“We Wear the Mask”: Kongo Folk Art and Ritual in South Carolina

by Jason Young

Abstract

This article argues for a vision of the African diaspora as an arena of “insurgent nostalgia,” a restive remembrance and embodiment of the past. Blacks throughout the diaspora reconstituted and reconfigured elements of African culture through a series of sacralized and ancestral elements created, imagined, and remembered in ritual practice. But the black cultures that subsequently arose throughout the plantation Americas were not mere broken fragments of African cultural precedents. Instead, they comprised wholly formed cultures in the Americas that claimed certain historical relationships with African art and aesthetics—to be sure—but that also reflected a communion with larger communities of black people around the diaspora for whom “Slavery” was the name of a history, yet to be overcome; and “Africa” the clarion call for a world of new horizons, hopes, and possibilities.

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Jason Young is Associate Professor of History, at the State University of New York, Buffalo. He is the author of Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcounrty Region of Georgia and South Carolina in the Era of Slavery (2007) and the co-editor, with Edward J. Blum, of The Souls of W.E.B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009).  His current research project is “‘To Make the Slave Anew’: Art, History and the Politics of Authenticity.”