Africa is often called “The Motherland” and for good reason. The continent has shaped culture in diaspora communities in Western countries via migration of its people over the centuries. Take a look at just a few examples of these African cultural artifacts that provide a tangible connection to the African diaspora and its African heritage.
An African Heritage Crop that is a Symbol of Southern Cooking
Southern cooking wouldn’t be recognizable without the banana shaped green vegetable called Okra. A star ingredient in the famous New Orleans gumbo that appears on tables of wealthy and poor, okra provides the texture and viscosity that tasty gumbo is known for.
Okra actually didn’t exist in the South until slaves brought it over. In fact, okra most likely originated somewhere around Ethiopia, with a history that can be traced to ancient times. The vegetable spread from East to West Africa during the Bantu migrations around 2,000 BC, and became a key ingredient of soups and stews that are the basis of many traditional African diets. The English word, “okra” was derived from the Igbos of West Africa- “Okwuru;” and the word “gumbo” is derived from an Angolan word for the vegetable called “quingombo.”
During the perilous trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1500s, slaves brought okra seeds with them for the familiar taste of food from back home. Over time, okra became an intrinsic part of American southern cooking as plantation slaves cooked for themselves and their owners.
Although Charleston and New Orleans were early adopters of okra-based dishes, the vegetable was not confined to the American South. Today, okra can be found in many Caribbean and Brazilian dishes as well.
A Famous Street Parade with Distinctly African Roots
Picture Brazil and you probably imagine a parade of dancers in bright colored feathers, a remarkable and lively celebration known as Carnival. Held every February to mark the start of Lent, Carnival celebrations stretch across the Caribbean and into South America. Although the occasion is a Catholic tradition brought to the colonies by Europeans since the 1500s, the means of celebration is distinctly African in every way.
Street parades, like that of the Carnival, are prevalent throughout many parts of Africa. These parades often feature people walking through the village dancing and singing, dressed in colorful feather masks and costumes. In Igbo, Yoruba, Fon, Ewe, Kongo, and Bantu traditions, feathers are used to bring spirits to life and lend spiritual strengths to the wearer. The rhythmic percussion that is characteristic of every Carnival celebration can be attributed to Yoruba traditions of dancing in the streets to the sound of music, a method of release from everyday oppression.
An Oral Tradition that Crossed the Atlantic
Jamaicans are famously known for their often humorous proverbs, metaphorical sayings that have been handed down through generations as a means of communicating important social messages. Jamaican proverbs draw on the oral tradition of Africa, an important connection to African culture that took on a very important means of kinship and personal expression during the oppression of slavery.
Proverbs are common throughout much of Africa, and over the centuries have contributed greatly to the long oral tradition and linguistic character of the continent. Used in the art of story telling, African proverbs often feature animals and the earth so that children can remember them easily. As in Jamaica, proverbs are central to communal activities throughout Africa, as a way to communicate tradition and wisdom to future generations.
Here are some examples of proverbs from Jamaica and West Africa:
1. “One, one coco full basket”
English translation: One by one cocoa can fill a basket.
Meaning: Do not expect to achieve success overnight.
2. “Time longa dan rope”
English translation: Time is longer than a rope
Meaning: One should be patience and work hard.
3. “Nah wait til drum beat before you grind you axe”
English translation: Do not wait until the drum beats before you grind your axe.
Meaning: Be prepared for all eventualities.
4. “By labor comes wealth”
Meaning: To achieve wealth is hard work.
5. Always being in a hurry does not prevent death, neither does going slowly prevent living.”
Meaning: Slow down and enjoy life!
6. A bird that flies off the earth and lands on an anthill is still on the ground.
Meaning: Don’t let failures dampen your enthusiasm.
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