Students will research and prepare a. seminar presentation about the heritage of a culture. The presentation should include visual aides, traditional dress, music , art , artifacts (where possible) and the retelling of the fire myth. (Additional Suggestions from the students are welcome.)
Whet the appetites of the students, by providing bits and pieces of background information with which they may begin their research. Where possible, provide opportunities for them to familiarize themselves with print and nonprint materials about cultures. May I suggest this as an independent activity?
Scientists believe that the original home of black people was in the grasslands or Savanna lands between the Sahara Desert and the equatorial rainforest area around the Congo River.
The greatest number of Africans are blacks of mixed blood. The most important groupings in Africa, are cultural and linguistic. These groups who live in different ways and speak more than one thousand different non-European languages are called tribes.
More and greater differences grew among groups as they traveled across the land. The few languages grew into many. As various tribal groups moved across the Savannas in southern, eastern and northern Africa, new groups emerged and new ways of living came about.
African civilizations grew and flourished through the rise and fall of great and powerful kingdoms like Ghana, Mali and Songhay (These are not the modern nations of West Africa as we know them). Perhaps, more than the influence of any conquering nation, the culture dynamics of the great Atlantic slave trade to the New World, which lasted nearly four hundred years, changed the basic cultural orientation of the individual African experience to produce a new product, the Afro-American.
The newcomer, the Afro-American not only had to adjust to his new environment and his new circumstances, but also had to shed considerable cultural experiences which he brought with him from Africa.
The fairest and perhaps easiest culture change for the new-world African or Afro-American would have been diffusion. Instead there was enslavement without relative cultural consideration. Diffusion required limited contact between cultures. Such was highly unlikely, when slaves were responsible for running the households, raising the children and laboring the plantations of their masters. That brings us to acculturation.
The acculturating group (Afro-Americans) did not have sufficient knowledge of and experience with the way of life of the dominant group. Contact was permitted only to a degree and the degree was determined by the dominant group—in this case the masters of slaves. That left only assimilation as an avenue of cultural change. That is the problem of today; that is the subject for another research project. Should we then conclude that a people neither diffused, acculturated or assimilated into another culture is without culture?
The African American is not without culture. He has had to develop a counter-culture as a survival technique in his new and often, hostile environment. This counter-culture however, maintains strong traces of traditional African Culture.
Survival techniques were built around organized religion. Perhaps, one of the most powerful forces among the culture, religion has provided a structured social life for blacks in America, today . From the medicine man, Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism comes the power of the African church, as we know it today. The church might best be described as a place where one could give expression to his deepest anguish and agony and at the same time, give meaning to his existence. (Goldstein, 1971)
Religious beliefs are strong in most Africans. Although much of African religious practices were regarded by Europeans as witchcraft and voodoo, for the believer, it was his tribal religion and a powerful form of worship The medicine man was highly respected. He was both doctor and priest.
Some Africans believe that everything in the world possesses a spirit. Others believe that many objects had magical powers to do good or evil. Tribal religions have certain elements in common: the world was created by a single god and spirits are worshipped. The belief that there is one god exists today for many people of African descent, as does that of spirit worship.
Mobility might be considered as another technique of survival. One form of oppression was traded for another as African Americans moved from one place to another, but the fact remains that escape from one’s present conditions was and is the motivating force. This takes the present day American back to his African roots.
African people moved across the continent on foot, following trails and water courses, even through the Sahara Desert. Some people wandered constantly, others settled and built their lives in one place. Africans designed their homes or huts so that they were easily built and easily left behind. Whether they were round huts made of leaves and branches, or stick-frame Compounds made to house the animals, they were meant only to give shelter, not to be lived in constantly.
This ideology might explain the migratory patterns of today’s African American, for instance the great migration from the South to the North to escape oppression. It could explain the movement of inner city residents from one rented apartment to another. Of course, there are a number of political and economic factors at work here, but the fact remains that the mobility technique is in place. The cultural heritage is in tact.
*(Did you know)
Afro-Americans have inherited a tradition that is very much alive in the way of speech and thought; a tradition that is clearly evident in the language and mythology of black folk; a tradition that has a common root in the linguistic and mythological structures of Africa. (Boldstein,1971)
Many misconceptions about the patterns of English that black people speak have been accepted as truth. What many refer to as Black English is simply an inheritance from African tongues coupled with a need to communicate with Africans of various tribal origins both in the homelands and on American plantations.
Black English originated in Africa rather than in the new world, and has undergone many changes. However, despite the changes, several African features are still present. Almost all of the languages of Africa can be placed into three families: Sudanic, Bantu, and Hamitic. Afro-Americans come mainly from the lower Congo, which is Bantu speaking.
-about customs of marriage, child birth, family
-ritual and drama, art, music, dance and rhythm
As students complete any part of their research it would be a good idea to have them display some artistic creation or informational piece, in order that others may learn at the same time.