A Blues Ecology Gospel of Black American History?–Chapter 4: A Drum Speech Winter?

It is from such transatlantic pilgrimages of balanced human ecology—expressed so succinctly in the Akan parable of the river and the road—that we can now construct our lens for reading the musical history of Blackamerican religious experience. The Kongo or Bakongo Cosmogram symbol provides a structure upon which to place our lens materials (Stuckey 2013: 1-110). The vertical line can represent the river coming from the Creator. The horizontal line can represent the road of commodities that crosses the river. The elliptical path can represent the actual religious experience behind the abstract idea.

I refer to this diagram as an interpretive lens to keep from using a theological jargon word like hermeneutics that means the same thing (to me at least) but that don’t communicate its meaning to most people who are not in the discipline. In writing about this earlier, I made a big deal about how the elliptical shape made this structure work like an optical lens. This was actually incorrect and would therefore be more confusing to people who either already knew or decided to look up how lenses work. Since then I’ve found a much simpler metaphor based upon the gravitational lensing characteristics of elliptical galaxies, as shown in the image below (Courtesy of NASA/ESA/STSCI/K.Ratnatunga, JHU/Science Photo Library).

The four bright spots around the periphery are actually images of an object that is hidden from the observer’s line of sight by the massive elliptical galaxy in the middle. The galaxy is so massive, however, that its gravity literally bends space time to also reveal images of the object behind it, essentially in the same way that my interpretive lenses reveal centuries of Blackamerican religious experience hidden by the dominant American narrative. It also includes that Blackamerican experience as a meaningful part of the overall narrative of American religious experience.

Gravitational lens. Hubble Space Telescope image of a galaxy acting as a gravitational lens. Here an elliptical galaxy (yellow and red) causes light from a more distant object to be seen as four faint blue images in a cross-shaped pattern. The enormous gravity of the foreground galaxy warps space nearby. This warping ‘bends’ light, magnifying and distorting the image of the distant object. This is normally seen as arcs or a pair of images; quadruple images are rare. Studies of such objects may lead to a measurement of the density of matter in the Universe, and thus whether it will expand forever or eventually collapse.

To use my interpretive lens in the gravitational mode I start with the massive elliptical galaxy of US history’s dominant narrative from colonial times to the present moment. I have diagrammed it below with an ecological spacetime theme of four annual seasons. A colonial winter season prior to the birth of American republics brings “apocalyptic” devastation of civilizations and ecologies in the hemisphere that will become that Americas. An American spring season begins with the genesis of American republics and of Blackamerican identity in the USA through continuations and adaptations of African oral traditions that came to be known as “ring shouts.”

An American summer season begins with the Americas throwing off chattel enslavement and with a Blackamerican exodus from oppression in the US that continues into a gospel of ring-shout values spread globally through a Blackamerican “blues matrix.” An American autumn season begins with increasing multi-national corporate influence and control over both government and religious affairs and a critical, multi-ethnic response of “ring-shout” values expressed through a “pentecost” of Blackamerican hip-hop hybridity.

Concerning the first season, Fisher describes a continuation of ethnically based meetings amongst enslaved Africans, in which community values were passed from generation to generation, often accompanied by drum, dance, and song. Fisher also mentions “talking drums,” which are likely to have been part of such ceremonies. In 1676, Virginia became the first American colony to outlaw such meetings and the drumming associated with them, for the obvious reasons that Africans who attended them were also inspired to revolt and escape rather than continue in their enslaved condition as disposable commodities (Fisher 1998: Kindle locations 110-251).

So the apocalypse brought by colonization is labeled in the clouds position of the figure below. The ethnic community meetings in the rain position were prohibited to continue the commodification of the enslaved, as indicated on the horizontal bar. The American independence from old-empires was that was achieved toward the end of this period was of significance to everyone. The subsequent US Constitution upheld slavery, however, and slave codes were instituted to exclude Blackamericans from such independence, as labeled in the ocean position of the figure below.

Concerning independence, Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker write that during the 1760s numerous and increasingly violent revolts against unjust authority began to occur throughout the Atlantic world (which included the American colonies, the Caribbean Islands, and Western Europe), during this mid-eighteenth-century period and continued all of the way up through the American Revolution.

Sailors and maritime workers of varied ethnicities and races, including Africans, often joined in mob actions against the British Navy’s practice of kidnapping people and forcing them into naval service, essentially as slaves. But the “founding fathers” decided to silence the actual voices of common people. For instance, Linebaugh and Rediker note that Paul Revere’s published sketch of the Boston Massacre was careful to leave out non-white faces, such as the face of Crispus Attucks who was born of an enslaved African father and Native American mother (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000: Kindle locations 211-47).

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