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The African American Oral Tradition. In Review…. What is the Oral Tradition?. Stories and Songs passed on verbally, instead of in written form Slaves passed on stories from generation to generation—parent to child. Why is there an African American Oral Tradition?.

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The African American Oral Tradition

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The African American Oral Tradition

In Review…


What is the Oral Tradition?

  • Stories and Songs passed on verbally, instead of in written form

  • Slaves passed on stories from generation to generation—parent to child


Why is there an African American Oral Tradition?

  • Until after the Civil War, it was illegal to teach slaves to read & write

  • If slaves could read & write, masters feared they would forge passes to escape to freedom in the North


Where was the oral tradition strongest?

  • The southern states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia

    • Where thousands of slaves labored on cotton, rice, and tobacco plantations

    • Large segregated slave quarters

A southern tobacco plantation (Library of Congress)


Types of Oral Traditions…Proverbs

  • Stories with a moral purpose; stories that teach a lesson

  • Often evaluate plantation life

  • Example: “Don’t say more with your mouth than your back can stand”

    • This proverb warns slaves about whippings that often result from slave protest


Types of Oral Traditions…Folk Cries, Hollers, and Shouts

  • A way for slaves to communicate over short distances

  • Purpose:

    • Calls for help, food, or water

    • Cries of loneliness, sorrow, or happiness

    • Warning other slaves that a master or overseer is approaching


Types of Oral Traditions…Work Songs

  • Rhythmic accompaniment to slave work like cotton-picking and cornhusking

  • Elements of Work Songs:

    • Plantation criticism

    • Praise

    • Ridicule

    • Gossip

    • Protest


Types of Oral Traditions…Spirituals

  • Religious, based on biblical stories

    • Many detail Moses and the Israelites’ journey from Egypt to freedom

  • Reflect the slaves’ daily life experiences their sorrows, troubles, weariness, dreams, and hopes of freedom

  • Purpose:

    • Anti-slavery messages

    • Codes for escape

    • Lamenting the condition of slavery

    • Expressing hope of freedom


Listening to African American Spirituals…

http://www.folkways.si.edu/40076.htm


Types of Oral Traditions…Folktales

  • Stories that explain how present circumstances have evolved

  • Generally teaching slave children how to survive the oppression of slavery

  • Types:

    • Animal trickster tales

    • Tales of Flying Africans

    • Conjure (magic) tales

  • Purpose:

    • Sharing moral values

    • Set examples of proper conduct

    • Explain natural phenomena

    • ENTERTAIN!


THE theme in African American Oral Tradition

Slaves must assert themselves against their oppressors (namely, white masters) because, even though white masters may control the slaves’ outer world, that power is neither permanent nor unchangeable.


Link to Super Duper Quiz Show


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