African American Religion Essay
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Before Africans were brought to America during the slave trade, they had their own culture and society. They had their own language and dance. They also had their own religion. History tells us that the Europeans justified their abuse toward the Africans as helping them become more civilized because the Africans lifestyle appeared primal to them and not as developed and industrialized as theirs. What is often overlooked is that even though Africans were taken from Africa and Americanized and have been stripped of their religion, culture, language and even their name, the very essence of the African as a people did not go away.
Some African American slaves rejected Christianity’s religion because they saw it as the “white man’s religion”. History tells us American Slave Masters abused the Africans by whipping them like animals and by treating them inhumane. The fact that these slave masters wanted the African American to worship their god was unacceptable for some because they could not fathom why they should worship a god who allowed people to be so badly treated.
Some Africans accepted Christianity’s religion and faith by identifying with Jesus Christ, the son of God who according to the Bible was innocent of sin and yet he was beaten, bruised and crucified for the sins of the world. Some African Americans wanted to remain faithful to their heritage yet did not agree with the conjure practices. Seth Holly’s character is a good example of conforming to the economic prosperity of America which was founded by Christians. White Christians enforced Christian beliefs, values, and some practices based on the Euro American Christian interpretation of Christian text.
Seth developed a kind of hatred for his own people proving that he has adopted the practices of white America in the early 1900s. “Niggers coming up here from that old backwoods… coming up here from the country carrying Bibles and guitars looking for freedom. ” Seth says. “They got a rude awakening” (6). Seth signifies the African American who resents assimilation to the white American culture. But, at the same time, he too attempts to connect with his heritage by simply allowing Bynum to live in his home and bless it with his conjures rituals. Seth also participates in an African dance ritual called the Juba.
Bynum’s character is introduced by practicing conjure rituals. He cuts open pigeons and spreads its blood onto him as a type of cleansing to communicate with spirits. Bynum represents the African American who chose to remain faithful to the religion of his heritage. Others who have chosen the faith of Christianity view conjure rituals as evil, witchcraft, or demonic. Some African Americans wanted to remain faithful to their heritage yet did not agree with conjure practices anymore. Loomis walks in on the juba dance and goes into a trance after dinner at the boarding house.
He had a vision of skeletons emerge from a body of water. “Loomis: I done seen bones rise up out the water. Rise up and walk across the water. Bones walking on top of the water” (53). Loomis recognizes through the vision, his state of ignorance to the knowledge that will lead him to the new way of thinking. Bynum serves as a supporting character reacting to Loomis’s trance. “Bynum: They walking around here now. Mens. Just like you and me. Come right up out the water” (56). Loomis’s trance and Bynum’s interpretation of it is a turning point in the story.
The skeletons coming from the bottom of the sea in Loomis’s vision represent the slave ships, the disorientation experienced by the slaves during emancipation, and the confusion of his release from Joe Turner. Both Loomis and Bynum have tapped into their ancestral religion. The difference between the two is that Bynum represents the African who never renounced his religion and Loomis is the African-American who turned from conjure religion and converted to the faith of Christianity. After Joe turner took his life away from him, Loomis questioned his Christian faith and his identity.
By walking in on the ancestral ritual of the Juba dance, Loomis literally walked into what he had actually been looking for, his religion, consequently, his ancestral identity and this is why he fell into the trance. Throughout the play conjures is encompasses four generations; Bynum’s father, Bynum, Loomis, and the neighbor boy Reuben. Reuben’s vision is of Seth’s mother by the pigeon coop, she encourages Reuben to release the caged pigeons. Wilson writes in a way that leads the reader to believe that Loomis needs to find his missing wife.
Martha Pentecost is not the one who was lost; Loomis was the one who was lost, wondering around from town to town, searching. Loomis came into the state of belief when Bynum helped him translate his vision. That vision represented Loomis going back to his ancestral conjure religion. Loomis needed to find Martha Pentecost simply to say good-bye to her and their life former together. Up until this point of the story, I believed that Loomis needed to find his wife so they could live out the rest of their lives as a happy free family with their daughter.
However, it is made pretty obvious this was never Loomis’s intentions. “That goodbye kept me out on the road searching,” Loomis says, “now that I see your face I can say my goodbye and make my own world” (90). Martha Pentecost, a woman of Christian faith, represents the African who assimilated into white America’s culture and Loomis needed to find her to say good-bye to her and the Christian faith. Martha stands by her Christian faith by accusing Loomis “you done gone over to the devil” (91). White man’s religion believed that conjure was evil or the way of the devil.
Loomis finds it easier to reject her for her Christian beliefs. “Loomis: Great big old white man…your Mr. Jesus Christ. Standing there with a whip in one hand and a tote board in another, them niggers swimming in a sea of cotton” (92). Loomis proves with his statement, his version of a bible story that differed from other African Americans but was similar to that of the white man who believed that they were on a level below God and the African’s were beneath them, African’s were one third of a person. Loomis now believes that if African’s are going to be free then they have to take charge of their own destiny.
Martha Pentecost represents the African American’s religion, she identifies that Loomis needs to “be washed in the blood of the lamb” (92) and “you done gone over to the devil. (91) Through class lessons I learned that African American slaves compared themselves with stories in the bible to instill hope of a life free from oppression, violence, and bondage. Jesus according to the bible was innocent of sin and yet he was beaten, bruised and crucified for the sins of the world. The hope of reigning in heave with Jesus is considered the ultimate reward for suffering life’s trials and tribulations.
It is the faith of the African Americans who accepted Christianity religion. Blacks trusted in the Lord instead of man. America was Egypt in the exodus story and as long as the enslaving and oppressing took place America would face the same wrath as Egypt. “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. ” The bible was depended on in justifying and motivation rebellion for the blacks and used as a tool to keep blacks enslaved by the whites. African Americans used sermons, song, and prayer to convey and teach their message of travail and triumph of Israel.
Some African Americans could not get past the treatment from the white people that called themselves Christians and as a result they rejected Christianity. Selig’s role suggests that the link between characters is the acquisition of material goods. Selig admits that his ancestors have always made their living pursuing African Americas; his great grandfather transported slaves from Africa, his father captured runaway slaves and returned them to their masters for a reward, and Selig locates displaced people for a fee. Selig attains his ecstasy through consumer capitalism, through the selling of material goods.
African Americans are objects for exploitation and exchange in the new economy. He binds African Americans to the economic system, demanding payment of his services and products which necessitates subsistence labor by taking them from one construction site or work site to another, similar to a temporary employment agency today. You pay for an employee to work for some time, but Selig is getting paid by the person looking for work or a ride to a chance of freedom. Selig cannot find a person that has not purchased a dustpan from him because he keeps the names of his customers.
Seth is determined to achieve material success, he has very little patience for African Americans migrating north looking for the same prosperity that he desires. Seth is very demanding of his patrons, insisting on advance payment in full, and is preoccupied with maintaining a respectable house. “It’s hard enough now without all that ignorant kind of acting. Ever since slavery got over with there ain’t been nothing but foolish-acting niggers. Word get out they need men to work in the mill and put in these roads… and niggers drop everything and head north looking for freedom. (5, 6) Seth wants to blend in with the white man’s world; therefore he keeps a link with Selig by negotiating the manufacturing and sale of dustpans.
Seth does not have any idea of what it would be like to be a slave, as he was born free in the North and was educated. He demonstrates his education with his math calculation when dealing with the boarding house patrons and the quick notation of him letting Selig know that he is trying to overcharge him for the dust pan materials. Educational differences played a role in tension with Southern blacks, most of who were forbidden from learning to read, saw religion as a matter of oral tradition nd immediate experience and emotion.
Northerner blacks, stressed that one could not truly be Christian unless they was able to read the Bible and understand it. This play denies individual worth and identity for some of Wilson’s characters. To be defrauded of the products of one’s labor or to see that creation diminished, like with Jeremy and the guitar contest, is to be denied a reflection of individual worth and identity. If people have been separated from this truth of individual worth and identity through oppression their capacity to bond with one another, form friendships, or couples, families are undermined.
Social alienation in Wilson’s characters are expressed in their stores of broken relationships, uncertainty, or suspicion that they feel toward one another. “Seth: Something ain’t setting right with that fellow, Bynum. He’s one of them mean-looking niggers look like he done killed somebody gambling over a quarter. ”(20) Connection between oppression, alienation from self and inability to form bonds with others is displayed in the character of Loomis. Joe Turner’s ability to oppress Loomis carried a judgment of non-worth. “Loomis: He told me I was worthless.
Worthless is something you throw away. Something you don’t bother with” (73) Turners judgment of worthlessness forced Loomis to accept the reality of the white man’s power; he was marked as “one of Joe Turners niggers and forced to forget his song. ”(71) Being alienated from himself and displaced with his relation to the world, Loomis is unable to establish bonds with people around him. The oppression encountered by Wilson’s characters is material or economic, that oppression is spiritual as well in the capacity to deprive the individual of a sense of himself or his unique song.
The reawakening of Loomis after his encounter with cultural wisdom is not the self discovery of an average African American but creation of a new source of cultural wisdom, a new African holy man. Wilson uses many metaphors throughout the play. The song is a metaphor for Loomis’s identity and the African American cultural identity. Music is a large part of African American identity, so it makes since that in search of one’s identity they are searching for their song. The boarding house serves as an inn for traveling folk, but the tenants actually receive a form of healing during their stay.
Tenants get direction and guidance from Bertha and Bynum. The shiny man that Bynum is in search for signifies African American independence. The man that Bynum met on the road was an independent African American, just as Loomis was freed by his past when he cleansed himself in his own blood. “Bynum: Herald Loomis, you shining! You shining like new money! ”(94) Loomis has dismissed that the blood of Christ can wash away his sins and make him the man he used to be, but by washing himself in his own blood he has sacrificed the old life to begin his new journey on his terms.
Bynum’s shining man has been found, meaning his work is complete; he has passed his powers on to the next generation, Loomis. “They tell me Joe Turner’s come and Gone” is a song that is sung by Bynum, when I first read the story I thought that the meaning was came and now he is dead however, the second time I read the play I realized that it meant that Joe Turner has come and snatched the men and now he is now gone. August Wilson uses symbolism in the play as a very important part in conveying the meaning of the story. Wilson’s use of symbolism is demonstrated through Mr. Wilson’s use of the road, Martha Pentecost, and Herald Loomis.
Symbolic importance is give to the word freedom. The word freedom has instilled hope into the lives of African Americans: during slavery, hope for the release from bondage; after emancipation, the right to be educated, employed, and to move about freely; twentieth century, social, political, and economic justice. Freedom has always stood for the absence of any restraint, because God made all men from his image. There are a number of characters that travel around searching for their place in the world.
Mattie, mentions that she keeps on looking, seems like she just keeps starting over, I ain’t never found no place for me to fit. ” (76) Reuben tells Zonia, when he finds out that she is leaving the boarding house in search of her mom, “when I get grown, I come looking for you. ”(84) Jeremy does not seem to care much when he loses his job because, “don’t make me no difference. There’s a big road out there, I can always get my guitar and find me a place to stay. I ain’t planning on staying in one place for too long noway. (64) Martha & Reverend Tolliver moved the Church up north because of the trouble the church was having.
When the Civil War finally brought freedom to previously enslaved African Americans, the task of organizing religious communities was only one element of the larger need to create new lives, to reunite families, to find jobs, and to figure out what it would mean to live in the United States as citizens rather than property. August Wilson’s play, Joe Turner’s come and Gone, examines African Americans search for their cultural identity following slavery.