Beneath the Underdog

By Maxjulian

May 2, 2005

Category: Uncategorized


“Passage and Prayer: The Origin
of Religion in the Atlantic World,”

Charles H. Long

“…For the European maritime nations, the Atlantic,
with all its ambiguity, is a fascinating reality. From
the ‘discovery’ of Columbus to the emergence of the
great naval empires of Spain, Holland, England, and
France, the Atlantic carried the basic meaning of
novelty as The New World, a world not only filled with
the signs and wonders of the marvelously new, but one
that delighted the human spirit in the several modes
and opportunities for commercial enterprises; for them
it was clear that the Atlantic held forth a surplus of
potential. And part of the potential as sign and
wonder and commercial enterprise was the tens of
millions of Africans who became one of the major
cargoes in the establishment of the Atlantic world.

“For the Africans in the bowels of the slave ships,
the Atlantic represented a cataclysm. As Du Bois put
it, ‘they descended into hell.’ Or, as a spiritual
remembered it later, ‘And I couldn’t hear nobody pray,
O Lord,/Couldn’t hear nobody pray;/’Way down yonder by
myself,/And I couldn’t hear nobody pray.

“To whom does one pray from the bowels of a slave
ship? To the gods of Africa? to the gods of the
masters of the slave vessels? to the gods of an
unknown and foreign land of enslavement? To whom does
one pray? From the persepctive of religious
experience, this was the beginning of African American
religion and culture. In the forced silence of
oppression, in the half-articulate moans of
desperation, in the rebellions against
enslavement–from this cataclysm another world
emerged. This other world was a correlate of,
simultaneous with, and parallel to the other Atlantic
world. Africans’ first expressions of the meaning of
the New World took place in the experience of daemonic
dread as they were forced into history as terror–the
modern world system.

“The position set forth here is that African American
religion and its subsequent cultures began in the
Middle Passage, in the in-betweenness of the
continents of Africa, Europe, and the Americas…”

2 Responses to “Beneath the Underdog”

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