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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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“They sang their home-songs, and danced, each with his free foot slapping the deck”

(p.42) 2 Casting
Ring Shout, Wheel About

Katrina Dyonne Thompson

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the manner in which African captives were forced to perform music, song, and dance during the Atlantic voyage. Within the Middle Passage, white slavers brought the slaves on deck for airing. While on deck, the slavers drenched the captives with salt water, inspected them for any hint of disease, and, ironically, made them sing and dance. Historically, music and dance during the Middle Passage were viewed as a form of exercise used to preserve the human cargo. This chapter analyzes those scenes to illustrate the transformation of the top deck of the ship into a stage upon which race and gender roles were prescribed and performed. It shows that European and American ideals of Africanness were forced upon the captives in order to transition the diverse populations into chattel. The coerced performances on slave ships distorted the normally sacred or ritualistic meanings of music, song, and dance.

Keywords:   music, song, African captives, Middle Passage, slaves, race, Africanness, coerced performances, slave ships, gender

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