The Untold Impact of African Culture on American Culture

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african cultureBy Dontaira Terrell

The contributions and cultural influences stemming from enslaved Africans have been greatly undermined in the American culture. Africanisms varying from traditional folklore, Southern cuisine to song and dance are not only prevalent in today’s society but have a widespread, deep-rooted impact throughout the United States.

During the Middle Passage, enslaved Africans were forced to abandon traditional customs, camouflage spiritual rituals and perish cultural artifacts. But upon arrival into the New World, previous practices and wisdom were quickly adapted in order to survive and sustain within the realm of America.

Unfortunately, Africans contributions to the economics, wealth and culture of the U.S. since the beginning have been whitewashed or receive little to no credit, a tale all too familiar within American history. The expertise and benefactions of Africans are evidenced in various forms including but not limited to:

Agriculture: Africans supplied the intense labor, skillfulness and cultivation of the first rice seeds, successfully introducing and transmitting rice culture into the New World. Stemming back to the 1700s, rice was first introduced from Madagascar to the farming market of South Carolina. During this time, enslaved Africans used three indispensable systems: ground water, springs and soil moisture reservation.

Southern Cuisine: At the time of the trans-Atlantic voyage, black-eyed peas, okra, kidney and lima beans were gathered and collected in Africa for enslaved Africans upon the voyage into the New World. Synonymous with soul food, traditional African dishes and techniques have been perpetuated in American food culture such as deep frying, gumbo, fufu and millet bread. Often prepared by enslaved Africans, cornbread was assimilated to the African millet bread and fufu, a traditional African meal similar to “turn meal and flour,” a popular dish associated with the state of South Carolina.

Brer Rabbit
Brer Rabbit

Nursery Rhymes: Folklores such as Chicken Little, Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, were derived from Africa. African stories, fables and oratory traditions have been embedded into American culture, providing a childhood infrastructure for learning and development through the use of nursery rhymes.

Indigenous Song and Dance: Enslaved Africans were forced to substitute drums with hand clapping and feet tapping because slave “masters” banned drums in several African communities after learning they could be used as an obscure form of communication. As a result, rhythmic song and dance became a major component of the New World culture, including shuffles, breakdowns, jigs and the strut accompanied by drum-less beats using their hands or feet. Two of the most notable music forms created by enslaved Africans are spirituals and the blues; both are generational blueprints within the religious melodies found in the African-American communities.

Those noted above are just the tip of the iceberg as there is an abundance of notable contributions made by enslaved Africans that are often duplicated but highly disregarded in the American culture. For instance, enslaved Africans are also responsible for establishing the augmentation of the dairy industry, artificial insemination of cows and the creation of various vaccines and cures including smallpox and poisonous snake bites. The African origins most influential staple is evidenced throughout modern popular culture where America has continuously capitalized in more ways than one through language, hair styles, clothing and contemporary music.

 

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