African traditions, the Power of the Word, and Adapting

 By taking on this very personal perspective, Douglass gives a very expressive life to the text, allowing his readers to really experience what he and other slaves were forced to go through, or at least to see the negative mental/emotional effects that these harsh experiences had on slaves of the time.  I honestly got shivers as I read this passage, especially as he poignantly admits, “while I am writing these lines, an expression of feeling has already found its way down my cheek.”

The words Douglass uses in his narrative are extremely powerful and he is truly and inspiring figure in history who was able to tell his story and affect thousands of people. He painted slavery the way it was, and he was able to express the pain that was found in slaves in such perfect language. As a reader he has impacted me greatly, and he is somebody that I definitely look up to. He is an intelligent human being who was able to succumb over his circumstances and resisted a system that oppressed him. He was a true revolutionist.

Africans believe that they each have their own song within them that identifies with their spirit. Everyone beats to their own drum. Their spirituality mostly consists of coded language that is passed down from generation to generation and in a sense they have their own “ritual language” that only they could understand. Which is something that Africans or slaves have actually used to their advantage. Their own language has given them power from where they could draw self-empowerment.

“… it is well known that the slaves of Haiti and Santo Domingo rose up on the night of 22 to 23 August 1791. This was the most significant, the best organized slave revolt, resulting in the most profound impact on the slave system. The slaves had organized their revolt for several months under the noses of their European masters without them realizing it. Voodoo was the source and framework for the revolt’s strategy and organization. Their masters thought they could let these savages move about at night, play the tom-tom and dance after working in the fields. They hoped it would make them more willing to work the next day. But the slaves were using the coded, ritualized, secret language of voodoo.”- Diene Doudou

Slaves found strength and a way to try and fight against the system through their own language. Their coded secret language was their best tactic to fight against the oppressive system that they were forced to be in. They were smart individuals who used their traditions to try and remain alive. They revolted and passed crucial information right under their masters eyes without them ever having any suspicion of what they were about to do.

Fredrick Douglass’ voice comes alive, sprouting full of emotional verve as he vividly leads his reader through his experiences both inside and outside the confines of slavery.  As he recounts the ‘negro spirituals’ that Douglass says are steeped in “bitter anguish,” he diverges from the topic to tell the reader of the bitter anguish that he feels even while writing about the memory of hearing those sad, distant chants.

 Slaves were forced to forget about their traditions and chants of music.  Something that brings negative feelings towards Douglass for he sees how those chants are lost forgotten, but at the same it is those chants that makes his voice come alive and have power. It is his lost coded language that instills so much emotion in him. His emotions keep him alive, even bad feelings in this case.

To most Africans who were brought over to America, they found it easy to assimilate to any religion that was imposed upon them. It was something that was easy for them to do because they believe that god is everywhere and in anything. He lives within everything, he is everywhere; they have a close relationship with the universe. Doudou states, “There is a close bond between everything in the universe. The divine is everywhere. So Africans and especially West Africans, do not really mind whether the divine is called Christ, has a voodoo name or the name of a local spirit.” The slaves come from a culture in where god can take any shape or form and it is because of this that they found it easy to assimilate into Christianity. They just did whatever they had to do to survive.

Tom is truly a fascinating character. One of the things that surprises me the most about him is his strong belief that there is a better after life. His hope in life comes from the bible. He always carries it around with him and keeps it close. Tom’s life is so miserable and wretched that he has nothing to live for, especially after being separated from his family, but we come to see how how it is his faith that keeps him living. Tom through the bible has found some type of hope. He is able to find strength to continue on living and he believes that judgment day and a better after life will come for him.

For further reading visit:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *