A second way to discern African influence and heritage
is to look at the animals.
African animals frequently appear in Afro-American
stories. Harold Courlander published a Haitian story,
“Merisier, Stronger Than the Elephants,” that features
a man who wants to be buried in the drum of the elephant
in Haiti? Of
course not. There
are also stories wherein during famines smaller animals
crawl into an elephant’s belly to carve away flesh
for themselves to eat.
Other animals indigenous to Africa that show
up in Afro-American tales are lions, guinea fowl,
hippopotamuses, and giraffes.
names and the way food is prepared also indicate African
stories that involve farming, yams and peanuts are
often the crops of choice. Distinct from sweet potatoes, yams are native
to the tropical regions of the Eastern Hemisphere. They arrived in the Americas with the enslaved
Africans, left over from the two hundred pounds per
person carried because slavers found that slaves fared
better on the sea voyage if they had familiar foods
to eat. Peanuts,
native to South America, had been introduced to Africa
by Europeans. When Africans encountered peanuts in the Americas
they called them goobers or groundnuts,
terms previously used in Africa.
Brer Rabbit gets into many scrapes because
of his fondness for goobers.
Gumbo, a West African word for the okra plant, is also the
name of the stew that gets its thickness from okra
pods. Gumbo may have been the stew that is served
the guests in another of Abrahams’ Afro-American tales,
this one from the southern United States.
Rooster is invited to a party but leaves in
disgust when he sees that guests will be served mounds
of corn bread. If
he had been a West African rooster, he might have
would have known that the corn bread hid other food:
meat, stew, pies, and cakes. In West Africa, food is often served in layers.
toward a Supreme Being
African attitudes toward God and religion frequently
show up in Afro-American tales.
Africa is too large and diverse to allow sweeping
statements about anything, but, in religion, a few
things seem to be universal. First, there is usually a Supreme Being. There may be lesser gods, but one entity is
responsible for the general order of things.
Second, the Supreme Being is not so far removed
from ordinary people as to be unaffected by the circumstances
under which they live. Third, adversity in a person’s life has a direct
it is possible to find the cause of the adversity
and correct the situation. Fifth, if approached correctly, the Supreme
Being will change one’s circumstances.