Native Spirit + African Spirit = American Spirit

Reading her “Churches Burning” post on the lovely blog “Silently Heard Once”,

inspires me to share a couple of thoughts…

I don’t know how many of you have read the remarkable book:

Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World

After 500 years, the world’s huge debt to the wisdom of the Indians of the Americas has finally been explored in all its vivid drama by anthropologist Jack Weatherford. He traces the crucial contributions made by the Indians to our federal system of government, our democratic institutions, modern medicine, agriculture, architecture, and ecology, and in this astonishing, ground-breaking book takes a giant step toward recovering a true American history.

And then consider these truths:

The Powerful Influence of African Culture on Modern Music

….ultimately there are almost infinite different forms of music most of which have been produced as a result of, or have been affected by African music on some level. Whether Western instruments have evolved from ancient African forms, or we have adopted knowledge in terms of rhythms and cross rhythms, various scale patterns, or simply the evolution of melody and harmony, Western music undoubtedly owes an immeasurable debt of gratitude to our African brothers and sisters for their wisdom, insight and creativity.

African-American music.

African-American music is an umbrella term covering a diverse range of musics and musical genres largely developed by African Americans. Negro spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, doo-wop, rock & roll, soul, funk, disco, hip hop, house, and techno constitute the principal modern genres of African-American music. ……

Following the Civil War, black Americans, through employment as musicians playing European music in military bands, developed new style of music called ragtime which gradually evolved into jazz. In developing this latter musical form, African Americans contributed knowledge of the sophisticated polyrhythmic structure of the dance and folk music of peoples across western and sub-Saharan Africa. Together, these musical forms had a wide-ranging and profound influence over the development of music within the United States and around the world during the 20th century.

20th Century Music

For many, the 20th century was seen as “America’s century.” It was a century in which the United States’ influence would be felt around the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of music. From jazz to rock, America was the birthplace to some of the most influential music the world had seen-aided, of course, by the popularity of new technologies…

The most important influence on 20th century music? African Americans and the musical culture they brought to this country – developed within the bonds of slavery.

Even before the 20th century began, blues music was evolving across the country out of the traditional African slave spirituals, work calls and chants. Of all the developing genres, the blues would be the most far-reaching, with its influence felt in everything from jazz to rock, country music to rhythm and blues, and classical music.

That said, jazz’s influence on the world music scene would be nothing short of transformational.

My thoughts….Obviously, the “European Spirit”, and the spirit of other peoples as well, have also contributed to what we generically call the “American Spirit”, but I wish to highlight the importance of the contributions of Native Americans and African Americans.

In the formation of that collective spirit, the American experiment of the “melting pot” has been a most astonishing success, the blending of all these diverse influences into a collective force that has had such a dramatic impact upon the rest of the world.

But in terms of the peoples themselves, our melting pot of peace and harmony is turning into a crucible of strife and discord.

My point of this post – it is so terribly astonishing that two of the peoples that have had such a profound influence upon two of our most cherished cultural phenomena – our system of government and our music – with which we all identify so much – that these two peoples should be so under-valued, to continue to suffer so much from the bias of the dominant culture….This unrelenting injustice elicits such deep sadness, that words cannot express….

Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men…

13 thoughts on “Native Spirit + African Spirit = American Spirit

  1. Music is universal as they say it can sooth the savage beast. In the late sixties coke-a-cola had a commercial. If I could teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. That’s what we all need is to hear the harmony of the beating heart of every living soul. This is an excellent, thought out post.

  2. So true. Native Americans also initiated irrigation for crops, added to art with jewelry and rug design, architecture with Pueblo design, and other contributions.

  3. You might be interested in reading “1491 – New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles C. Mann. It provides awesome evidence of how highly civilized and industrious the Native American cultures were before Europeans destroyed them.

  4. There are a couple of books mentioned here that I will definitely be reading. I live in an area populated mostly by Native Americans. I see the continued suffering and injustices… it’s very sad.

    • Jack Weatherford actually wrote a second volumn in order to cover all that the Native Americans have contributed to America and the world. It is truly astonishing – just to mention the food crops they developed that now feed the world – transformed the diet of europe and put an end to the cycical famines it had…..and even long-fiber cotton – the old world did not have this – which also transformed europe and was the driving impetus behind the industrial revolution. The list goes on and on. It’s also a very easy read, so a great place to start.

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