Writing in 1978, famed historian Albert Raboteau suggested that in British North America, the slaves’ “African religious heritage was lost.”1 While religious practices that bore clearly the stamp of specific African influences thrived in the former slave societies of Central and South America, “African retentions in the United States,” Raboteau contended, “cannot be ascribed with any certainty to definite areas of West Africa.”2 In explaining this development, Raboteau suggested that the United States was unique among all other New World slave societies in its creation of a slave society where slaves comprised a consistently low percentage of the overall population, where plantations remained relatively small, and where slaves achieved natural increase at a relatively early date. Without a decided numerical majority and with natural increase eliminating the need to replenish the slave class with steady streams of African laborers, “it was not possible to maintain the rites of worship, the priesthood, or the ‘national’ identities which were the vehicles and supports for African theology and cult organization.”3 Instead, slavery in the United States destroyed the African religious heritage as “the gods of Africa gave way to the God of Christianity.”4

The broad contours of this argument—and, in particular, the notion of African cultural loss in the United States under slavery—has enjoyed a remarkably long life in American slave historiography. In some of the earliest scholarly writing on the subject, this argument emerged as a presumption of enslaved African cultural vacuity. Writing in 1959, Stanley Elkins contended that the cultural distance between African and African American culture was “even wider than we imagined.”5 Beginning at the point of initial enslavement and transport from Africa, through the dreaded Middle Passage and on to the United States, much of the slave’s “past had been annihilated; nearly every prior connection had been severed.” Having been so thoroughly set adrift from culture and history, Elkins queried, “Where then was he to look for new standards, new cues–who would furnish them now?”6 In a word, the master.

Much of the earliest historical record of slavery makes clear the presumptions of planters who saw in enslaved Africans so many tabula rasa whose naturally mimetic personalities made them specially suited to receive the bounty of presumably superior European ways and manners. But despite slaves’ skills at imitation, planters still decried their efforts, arguing that they imbibed the culture, language, and customs of the master class only imperfectly, due to their presumed cultural inferiority.7

Many early chroniclers of U.S. slavery, basing their arguments principally on sources drawn from the master class, came predictably to similar conclusions. One historian assured readers that the slaves’ language, even if peppered with some “unconsciously preserved” African words, was little more than “the crude and ungrammatical English of an illiterate folk.”8 In language as well as in religion, some concluded that Africans “merely followed and enlarged upon the Christian example provided by whites.”9 According to historian Kenneth Stampp,

There is no need to trace back to Africa the slave’s…dread of witches, ghosts, and hobgoblins, his confidence in good-luck charms, his alarm at evil omens, his belief in dreams, and his reluctance to visit burying grounds after dark. These superstitions were all firmly rooted in Anglo-Saxon folklore.10

In the end, the slaves’ English was broken, their manner brusque and their religion little more than ecstatic perversions of a more staid Protestant moral model.11

While few, if any, scholars would today argue that enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas as blank slates, or that the cultures and religions of Africa were of little consequence in the subsequent development of African American culture, at least one strain of this older argument persists; namely, the idea that enslaved men and women in British North America were unable to preserve and maintain African systems of belief. Writing in Awash in a Sea of Faith (1990), Jon Butler argues that between 1680 and 1760, “African slaves in the British mainland colonies experienced a spiritual holocaust that effectively destroyed traditional African religious systems,” though some particular and discrete religious practices remained.12 African religious practices may have persisted in the Americas, but only—as Saidiya Hartman suggests in a similar context—in a manner “akin to a phantom limb, in that what is felt is no longer there.”13

In direct opposition to these claims, another historiographical tradition asserted the primacy of African culture and religion in the development of black culture in the United States and elsewhere. The clarion call for this approach can be found in Melville Herskovits’s 1941 publication, The Myth of the Negro Past. In it, Herskovits argued for the substantial, significant, and continued influence of Africa in the histories, lives and cultures of blacks throughout the Americas.14 Herskovits’ early arguments were strengthened in the work of subsequent scholars. For example, Sterling Stuckey argued not only that African cultural and religious elements persisted in the United States, but also that the realm of ritual and belief constituted the cultural center around which African Americans formed themselves into a people. In this sense, African religion was the source of African American identity.15

More recently, a growing body of scholarship makes increasingly clear the role that the long arm of Africa played in the cultural and religious lives of enslaved Americans. Walter Rucker, writing in The River Flows On (2007), argues that a widespread set of African-derived beliefs in spiritual forces and ideas about death, the afterlife, and transmigration proved crucial in the development of slave resistance and revolt in the United States.16 Religion, in this sense, not only helped forge a people, as Stuckey had argued earlier, but also strengthened the community ethic of resistance that made large-scale slave rebellion possible. This was certainly true for Nat Turner, the slave preacher turned rebel who, in 1831, organized the country’s largest slave insurrection after receiving divine inspiration and instruction to do so.

Notwithstanding these recent developments, presumptions of African cultural loss in the face of American slavery continue to play a large role in debates about early African American culture, making clear the difficulties, not only historical, but also historiographical, of claiming a space for Africa in the early religious development of the United States. As Michael Gomez notes, “the cultural and social transformations of transported Africans tend to invite a quality of critique unique in its level of elevated scrutiny, emphasizing distance and lacunae in the substance and circumstances separating Africa and the Americas.”17 Whether intended or not, the terms of this opposition result “in the Negrofication of the African-descended in the Americas,” by which Africa is regarded as of little or no significance to the experience and history of black people in the New World.18 At the same time, this failure to see Africa in America contributes to the “reification of the African as the quintessential Other.”19

The suggestion that African systems of belief were lost in the Americas is predicated, at least in part, on the idea that cultural practices might be transported as were so many commodities in the grand commercial exchanges that occurred around the Atlantic. Whatever we might say of African religious systems, we know that they were very much in flux between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries due to the dislocations of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and also to the mere passage of time and circumstance. Evidence of new and dynamic religious and ritual configurations is evident throughout the continent in this period. One thinks, for example, of Dona Beatriz, the Kongolese prophetess who, after undergoing a transformative spiritual experience in the early eighteenth century, revealed a revised Christian theology that challenged the nativity and nationality of Christ and derided the Catholic Church for its racism.20 Her message did not die with her execution in 1706, but traveled throughout the Americas with her followers and adherents who were swept up en masse and sent as slaves to the plantation Americas. In this way, the Atlantic slaving zone was a highly contested and contingent space where all sorts of systems—political, economic and certainly religious—were ever changing. To be sure, slaves did not merely replicate Africa in the Americas; but neither should we expect them to have done so. The language of cultural loss and of slaves’ failure to reconstitute religious systems paints a dire portrait of African American life and belief as an always already fractured piece of some formerly African cultural and religious whole.

The question of Africa’s role in the development of African American religion is a vexed matter. “Inevitably, it is highly political,” as one historian recently noted.21 But going even further, anthropologist Richard Price suspects that something even more nefarious is afoot in these opposing schools of thought. Writing in “On the Miracle of Creolization,” Price maintains that it is “hard to escape the conclusion that ideology and politics—the specifics of North American identity politics—continue to direct the master narratives, as well as influence how they are read.”22 Amounting to a “motivated erasure of countervailing scholarship,” Price suggests that this type of identity politics may be reduced to base “careerism” as expressed in disagreements “between Africanists and Americanists and sometimes between historians and anthropologists, but more importantly on underlying ideologies or partis-pris.”23 Price charges “Africa-centrists” as well as their sympathizers and apologists with bending or ignoring counter evidence to support ideological positions. Scholars who argue for the centrality of Africa in the subsequent development of African American cultures are likely representing an ideological, rather than a historical position.

I have suggested in another context the need to change the terms of a debate that has become fraught in several ways. Drawing on the work of David Scott, I have expressed concern that much of this debate has been verificationist in its orientations. On both sides of the debate, the central questions have been whether or not and to what extent African American cultures are authentically African; and whether or not and to what extent black people in the United States have retained (one might say, performed) an authentic memory of their past.24 In order to enter the fray, one must engage the debate on its own terms by presuming, on the one hand, that pasts are such as can be identified in their authenticity and, on the other, that the special task of an anthropology of peoples of African descent consists of providing the evidence, both theoretical and methodological, necessary to debate the role of African pasts in black American slave culture.25 Ultimately, Scott contends, these studies rest on the assumption that “peoples of African descent in the New World require something like anthropology, a science of culture, to provide them with the foundational guarantee of an authentic past.”26

But what does it mean to be authentically African? Or, more to the point, what are the limits of authenticity? Scholars have typically defined traditional African religion too narrowly. From the vastness of African religious beliefs and practices, a smaller set of well-known and often repeated tropes describe what is african about African religions, leaving whole fields of religious belief and practice beyond the pale. Writing in the seminal African Religions and Philosophy (1969), John S. Mbiti describes traditional African religion this way:

In traditional religions there are no creeds to be recited; instead the creeds are written in the heart of the individual…. There are no sacred scriptures. Religion in African societies is written not on paper, but in people’s hearts…. There is no conversion from one traditional religion to another. A person has to be born in a particular society in order to assimilate the religious system…. African religions have neither founders nor reformers.27

First published in 1969, African Religions reflected its time by underscoring the coherence and logic of African belief systems that had for so long been dismissed as mere superstition. It is well to note that only six years earlier, in 1963, Oxford historian Hugh Trevor-Roper argued confidently and with no need of evidence that Africa had no history to speak of, but only the “unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe.”28 The trouble with Mbiti’s description, however, is its tendency to timelessness; in its portrait of African religions as unchanging and ahistorical (if not anti-historical). Without founders or reformers, African religious practices are as they always have been. Interestingly, Mbiti depicts religion as both a total institution, evident in all aspects of life, as well as a fiercely fugitive idea, being lodged in no one place at all—certainly not in officially sanctioned scriptures or liturgies. African religion is transparent enough to be articulated to the outsider and the uninitiated, but ultimately unknowable, covered as it is in an impenetrable cultural opacity that allows no conversion.

The terms of Mbiti’s description point to a linguistic and ideological genealogy that extends back to the earliest developments of ethnographic and anthropological approaches to African life and culture. Geoffrey Parrinder, for example, writing in African Traditional Religion (1954), argued “African tribal societies are relatively undifferentiated and homogenous. This great comparative homogeneity of African society is apparent in the religious sphere…. In religious beliefs, there is great similarity between many parts of the continent.”29 Rather than contribute to greater cultural development, some saw this homogeneity as a sort of stifling, unchanging sameness. Writing in Kenya before the White Man, Christopher Wilson described it this way:

It is surprising to know that for many thousands of years before the earliest records of historical time men of advanced physical type, with at least the rudiments of culture, lived in Kenya. It is still more surprising to realize that in spite of this eary start, those inhabitants of Kenya made almost no further progress towards higher human standards through all the centuries of history.30

Drawn principally from European travelers’ accounts and missionary reports, these descriptions reflect less information about African religious systems, as such, and more the emergence of an epistemological problem to be solved. For European chroniclers, these descriptions reflected a certain “kind of knowledge” about Africa generally that established a set of immutable oppositions between African systems of belief against their European counterparts; of rational modernity against “primitive” backwardness; of true religion against base superstition; and ultimately of white against black.31 In this connection, Christianity can be seen as “the inheritor of Greek reason” and, at the same time, the continuation and ultimate achievement of the Judaic tradition. In this dual role—possessor of proper religion and critic of false superstition—Western traditions supported modernity by laying bare that body of thought, belief and practices thought pre-modern and “primitive;” and therefore ill fit for modernity’s present and futures.32 Writing in a similar context, V.Y. Mudimbe notes that “Anthropology, as well as missionary studies of primitive philosophies, are then concerned with the study of the distance from the Same to the Other.”33 At bottom, this “missionary language of derision is a cultural position, the expression of an ethno-centric outlook.”34

But how is it possible that a missionary and ethnographic language of derision could find in more current scholarly descriptions of African religion a genealogical descendant? Or, put another way, how is it that the post-colonial authors of African life and culture might, knowingly or not, harken back to an older ethnographic moment? The anthropological gaze that first contributed to the creation of binary and inherently oppositional categories between black and white; that flattened the great diversity of African religious life into a mere type; and that created hierarchies for assessing these differences also provided key elements necessary for the subsequent development of Pan-African and Black Nationalist perspectives. If, in the hands of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century colonialists, an ethnographic language highlighted the difference between “the Same and the Other,” the post-colonial project did much the same via a crucial interchange between the Object and the Subject of study. In the midst of post-colonial nationalist movements, many black authors argued for the necessity of an African cultural unity toward new liberatory projects. This trend is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the work of Mbiti.

Our knowledge of “traditional African religions”—or, more to the point, our ways of knowing these rituals and practices—derive from two different, though intimately related epistemological streams. One, drawn from European colonial sources, flattened the diversity and dynamism of African religion into a foil to be compared negatively against European models. The other, rooted in Black Nationalist and Pan-African movements, found in traditional African culture and religion an imperative for African unity and opposition to colonial power. But in both formulations, the idea of traditional African religions has a totalizing effect on our understanding of religion and belief in Africa, marking off boundaries of what is and is not authentically African.

One consequence of this is that some religious traditions and practices in Africa are normally regarded as always foreign to the continent. This is certainly the case as it relates to the history of Christianity in Africa despite its significant and longstanding history on the continent. In the longest view, Christianity’s history in Africa extends back to the first century of the Common Era and is firmly established in the development of the Ethiopian Coptic Church in the fourth century. But more recently, and more germane to present considerations, Christianity’s history in West Africa extends back to the late fifteenth century when Portuguese missionaries converted Kongo King João I in 1491. Initially embraced as a religion of the royal court, Christianity eventually spread throughout the country with alacrity; and this expansion from urban centers to rural provinces was largely an indigenous affair, relying on the translation of key theological ideas and practices into local languages and, by extension, into local ways of being religious. John K. Thornton argues that “Christianity ‘conquered’ Kongo peacefully—but at the cost of adapting itself almost wholly to Kongolese conceptions of religion and cosmology,” becoming part of the traditional religious landscape of West-Central Africa.35 Many of these Kongolege Christians found themselves swept up by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, populating British North America in large numbers. Indeed, in the early decades of the slave trade, West-Central Africans were over-represented when compared to Africans from other regions, and especially so in the coastal regions of Georgia and South Carolina where they predominated.36

All of this encourages a reconsideration of the origins of African American religious life. If Christianity is better regarded as one part of the religious heritage that Africans bequeathed to their enslaved progeny in the Americas, then we may need new narratives to explain more fully the origins of Christianity among enslaved Africans, or even the origins of the Black Church.37 The impetus for this reconsideration comes from enslaved Africans themselves who claimed Christianity as part of their African heritage. For example, in 1710, Francis Le Jau, an Anglican missionary in South Carolina noted:

I have in this parish a few Negroe Slaves and were born and baptized among the Portuguese…. [T]hey come to Church and are well instructed so as to express a great desire to receive the H. communion amongst us, I proposed to them to declare openly their Abjuring the Errors of the Romish Church without which declaration I cou’d [sic] not receive them…38

After an eighteen-month term of religious instruction, Le Jau finally welcomed two of the men to communion. But despite Le Jau’s best efforts to rid the new converts of their “Romish” trappings, he was continually confounded by the converts’ ability to manipulate the doctrine to suit their own spiritual needs. Neither was Le Jau alone in this regard. Well into the antebellum period, Thomas Turpin, a prominent Baptist missionary who worked along the Georgia coast, complained bitterly that slaves under his charge had organized Roman Catholic societies.39

The insistence shown by these black Catholics mirrored that shown by successive waves of fugitive slaves who, in the late seventeenth century, fled Georgia and South Carolina, seeking asylum with the Spanish in Florida. Upon arrival in Florida, Catholic missionaries interviewed the escapees, some of whom noted that they had been Catholics in their homelands, even though they insisted on praying in their native tongue, much to the consternation of their priests.40 All of this suggests that Christianity is part of Africa’s traditional religious heritage, upon which slaves drew in the Americas.

Of course, a similar consideration can be applied to the historical significance of Islam in West Africa and, by extension, to enslaved Muslims in early British North America. Like Christianity, Islam is not typically included in that broad set of religious and spiritual practices thought to comprise “traditional African” religions. But on the eve of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Islam’s history in Africa had already extended back for centuries. Michael Gomez notes that as many as fifty percent of the slaves exported to North America were captured from areas in West Africa where Islam was either a state religion or at least the religion of significant minority populations. Since the Muslim presence in North America “antedates the arrival of English colonists,” a renewed focus on the history of Islam in British North America promises to shed new light not only on the religious history of African Americans, but indeed on the early religious history of the country more generally.41 Spain’s military outpost in Florida, located at St. Augustine, featured a sizable population of African Muslims, while French Louisiana also imported large numbers of African Muslims, principally from Senegambia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone. In British North America, planters’ stated preference for “Mandigos”—a trade name denoting Africans from Senegambia and Sierra Leone—lead to the importation of many African Muslims. Moreover, slave runaway ads often included details pointing to the significant presence of Muslims among the ranks of the enslaved.42

As in the case of African forms of Christianity, much of the impetus behind this renewed focus on Islam comes from enslaved African Muslims themselves who worked assiduously to maintain their faith in early British North America in the establishment of regularized daily prayer, the maintenance and passing on of Muslim names, the use of prayer beads and mats, and in the writing and recitation of the Qur’an.43 Moreover, evidence suggests that some prominent African Americans, Frederick Douglass chief among them, may have been a descendant of enslaved Muslims, his family name Bailey likely being a variant of Bilal or Bilali.44

While there is not much evidence of enslaved Muslims practicing their faith in organized congregations, ample evidence suggests that many practiced their faith in their homes and within their larger communities. Rosa Grant, a former slave from Possum Point, Georgia, remembered that her grandmother prayed every morning at the rising and the setting of the sun by facing the east whilst kneeling, bowing until her forehead touched the ground three times, and reciting in a manner consistent with Muslim prayer.45 Charles Wylly, grandson of the famed Georgia planter Thomas Spalding, remembered seeing “devout mussulmans, who prayed to Allah … morning, noon and evening” on the Spalding planation.46 In antebellum Georgia, Umar ibn Said, an enslaved African, transcribed the opening chapter of the Qu’ran, passing it off as the Lord’s prayer.47 These examples could be much multiplied to include several enslaved Muslims who achieved some degree of celebrity in the United States. Abd-Rahman, known as “The Prince,” became the most popular African in America and a cause-celèbre in the 1820s when a national humanitarian campaign won him not only his freedom, but also his repatriation to Africa. Enslaved Muslims contributed to African American society not only in the maintenance of their faith, but also in the very process of African American identity formation in the United States. As Gomez notes, enslaved Muslims tended to be among the first enslaved Africans to eschew their own particular ethnic identities in favor of larger group identities and ultimately, to race-based affiliations.

Of course, African forms of Christianity and Islam persisted in the slave communities of early British North America alongside that wide range of ritual and spiritual beliefs typically called “African traditional religions.” As noted above, the very scale and scope of these religious traditions—extending as they do across the African continent and re-emerging in various ways throughout the plantation Americas—means that broad descriptive generalizations may be valid, even if not applicable to every single case. In this way, the idea of “African traditional religions” may be useful as a heuristic device—pointing as it does to certain broadly shared practices and beliefs including, for example, reverence for ancestors, belief in the unity of the sacred and the secular realms, and ritual communion with otherworldy powers. Gomez tells us, “the essentially African perspective of an all-encompassing dual reality permeated the cultural and social fabric of African Americans” not only in the realm of religion, but also in other aspects of life.48 The unmistakable evidence for this perspective can be found in the persistence of the “widespread practice of healing and intercessory procedures collectively and alternately known as voodoo, hoodoo, conjure and root work.” This persistence is likely explained, at least in part, by the vast numbers of African priests who were targeted by political leaders as potential threats to power and subsequently sold to the Americas as slaves.49 Gomez sees in these developments evidence of “clear continuities of African customs and beliefs, modified for the use of Africans and their descendants as they passed through the great tribulation.”50

To be sure, the use of spiritualism, divination, herbalism and allopathy were all quite widespread among both blacks and whites in early British North America, making the colonies home to a pronounced religious and spiritual pluralism. But in this vast world of wonders, slave conjure—comprising a diverse set of practices including herbal remedies, divination, poisoning, and curses—was held in particular opprobrium by the masterclass. This is because one of the principal cohesive elements of slave conjure was its political relationship to slavery. Writing elsewhere, I have noted that conjure provided a form of spiritual resistance that not only undercut the authority of the masterclass, but also established an independent realm of criminality and justice. Conjure granted its practitioners and adherents an avenue to influence, power, health, and retribution over which the masterclass had little influence.51

Oftentimes, these powers were used in direct resistance to slavery. Root doctors and conjurers often used their powers to protect slaves from the brutalities of slavery, creating in some slaves an obstinate defiance. Perhaps the best evidence of this spirit of resistance can be found in the example of Denmark Vesey of Charleston, South Carolina who, in 1822 directed one of the country’s largest insurrectionary plots.52 Key to the conspiracy was Vesey’s election of Gullah Jack, a conjurer of great repute, as his chief co-conspirator. Jack “kept African religious traditions alive” by providing the rebels with African religious symbols that promised victory and invincibility. He was roundly regarded as a powerful conjurer and was both feared and respected by his fellow slaves.53 Indeed, on his initial passage from Africa to South Carolina, Jack reportedly “had his conjuring implements with him in a bag which he brought on board the ship and always retained them.”54 The rebels firmly believed in Jack’s powers and felt that if they “retained the charms which he had distributed they would themselves be invulnerable.”55

This ritual assurance of invincibility was widespread and long-lived among slaves. Frederick Douglass noted his own encounter with Sandy, “a genuine African [who] had inherited some of the so-called magical powers said to be possessed by the eastern nations.”56 When Sandy offered to prepare a root for Douglass, which, if kept always in his possession, would prevent any white man from striking him, Douglass reasoned: “I at first rejected the idea that the simple carrying of a root on my right side could possess any such magic power. I had a positive aversion to all pretenders to ’divination’ …but if it did me no good it could do me no harm.”57

In the end, all of this points to the idea that slavery, racism, colonialism and the capitalist project were all global phenomena that connected black people around the world in both the process of empire building as well as in the imperative to challenge it through resistance. As Robin D.G. Kelley notes, these processes “were never uniform or fixed, but did create systems that were at times tightly coordinated across oceans and national boundaries.”58 In this sense, Africa’s religious legacy in the Americas is found, to be sure, in the emergence and maintenance of traditional African religious practices, but also in the persistence of Christianity and Islam, which were each and all intimately connected to the grand exchange of goods and people that was at the heart of global slavery.

  1. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 47.

  2. Ibid., 49.

  3. Ibid., 92.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Stanley Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 91.

  6. Ibid., 101–102.

  7. See, for example, Elkins, Slavery, 132.

  8. Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South (1956; New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 362–63.

  9. U.B. Phillips, American Negro Slavery (1918; Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966), 314.

  10. Stampp, Peculiar Institution, 375.

  11. Elkins, Slavery, esp. chapter 3; Stampp, Peculiar Institution, chapter 8, passim.

  12. Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 153.

  13. Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 87.

  14. Melville Herskovits, Myth of the Negro Past (1941; Boston: Beacon Press, 1958), xiii, 6.

  15. Sterling Stuckey, “Through the Prism of Folklore: The Black Ethos in Slavery,” Massachusetts Review 9 (1968): 417–437.

  16. Walter C. Rucker, The River Flows On: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).

  17. Michael Gomez, Reversing Sail: A History of the African Diaspora (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 2.

  18. Ibid., 3.

  19. Ibid.

  20. John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998); and Jason Young, Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007), 60–64.

  21. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), xxi.

  22. Richard Price, “On the Miracle of Creolization,” in Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora, ed. Kevin Yelvington(Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 2006), 132.

  23. Ibid., 124. Writing elsewhere, Richard and Sally Price argue that a determined researcher “who is intent on proving a chosen historical scenario can almost always locate some objects or design styles in one tradition that closely resemble some objects or design styles in another.” See, Richard Price and Sally Price, Maroon Arts (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000), 296.

  24. David Scott, Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 108.

  25. Ibid., 108.

  26. David Scott, “That Event, This Memory: Notes on the Anthropology of African Diasporas in the New World,” Diaspora 1(1991): 268.

  27. John S. Mbiti, African Religions and Philosophy (1969; London: Heinemann Press, 1990 ), 3–4.

  28. BBC lecture, Reported in The Listener (Nov. 28, 1963).

  29. Geoffrey Parrinder, African Traditional Religion (1954; London: Sheldon Press, 1974), 11.

  30. Quoted in Harold Schneider, The Africans: An Ethnological Account (Edgewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1981), 8.

  31. V.Y. Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 44, 64. See also Paul Gilroy, Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1992), 52.

  32. F. Eboussi-Boulaga, Christianisme sans fétiches (Paris: Présence Africaine), Quoted in Mudimbe, Invention, p. 51.

  33. Mudimbe, Invention, 81.

  34. Ibid., 52

  35. John Thornton, “The Development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491–1750.” in Journal of African History 25:154 (1984), 157.

  36. Young, Rituals, 25, 33.

  37. Mudimbe, Invention, 59.

  38. Francis Le Jau, “Slave Conversion on the Carolina Frontier,” in African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness, ed. Milton Sernett(Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), 27 (emphasis added). See also Annette Laing, “‘Heathens and Infidels’? African Christianization and Anglicanism in the South Carolina Low Country, 1700–1750, Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 12 (2002): 197.

  39. Thomas Turpin in Christian Advocate and Journal (31 January 1834).

  40. Jane Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 48, 113.

  41. Michael Gomez, “Muslims in Early America,” The Journal of Southern History 60 (1994): 682–84.

  42. Gomez, Country Marks, chap. 4.

  43. Sylvianne Diouf, Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas (New York: New York University Press, 1998), chapter 2 and passim .

  44. Michael Gomez, Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 158.

  45. Diouf, Servants, 62.

  46. Ibid.

  47. Allan Austin, African Muslims in Antebellum America (New York: Routledge, 1997), 137–144. See also Gomez, Black Crescent, 143.

  48. Gomez, Country Marks, 283.

  49. See, for example, James Sweet, Domingos Álvares: African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 21.

  50. Ibid., 283, 290.

  51. Young, Rituals, 139.

  52. Recently, the insurrectionary plot of Denmark Vesey has come under fire by historian Michael P. Johnson who raises questions about historians’ use of sources and methodology in reconstructing the details of the plot. In particular, Johnson argues that the plot was the creation of paranoid court officials and modern historians who unwittingly adopted a “heroic” tale of resistance and projected it onto Vesey. The best explication of this debate, and indeed a thorough and convincing rebuttal by the principle parties, can be found in a two-part series, Robert A. Gross, ed. “Forum: The Making of a Slave Conspiracy,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd. Ser., 58:4 (Oct. 2001): 913–976; and William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd. Ser., 59:1 (Jan. 2002): 135–202.

  53. Robert Starobin ed., Great Lives Observed: Denmark Vesey, The Slave Conspiracy of 1822 (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1970), 3, 5; and Rucker, The River Flows On, 164–66, 169, 182.

  54. Zephariah Kingsley, A Treatise on the Patriarchal, or Co-operative, System of Society as it Exists in Some Governments, and Colonies in America and in the United States, Under the Name of Slavery, with its Necessity and Advantages, 2nd ed., (Tallahassee: n.p., 1829), 13.

  55. Starobin, Denmark Vesey, 102.

  56. Frederick Douglass, Autobiographies: Narrative of the Life; My Bondage and My Freedom; Life and Times, ed. Henry Louis Gates (New York: The Library of America, 1994), 586.

  57. Ibid. Interestingly, neither Douglass nor Sandy suffered physical abuse at the hands of abusive masters after having utilized the protective root.

  58. Robin D. G. Kelley, “How the West Was One: On the Uses and Limitations of Diaspora,” The Black Scholar 30 (2000): 32.