Rituals of Resistance Links the 'Literature Review' chapter

Excerpt from 'Literature Review' chapter :

This notion and the memory of flight, Young concludes, endure in the tradition of the contemporary African. We find it, for instance, in the writings of Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, and Nella Larson as replica of the folkloric tradition that developed during the era of slavery and the slave trade and in tales and folkloric myths that are common predominantly along the Georgia coast.

Flight became connected with death. Notions of Africa as the final resting place for slaves became common notion through plantation America. This joy and hope of returning to Africa to die is expressed in several of the slave spirituals.

The flight motif also extended itself, in African mythology, to representations of the natural world. Certain species of birds, for instance the owl, took on portentous meaning for African slaves. Slave tradition viewed the owl as a sign of death. The buzzard was another example of a creature where death and flight conjoined. In this way, flight became a symbol not only of liberty but also of impending death and disorder. Africa became a space that was especially invested with spiritual power, and Young in this chapter shows how African mythology, shaped by the slave experience, illustrated the transmigration of slaves in both this world and the next.

Personal Critique

As conclusion and summation of critique on the work, I am impressed with the amount of research that went into it, with the author's evident passion for the subject, and with the author's breadth of experience with the various methodologies and disciplines. Sufficient material corroborates the thesis to support the author's point that the slaves fashioned their mother rituals into rituals that enabled them to transcend their suffering and, by so doing, converted their brutalized bodies into instruments of spirituality. The author's argument seems reliable and convincing.

I was moved by many of the slave spirituals, understand them now in a fresh and informed way. Similarly too, growing up on the Brer Rabbit stories, I now understood them in a different light. Young's textual reading wove interpretations into these, and other tales, that transforms them form the naive children 'nursery' tales that one often takes them to be into tales replete with meaning. Any reader of Young's dissertation w ill never be able to read the Brer rabbit tales the same way again. Through his vast accumulation of diversified sources, Young has crafted a picture of slave resilience that makes an enduring impact on the reader and that is unforgettable.

On the other hand, I am somewhat confused as to the author's intention. In the introduction, he seems to indicate that his objective is to argue the proposition that the slaves in the Deep South and their relatives in the Central African Kongo used their rituals as means with which to surmount their sufferings. The chapters in the dissertation, however, seem to be disconnected to that thesis. Attempting to show how rituals were effected by variables of the American South or the Christian faith and then, in turn, effecting the American South, the author focuses in turn on the influence of the missionaries, on the minski tradition, and on rituals of the dead, before finalizing with an analysis on the transmigration of movement in the slave community and on the folkloric record of flight. The impression that one may receive is that a variety of themes are involved here, and that it is difficult to separate them. Rituals of Resistance is variegated in more ways than one: it is a multidisciplinary research that is also multi-methodological, whilst simultaneously being multi-thematic. Brilliant in its collection of information, stylistic writing, and evident passion, the dissertation portrays a narrative of courage within unbelievable oppression. However, one wonders whether it is one theme or many and, if the former, which exactly it is.


Young, J.R. (2002). Rituals of Resistance: The Making of an African-Atlantic Religious Complex in Kongo and along the Sea Islands of the…

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