West Africa // new orleans

In New Orleans, understanding the cultural values of the translocated slaves provides and fertile contexts for understanding part of the dynamic cultural history of the city.  The persistence of traditional West Africa cultural has contributed to the narrative of New Orleans and the development of a multiethnic social structure. In an effort develop a deeper understanding of current social and political culture within the predominately African American neighborhood of St. Roch, expanding the context of the research will provide a richer understanding of the culture and diverse city.

In the eighteenth century the slave trade connected with New Orleans brought slaves from Senegambia in the western region of Africa.    While West Africa had been a central slave trading region for the world through the 17th century, it declined in popularity in 18th century due to shifting political structures outside the continent.  However, New Orleans remained connected to the West African region because of historical ties, political connections and established business partnerships to Senegambia.

In the eighteenth century the majority of the slaves brought to New Orleans originated from the Lands of the Bambara, located between the Senegal and Niger River.  The Bambara are Mande people with a strong tradition in oral history. The knowledge and values embedded in the oral history has been easily transmitted through myths, proverbs and legends.   Although the physical territory of the Mande was fragmented by post-colonial political structure and modernization the culture has been able to persist because of its adaptable framework and oral traditions.

The foundational mythology for the Bambara relates to the development of the universe.  The beliefs are grounded in a complex process of accepting dualities and respecting interconnections. The world developed out of a void in the universe and gradually all of the elements-like sound, spirits and light- were created. Pemba, a wood spirit, was the first ruler and after seven years he created Moussa Koroni.  Moussa was the first woman and she gave birth to animal and vegetables. The common ancestry of humans, flora and fauna ties all living creates together in Bambara culture.  Respecting interconnection in Bambara culture creates a deep respect for life at all levels.   In time Pemba deserted Moussa and she filled with wrath and anger. Faro, the androgynous water spirit, tried to ameliorate her anger but she refused to submit.  Instead Faro established dominance over Pemba, upholding the principle of androgyny as respecting duality within the universe and suppressing sexual impulses. The beauty of the Bambara mythology lies in its resilient, flexible approach to living which provides the framework for living with contradictions.

The Bambara understood valued the understanding of duality and the importance of balance.  The social organization recognizes the importance of both conformers and nonconformists.  Conformist was the understood as the stable family foundation and linguistically it was associated with females.  In contrast, nonconformists were revered as innovators and linguistically it was associated with males. Despite the hierarchal structure of the Bambara, as evidenced by gender roles, participatory democracy is evident within the different levels.  From childhood the Bambara participate in groups segregated by gender.

After the fragmentation of the Mali Empire the Bambara developed new techniques for maintaining connections between migrating spiritual communities.  The objects generated by artisan grew out of a partnership between the craft, the process of creation and spiritual meaning.     Charms called nyama boli were easily transferable and mobile objects symbolizing spiritual connection between distant groups.  The Bambaraian slaves transported to New Orleans took the mobile traditions to New Orleans.  Reinforcing the cultural acceptance of duality, two types of charms representing extremes were produced.  There were charms signifying support and/or power called the Zinzin and others signified harmful charms were known as Grisgris.

In addition to objects, performance was an important mechanism for communicating cultural values. Musical performances were understood as religious activities, similar to an act of praying.  Everyday activities had ceremonial and spiritual significance that strengthen and reinforced the values of the Bambara.

. . .

Hall, Gwendolyn Midlo. African in Colonial Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: