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
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