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Ring Shout, Wheel AboutThe Racial Politics of Music and Dance in North American Slavery$
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Katrina Dyonne Thompson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780252038259

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252038259.001.0001

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The Script

The Script

“Africa was but a blank canvas for Europe’s imagination”

(p.13) 1 The Script
Ring Shout, Wheel About

Katrina Dyonne Thompson

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European and American travel journals to reveal the manner in which they portrayed West Africans in order to create the moral and social justifications for slavery and racial stereotypes. It argues that European travelers often ignored the ritualistic purpose of West African music and dance and instead reduced West Africans to servants, prostitutes, and entertainers. These societal positions were developed on the premise of European hegemony and aimed to create an African commodity. Throughout West Africa, music, song, and dance were important cultural expressions. However, from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, European and American travelers distorted these expressions in order to project and fulfill their own desires. This chapter shows how travel narratives presented the identity of West Africans as malleable and capable of being shaped according to the desired purpose of the gazer. Through their creation of the innate dancers and singers, it contends that travel journals contributed to the subjugation and reconfiguration of the black body through its neglect of the actual culture and tradition of the performing arts.

Keywords:   slavery, racial stereotypes, European travelers, West Africans, cultural expression, American travelers, travel narratives, black body, performing arts, song

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