African Slave Religion

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The Community of Enslaved Africans and their Religious & Spiritual Practices.

During a most dark and dismal time in our nations history, we find that the Africans who endured horrible circumstances during slavery, found ways of peace and hope in their religious beliefs. During slavery, African's where able to survive unbearable conditions by focusing on their spirituality.

Christianity was amongst the slave community. Being that the vast majority of the slave community was born in America, converting slaves to Christianity was not a struggle. All slaves were not Christian, and slaves that had accepted Christianity were not official members of the church. Over time Slaves made Christianity their own. There would be occurrences where church gatherings would hold both white and black members. Slave religion was both institutional and non institutional. The slave gatherings would be both formally organized and spontaneously adapted. These gatherings would usually take place at night in the woods. Slaves enjoyed their own meetings better because they could sing and pray as they wanted. In some cases slave masters would not allow attendance of church gatherings and prayer meetings, some slaves would risk flogging to attend these meetings. Christianity was transformed into by the slave community to its own particular experience. Teachings by white masters were usually geared towards reminding slaves that on good behavior to their white masters, they would be accepted into heaven and even then , they would be limited to a lesser heaven than there owners. Jesus was not talked about, teachings consisted only of the laws to not lie or steal from their masters. Slaves would soon start to hold their own gatherings to just sing and pray all night in hopes that they would not be caught. Slaves were not allowed to sing or pray in the homes of their masters. There was no freedom of free worship. Slaves were often punished for this type of behavior; their masters would fear that they were praying against them. Prayer, song, close communities, and feeling the spirit would refresh the slaves in times of distress. Freedom was usually the topic of prayer and it was all slaves had. They had great faith in the lord and believed that their true home was heaven. Some masters were known to enjoy the singing, praying and preaching of their slaves. Many slaves were baptized and taught to pray certain prayers by their masters, but were rarely truly educated on the true definition of Christianity. Most slaves held on to their African religious practices, this in return formed many hybrid religions.

Voodoo would be one, this religion originated in the island of St. Dominquez. Voodoo was a combination of Catholicism with various West African traditions. There were 3 tiers in spiritual hierarchy. There was one supreme deity several ancestral gods, and many minor spirits. There was also a strong emphasis on magic. Africans were very spiritual people. Negro spirituals were an important factor to enduring slavery. Slaves enjoyed Negro spirituals as a way of enduring hard times and as a form of praise to god despite their situation. It was a form of release and peace to sing and dance amongst each other within their community. During slavery and afterwards, workers were allowed to sing songs during their working time. This was the case when they had to coordinate their efforts for hauling a fallen tree or any heavy load. For example, prisoners used to sing "chain gang" songs, when they worked on the road or some construction. But some "drivers" also allowed slaves to sing "quiet" songs, if they were not apparently against slaveholders. Such songs could be sung either by only one or by several slaves. They were used for expressing personal feeling, and for cheering one another.

Before Africans were converted to Christianity, they had their own sense of spirituality and religion. Traditional African religion and spirituality suffer the consequences...
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