Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The African Spirit: Ring Shouting

Have you ever wondered why some black folk tend to “shout” or “get happy” during church service? Long ago, after or during the church service, some of the congregation would join in a “ring shout.” It is an African praise tradition that has survived a deliberate and somewhat successful campaign to "De- Africanize" the black man and woman here in America during slavery. Sadly, many of our black educated ministers and church goers have abandoned this form of spiritual expression. They associate this sort of behavior as “geechee,” “country,” or just plain unsophisticated. Fortunately, this African praise tradition has prevailed today in some black churches here in America. This is especially true down south thanks to black women. It’s one of the few remnants of African culture that was not completely destroyed by bondage. It’s part of our beautiful culture. It’s even more beautiful to behold.

“The men and women arranged themselves in a ring. The music started, perhaps with a Spiritual, and the ring began to move, at first slowly, then with quickening pace. The same musical phrase was repeated over and over for hours. This produced an ecstatic state. Women screamed and fell. Men, exhausted, dropped out of the ring.”

Nowadays, the ring shout is not so obvious. Individuals may take off running completely around the church. I was recently amazed when I witnessed this because the woman was older and very large. I’ve also seen where a few men and women would form a circle and dance - in the spirit - inside the circle. At this point, some of the choir members are “shouting” and ushers on the floor are attending to individuals within the congregation who are also "caught up in the Spirit." Yes, the Spirit is still with us even in the wilderness. My wife loves to say, "you can take an African out of Africa, but you can’t take the African out of them." Well my love... at least not completely.

Book on subject: Come Shouting to Zion: African American Protestantism in the American South and British Caribbean to 1830 By: Sylvia R. Frey, Betty Wood


Anonymous said...

I think that it is great when the spirit touches someone like that! I did not know the history though. Once again, Stephen, thank you for teaching us! I am back in the real world now, hopefully for good!

Stephen A. Bess said...

Hello Faith! it's good to see you. You were missed on MC. Good to see you back. :)

I'm always happy to share. Stay warm out there in Minnesota. Peace~

Anonymous said...

Thanks Stephen, I really missed MC, you & your commenters as well!

I am gonna try and stay warm, we are supposed to hit 0 for a high today! :) That is a LOT better than the -18 it was yesterday. (Plus the wind, made windchills of -30 to -40 and that is too cold.) I am blessed that my car has started and I have had no worries with it! I hope your weather is better. I have not had a chance to look lately. Take Care!

Anonymous said...

Ring shouting - a great thing. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history...I didn't know that. I just know it's something to see (and feel!) when it happens.

Tafari said...

This is a interesting fact. It is not that I think less of the people that get happy in church or the prolific excitement that follows but it sometimes makes church last way too long especially when it happens like more than twice.

Personally I like to get in & out

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Stephen,
Thank you for reminding us of this. Call and response is an integral part of African worship and life and a perfect metaphor for the artist and community. Both are united in a common purpose in lifting the person/community/Spirit to a higher level and this is only done with praise.

One Love,

Unknown said...

I never fail to learn something on your blog! I love your whole website. Makes me proud.

Stephen A. Bess said...

Yes, indeed!

Yes, the history behind it is interesting to me. Thanks.

lol! I can dig it. This is especially true when I'm hungry. :)

*smile* Thanks bro!

Yes, that element of call and response that is in our worship and even in our music when you listen to Miles and Coltrane on Kinda Blue. That's African. Thanks! One love. Peace~

That's beautiful and that makes me feel so good. :)Thank you sis!

Dance_Soul said...

I love the new look of your site. My mom choreographed a dance called "Shout" long ago that is representative of the "get happy" spirit. I have witnessed people catching the "spirit" or "holy ghost" in christian churches and Deities overcome people during voodoo/voodun ceremonies too (the actions of the vessels are quite similar). It is amazing to see. I always feel closer to the ancestors when it happens - you can feel their presence. Great Post.

get zapped said...

I didn't go to church often, but when I did, it was always Catholic- which in those days was drab, slow and melancholy. I may have enjoyed it more had it felt happy and people acted like it was something worth checking out. No, I was scared most of the time...


Lyrically speaking said...

You educated me this evening with this "Shout" history...I never knew much about it. This is one of your hottest post ever. Again congrats! on your site

Cergie said...

I like negrospirituals, I like to hear beautiful voicers and when they are singing all together it's much beautifuller

k8land said...

Thank you for this post. I am working on a textbook and the authors located this item and would like to include the photo of the two women in church. Do you know the origin of this photo? Please email any info to me at kateland_photo at hotmail dot com. Thanks!

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