UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
African Dances and Its Changes Overseas
First, with the help of our teacher, Mrs. Cochran, we chose the countries and dances that we would examine. We decided to study countries where the African culture wasn't stifled during the slave trade. We were provided with names of people that could contribute first hand information to our project. We began our journey through the African Diaspora with primary resources, books and articles from many different libraries. Through our research we discovered that the African Diaspora resulted in the spreading of African culture, religion, and dances from one hemisphere to another, (i.e. Haiti, Brazil, Cuba, and Jamaica). The African slaves were brought to the Western Hemisphere for many different reasons, mostly for hard labor. We discovered that most of the slaves were brought from the 3,000 mile coastline between North Senegal and South Angola. The slave traders found it easier and less expensive to transport slaves from the west coast of Africa. It was impractical to take slaves from the east side of the continent because of the high mortality rates.
West Africa All of the dances that we chose to study tie in with this portion of our journey. The Goree Island, which is right off the shore of Senegal, was a holding place for the slaves, before they made their long journey to their final destinations. Woulousodong is a dance of the Wolorf people in Senegal. One of this dance's different interpretations, when learned in America, is that the movements represented those of the slaves while they walked up the gang plank. The African explanation tells us the movements signify adolescents breaking away from their parents' household and taking on new responsibilities. This is one instance where the interpretation of African dance has changed oversea.
Haiti and Cuba Many of the slaves brought to Haiti and Cuba were Yoruba-speaking people. They worshipped more than 400 gods, which are still worshipped today. No doubt, they brought their religious practices with them. The main religion of the Spanish colonizers was Catholicism. It was taught to the Africans. This syncretism of religions resulted in Voodooism in Haiti, Santeria in Cuba and Condomble in Brazil. Haitian and Cuban dances show African origin not only in their religious foundations, but in their rhythmic movements and patterns.
Brazil and Jamaica From the 15th century through the 18th century, about 3,000,000 Angolans were brought to Brazil to work on the different sugar, tobacco, cotton, and coffee plantations. The slaves brought with them many dances, including the Samba-de-Roda. This dance was originally from the Kimbundu tradition in Angola. When brought to Brazil, it took on many different forms, but it's African origins are still very distinct. Calypso is a social dance done at celebrations in Trinidad and Jamaica. The Calypso is very similar to the Brazilian Samba. Here, the relationship to African Diaspora dances is very clear.
The movement of African culture to the New World contributed to the cultural diversity of these new lands. The geographic locations of Haiti, Cuba, Brazil, and Jamaica played a major role in the amount of similarities between these cultures and those of West Africa. This was because the Atlantic Ocean was the only obstacle that separated West Africa from the Americas, whereas to travel from the east coast of Africa, the traders would need to get around Africa's Cape of Good Hope before sailing across this large body of water.
This project won county history day and we just got back from State
competitions...a long story!
Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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