African American Religions
The Strengths and Weaknesses of Melville Herskovits’s Theoretical Perspectives on African Retentions in His Book The Myth of the Negro Past
The Myth of the Negro Past is an interesting work of literature that covers vital information on the Negro cultural traits. Melville Herskovits’ book, published in 1940, offers unique contributions on investigations of the Negro who reside in the United States. The author presents a comprehensive analysis of different beliefs that reflect some of the traits from the African origin that still persist in the United States. Herskovits makes a thorough research on different genres for the purpose of finding different aspects of the African American culture that still exists. According to him, movement and linguistics had a major contribution towards African cultural retention. In this book, he uses his findings to undermine scientific racism that involves the African Americans. Clearly, the author makes use of science and investigation to qualify the existence of the theories that involve African retention.
Melville Herskovits makes significant theoretical perspectives on African retentions. One of the major strengths that come with his theoretical perspectives is the fact that he makes use of relevant data to substantiate his views. For instance, he makes it known to the readers that he makes trips to Africa to observe and record the happenings that support his views. The author goes on to record some of the native dances and uses them in comparison to the African Americans in the United States (Herskovits, 398). He also compares such African moves to the ones used in church environments to confirm the retention of the African culture in the United States. Further, he realizes that there is a resemblance between the dances in Africa to appease their God and the dance moves in the African American believers. Through the acquisition of first-hand information and experience from Africa, Herskovits depicts African retention within the family set up. He observes many aspects within the African American customs that overlap hence proving his theoretical perspectives to be right.
The aspect of having a life experience for teaching a particular topic is quite essential. The African Americans had the privilege of life experiences but clearly lacked resources. The black scholars, on the other hand, had no access to research tools that the whites had access to. This subjected them to a life of submission to a new culture other than a continuation of their own culture. Herskovits’s work displays strength in its ability to create a black militancy (Herskovits 26). He tends to spark up the deep perspectives of race that lie within the white society. His conclusions are derived from a thorough cultural research on the changes that have taken place from the onset of slavery.
Melville Herskovits’s work in The Myth of the Negro Past does not lack in weaknesses. Firstly, he does a close examination of similarity movements, which he considers a large factor that changed some of his views of the African American culture. As he began his study, Herskovits had a strong belief that the African American’s were a group of assimilated individuals in the business of mimicking the whites and their culture. This remains his belief until the time he had a firsthand experience in Africa, interacting with the African culture. Unfortunately, his theoretical perspectives on the African American people initially changed the views of the people who read his work. Reading through his ignorant perspective is likely to have influenced scholar’s view on the theories presented. His lack of first-hand information at the beginning presented a wrong image of African retention in the United States.
New Orleans is a Hot Spot for African Retentions in the African Diaspora
New Orleans is a Catholic centered nation. Africans had the opportunity to easily continue with their faith and beliefs since there was quite a similarity in their beliefs in God. New Orleans allowed the people of color to live with them without strict rules and regulations. The place remains a hot spot for African retention since slaves had the opportunity to congregate with the citizens of the area. This was not a norm in the other colonies since most of them segregated the Africans. Africans, in this case, found a home for their spiritual beliefs and the practice of spiritualism without limitations.
In 1791, during the massive slave revolt on the St. Dominguez, different African practices and beliefs from the western African countries congregated in New Orleans. The white and black residents that lived in St. Domingue and were colonized by the French found their way into New Orleans. The major reason for this attraction was the fact that these people were allowed to carry out the voodoo practices regardless of their origin. In fact, the voodoo ceremony, which was an inspiration from the slave revolt, attracted huge congregations to New Orleans. In the end, the refugees retained their traditions and found room to practice them whenever they wanted (Herskovits 134).
African Retentions in New Orleans vs. African Religious Retentions in Gullah Communities of South Carolina During Slavery
Though there were differences between the African retentions in New Orleans and the African religious retentions in Gullah, both of them exhibited the aspect of belief in God. The Gullah communities believed and respected God. They also believed that being a good person reflected the respect one had to God more than offering tithes and offerings. African retentions in New Orleans were not far from such beliefs. The community of New Orleans believed in the importance of having a good relationship with people as respect to God (Herskovits 240). In addition, they believed that God was more concerned with their good deeds rather than their sacrifices such as offerings. They also believed that religious practices were compulsory and had to be carried out frequently to appease God.
In the West African cultures, which were retained in the New Orleans, the dead were buried with their faces facing east. This was similar to the Gullah community, which signified that the sun was responsible for life cycles such as death and birth and recreation (Herskovits 300). Both the slaves in the New Orleans and South Carolina believed that burial ceremonies were important functions in their cultures. They had respect for the dead believing that every human being was to be sent off in an honorable manner.
The Myth of Negro Past is a well-documented piece of literature that gives an insight into the lives of the African Americans. Melville Herskovits’s perspective on African retentions is strong since he relies on data collection from Africa. He travels widely to collect information on African retention and even gets the privilege of having firsthand experience. African retention is experienced in New Orleans as well as in South Carolina. The West Africans carry on with their traditional voodoo practices since they are given the chance to practice them by the whites.
Herskovits, Melville. The Myth of the Negro Past. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1940. Print.