaders and indigenous peoples As buffers and cannon fodder as reconnaissance scouts and militiamen as intermediaries and of course as attendants and slaves Afro Latinos have been implicated in the forging of the North American story made to comply with and at the same time themselves ...

Article

Tiffany M. Gill

Black is beautiful This familiar cry of the Black Power movement was revolutionary in its celebration of the culture style politics and physical attributes of peoples of African descent Symbols of the black is beautiful aesthetic most notably the Afro not only conjured up ideas about black beauty but also highlighted its contentious relationship with black politics and identity This tension between beauty standards and black politics and identity however did not first emerge in the late twentieth century with the Afro or the Black Power movement In fact blacks particularly black women have been struggling to navigate the paradoxical political nature of black identity and beauty since their enslavement in the Americas Despite this strained relationship black women have actively sought to define beauty in their lives and in the process created and sustained one of the most resilient and successful black controlled enterprises in America the black beauty ...

Article

Canada  

James W. St. Walker

Black people have lived in Canada since the beginnings of transatlantic settlement. A few came as explorers, more came as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, still more as former American slaves fleeing to Canada between 1783 and 1865, and since then as free immigrants from the United States, the West Indies, and Africa. Until the 1980s very few came directly from their ancestral continent, yet the label African Canadian is being used increasingly to include all Canadians of African descent, wherever they were born. In the 1996 census, African Canadians composed about 2 percent of the total Canadian population.

Article

Alice Ross and Mark H. Zanger

The Caribbean influence on American food has been continual for hundreds of years, initially in coastal areas of similar climate, from Texas to the Carolinas. The early Spanish involvement in the Caribbean brought Caribbean foods to Europe and Africa, from whence they quickly returned to North America. Spanish gold shipments attracted other Europeans to the area and brought about the colonization of eastern North America. Cheap Caribbean sugar, coffee, cocoa, and spices have influenced the palates and tables of all Americans. The peoples of the Caribbean islands have developed multicultural cuisines that have been affecting American cooking at all levels since colonial times.

Influence of the Caribbean on contemporary American food may predate Columbus, because there is some possibility that Caribbean Indians reached Florida and introduced tropical tubers, or chilies. The chain of influence began in 1492 as the varieties of maize beans chilies squash peanuts and cassava collected ...

Article

The festivals known as Carnival are public celebrations of European origin that have been profoundly transformed by diverse New World African cultures throughout the Americas. Although Carnival is celebrated in many Latin American and Caribbean cities, this description will focus on four different Carnivals: two in Brazil, one in Rio de Janeiro and the other in Salvador, Bahia; one in the Caribbean, in Port of Spain, Trinidad; and one in the United States, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Article

Freida High (Wasikhongo Tesfagiorgis)

I don’t have anything against men but, since I am a woman, I know more about women and I know how they feel. Many artists are always doing men. I think that somebody ought to do women. Artists do work with women, with the beauty of their bodies and the refinement of middle-class women, but I think there is a need to express something about the working-class Black woman and that’s what I do.

(Gladstone, p. 33)

As a reputed sculptor and printmaker whose career began in the 1940s, Elizabeth Catlett is a major figure in modern American and Mexican art. Catlett’s work embraces the human condition, revealing a deep passion for dignifying humanity, especially working-class women and, in particular, African American and Mexican women. Titles of her sculpture suggest this interest: Black Woman Speaks (1970), Mother and Child (1940, 1993), Mujer (1964 ...

Article

Dianne Johnson

Clifton said plainly:

I am a woman and I write from that experience. I am a Black woman and I write from that experience. I do not feel inhibited or bound by what I am. That does not mean that I have never had bad scenes relating to being Black and/or a woman, it means that other people’s craziness has not managed to make me crazy. At least not in their way because I try very hard not to close my eye to my own craziness nor to my family’s, my sex’s, nor my race’s.

(quoted in Evans, 1984)

This statement is an apt introduction to Clifton’s considerable body of work, both for adults and for young people, comprising fiction, poetry, essays, autobiography, and interviews. She is one of the prolific writers of picture books created out of an African American consciousness and experience. She is also a 1980 ...

Article

Dance  

Robert H. Gudmestad and Kathleen Thompson

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with dance from the early eighteenth century through the end of the nineteenth century The first article discusses the transmission of African dance traditions to North America by slaves and the new expressions that arose while the second article discusses the movement of ...

Article

Charles W. Jr. Carey

author, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Joshua Dunbar, a plasterer, and Matilda Burton Murphy, a laundry worker. His literary career began at age twelve, when he wrote an Easter poem and recited it in church. He served as editor in chief of his high school's student newspaper and presided over its debating society. While still in school, he contributed poems and sketches to the Dayton Herald and the West Side News, a local paper published by Orville Wright of Kitty Hawk fame, and briefly edited the Tattler, a newspaper for blacks that Wright published and printed. He graduated from high school in 1891 with the hope of becoming a lawyer, but, lacking the funds to pursue a college education, he went instead to work as an elevator operator.

Dunbar wrote and submitted poetry and short stories in his spare time His first ...

Article

Èshù  

Phillips Jr. Stevens

Èshù (also Eshu-e.légbá, Eshu-e.légbára, and Le.gba), a character or concept in the cosmology of Yoruba and related peoples in southern Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo, has been called by non-Yoruba a “trickster” or “trickster god,” and by early missionaries, a “devil.” In fact, Èshù is an extremely complex concept, both a deity (òrìshà) and a principle, combining elements of deception, ambivalence, and social conscience.

The Western misunderstanding of Èshù s role probably derives from the efforts of early missionaries to find a counterpart to Satan in African cosmologies and to confirm the general European assumption that African peoples had been subverted by Satan were destined for hell and needed saving through conversion to Christianity They readily found such a character in Èshù He does indeed display some elements of the standard trickster character of folklore but Yoruba have such a character Àjàpá or Ìjàpá the tortoise and there ...

Article

Nicholas J. Bridger

Yoruba wood sculptor, was born in 1924 in Ila-Orangun, now in Osun State, Nigeria. He was the fifth-generation son of a noted traditional wood carver, Akobi Ogun Fakeye. The elder Fakeye had also worked as a babalawo, a traditional Ifa diviner-priest. He acquired the name Lamidi, an abbreviated form of Abdul Hameed, when he converted to Islam as a teenager. Tellingly, his given name, Olonade, translates as “the carver has arrived.” His specific birth year is given by Father Kevin Carroll as “about 1925,” although his immediate family preferred the year 1924.

By 1945 both his parents had died leaving him without direct parental support although they had secured his early education in the local colonial schools he later completed high school on his own Not having had a carving apprenticeship as a youth Lamidi was later forced to teach himself the rudiments of wood sculpture ...

Article

Favelas  

Julio Cesar Pino

Favelas represent the plight and promise of the urban poor in Brazil. Although they can be found throughout the country, favelas are more numerous in Rio de Janeiro, once the nation's federal district (1889–1960) and still its second largest city. Shantytowns such as Rocinha and Jacarezinho have become an indelible part of the landscape of the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). Other Brazilian metropolises—São Paulo, Salvador, Recife—have their own favelas, with populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands, but these settlements have not attained the political prominence or journalistic notoriety of the ones in Rio.

The favela is fundamentally different from inner city slums and tenements the type of poor people s housing prevalent in the developed world Tenements are usually rundown buildings owned by a landlord where the occupants pay rent Squatter settlements by contrast are units of self constructed housing built on terrain seized and ...

Article

David N. Gellman

Throughout English colonial North America, African American slaves participated in rituals and celebrations that stitched together black communities while preserving a folk life rooted in African traditions. Eighteenth-century festivals often coincided with, and at least superficially mirrored, events staged by European colonists. Blacks sometimes invested their own cultural traditions so thoroughly into white holidays that festivals became known as distinct African American events.

African American festivals are much easier to document and describe in the North where the smaller slave population was dispersed among the European population than in the South where larger numbers of slaves were concentrated on plantations This disparity may reflect both the need and the ability of southern slaves to conceal their collective activities from masters Despite the severe constraints that typified slavery everywhere slaves up and down the coast of the North American mainland managed to find means to express their collective identity in joyous ...

Article

Ted Olson

Blacks long struggled against efforts to keep them powerless, and African American folk culture— from before Emancipation (1863) through the Jim Crow and civil rights eras—provided blacks, across the United States and particularly in the South, with a mechanism for confronting white society's power structure and discriminatory legal system. For example, traditional African American ballads and tales inspired blacks both by portraying human heroes, such as John Henry or Shine, who challenged or resisted white authority and by portraying antiheroes, such as the slave John in the “John and the Master” story cycle, who outsmarted white authority. Through modeling themselves on those folk characters, blacks developed a sense of expectation that they might eventually triumph and overcome their marginalized roles.

Historically because of racism and xenophobia white society tended to portray African American folk culture as deficient White scholars acknowledged the British and Anglo American contributions to African ...

Article

Gullahs  

Caryn E. Neumann

The Gullahs were African Americans who settled in slave communities along the Atlantic coastal plain and on the chain of Sea Islands; in Georgia these people were known as Geechees. Geographical isolation and strong community life permitted the Gullahs to preserve their African cultural heritage through their skills, language, arts, gestures, and foods.

The homeland of the Gullahs is a coastal strip about 250 miles long and 40 miles wide running through South Carolina and Georgia Low flat islands along the coast are separated from the mainland by saltwater streams This geographic isolation was combined with a steady influx of Africans and a relatively small population of whites to create a culture that was heavily African Even after the official ban on the importation of slaves blacks continued to be smuggled into the coastal areas thereby providing fresh reinforcements of African culture and customs With a higher ratio of Africans ...

Article

David Levering Lewis

Variously known as the New Negro movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance emerged toward the end of World War I in 1918, blossomed in the mid- to late 1920s, and then faded in the mid-1930s. The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that main stream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large. Although it was primarily a literary movement, it was closely related to developments in African American music, theater, art, and politics.