Singing for Strength: Enslaved Africans and Community Building in the Transatlantic Slave Trade

Posted: August 28, 2012 in J. Hunter Moore, Slave history

Author: J. Hunter Moore


This paper examines the singing by enslaved Africans in the Transatlantic slave trade, the importance of singing to the people of West Africa, and its importance to the descendants of enslaved Africans in the Transatlantic colonies and United States.


“Throughout the Transatlantic slave trade enslaved Africans sang. In holding pens called barracoons awaiting shipment, aboard slave ships crossing the Atlantic, and in the transatlantic colonies, singing was a common feature of daily life and special events. Many people sing, but for enslaved Africans singing may have been a means of survival. Slaves often found themselves surrounded by other slaves with whom they had no prior social relationship. Singing would have enabled them to create an immediate sense of community, mitigating the effects of the severe dislocation they suffered. Singing also helped to preserve a sense of community among slaves once they were settled in the colonies. Contemporary accounts attest to the importance of both singing and community in West Africa, the source for the majority of slaves in the transatlantic trade. Similar evidence exists for African slaves in the British colonies of the Caribbean and North America as well as for their descendants. Finally, a positive view of the creative adaptation or “creolization” of cultural forms by enslaved Africans is compared with earlier analyses that described it as being purely destructive.”

(Vanderbilt University)



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