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Atlantic History African Religion and Culture
by
David Northrup

Introduction

Africa has been home to a great variety of religious and other cultural practices and beliefs, including the many that developed within particular African societies and those that were introduced from outside the continent. Those originating within the continent are generally termed traditional, although it would be wrong to think of traditional beliefs and practices as static or unchanging. Cultural borrowing from parts of the Middle East and Europe began in North Africa well before the beginning of the Common Era, twenty centuries ago. Because of the absence of written records outside the Nile Valley, little is known about the early history of traditional cultures in Africa other than that they had millennia to develop and spread. Detailed descriptions of some African societies south of the Sahara occur in Islamic accounts from the later Middle Ages and from the 1400s in European accounts of the Atlantic coasts. These descriptions make it clear that by 1500 sub-Saharan African societies exhibited great differences in their languages, beliefs, and customs and that many in these societies were curious to learn about the outsiders’ religions and cultures. Consequently, pockets of African Muslims and Christians came into existence south of the Sahara. Although some Africans learned languages and beliefs from abroad, Islam and Christianity were also Africanized as they spread. Those Africans whom the slave trades transported across the Sahara, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic brought their cultures with them and, in turn, their cultures were altered by contact with other societies. The greatest cultural changes within Africa have come within the last two centuries under the influence of European colonial rule and Muslim and Christian missionaries. Despite profound changes, Africans maintain and cherish strong cultural continuities with their past.

General Overviews

The systematic, comparative study of African religion and culture largely began in the colonial era, when Western anthropologists were preceeded by Christian missionaries. Historians took up studies even later, but the important introduction and case studies in Ranger and Kimambo 1972 show what historians should and can do. Vansina 1985 is a guidebook to recovering history from oral traditions. Using written records, Peel 2000 is a model historical account of the cultural context of religious change among the Yoruba, while Horton 1993 is an intellectual rigorous effort to define the cultural boundaries of African religious thought. Nonspecialists may find the account of African religions in Ray 1999 more accessible than Horton’s. Lapidus 2002 places African Islam in the larger Islamic world, as do the essays in Hunwick 2006. Mintz and Price 1992 is essential reading for the development of African-derived cultures in the Americas.

  • Horton, Robin. Patterns of Thought in Africa and the West: Essays on Magic, Religion, and Science. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    Taking off from an attempt to understand African religion, these essays by an influential anthropologist range over many aspects of African intellectual life and propose an original way of thinking about religion.

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  • Hunwick, John O., ed. West Africa, Islam, and the Arab World: Studies in Honor of Basil Davidson. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2006.

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    Studies of Arabic as the language of scholarship and education, the city of Timbuktu as a center of commerce and learning, and medieval kingdoms in the Western Sudan, along with colonialism, independence, and the rise of Islamic extremism.

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  • Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies, 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    This sweeping history of the entire Islamic world allows one to understand the Islamization of African and the Africanization of Islam.

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  • Mintz, Sidney W., and Richard Price. The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective. Boston: Beacon, 1992.

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    This reissue of a classic, brief introduction to the issues of cultural continuity and change among African-derived societies in the Americas in the era of slavery is the starting point for all subsequent debates.

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  • Peel, John D. Y. Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

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    A finely textured and important account of how exile and Christianity created a self-conscious Yoruba nation that emerged among Africans liberated from the slave trade in Sierra Leone and how Yoruba returning to their homeland simultaneously spread Christianity and Yoruba identity there.

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  • Ranger, T. O., and I. N. Kimambo, eds. The Historical Study of African Religion. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.

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    A pioneering work on religion from antiquity through the colonial period, this scholarly collection is primarily concerned with traditional religions in eastern Africa.

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  • Ray, Benjamin C. African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

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    This wide-ranging, well-organized introduction to African religious history focuses primarily on traditional African religions but also includes substantial treatment of religion, nationalism, African Islam, and African independent churches.

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  • Vansina, Jan. Oral Tradition as History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

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    This classic study explores the utility and limitations of recovering African cultural history from oral poetry and epic tales as well as from dramatic performances and music.

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Textbooks and Encyclopedias

Most of the key introductory and reference works have been written or compiled by experts in the field. Bohannan and Curtin 1994 remains a good introduction to all things African. The two one-volume encyclopedias by Oliver and Crowder 1981 and Murray 1981 are widely available in library collections and still useful for general topics, but the much larger work of Middleton and Miller 2007 is now the best encyclopedia of Africa. Trimingham 1968 assesses the importance of Muslim religion and culture, while Mbiti 1975 is still a useful guide to traditional African religion, though both lack historical depth.

  • Bohannan, Paul, and Philip Curtin. Africa and Africans. 4th ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1994.

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    A classic beginner’s guide to African history and culture written by two eminent scholars of anthropology and of history respectively, with maps and illustrations.

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  • Mbiti, John S. African Religions and Philosophy. Rev. ed. London: Heinemann, 1975.

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    This classic introduction, first published in 1969, describes traditional African beliefs and practices and briefly reflects on the role of Islam and Christianity in modern Africa.

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  • Middleton, John, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. New Encyclopedia of Africa. 5 vols. Detroit, MI: Gale Cengage, 2007.

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    This outstanding and updated compilation written by an international team of experts in many disciplines contains articles on arts and architecture, music, religion, ritual, and belief systems.

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  • Murray, Jocelyn, ed. Cultural Atlas of Africa. Oxford: Phaidon, 1981.

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    Richly illustrated and well written, the overviews of African geography and culture are still useful, although the country profiles are now out of date.

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  • Oliver, Roland, and Michael Crowder, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Africa. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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    The overviews of African geography, ethnography, and history in this reliable and well-written one-volume encyclopedia of the continent are a great aid to beginners, as are the descriptions of African social, economic, and cultural life. The sections on “Society,” “Religion,” “Arts and Recreation,” and “The Black Diaspora” are balanced introductions, but the country profiles since independence are now out of date.

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  • Trimingham, J. Spencer. The Influence of Islam upon Africa. London: Longmans, 1968.

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    This brief overview by the major pioneering scholar of African Islam is still illuminating and authoritative.

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Journals

Interdisciplinary journals dominate the study of African culture and religion. The Journal of Religion in Africa stands out in religious studies, while African Arts has a commanding position in the visual arts and Africa is most important in the social sciences.

Primary Sources

Because of the late arrival of literacy in most parts of the continent, writings by Africans are rare until recent times. Hilliard 1998 is the only culturally oriented collection of historical texts from across the African continent. Much information on Islam and Islamic culture can be found in Hopkins and Levtzion 1981, while Richardson and Lee 2004 presents an important collection of writing in English from the Atlantic diaspora. Translations have made some African oral literature available to a world audience. Important Yoruba religious texts are in Bascom 1980. Two versions of the famous Mali epic are currently available (Niane 1994, Johnson 1992), and Hale 1996 supplies a celebrated Songhai epic. The Johnson, et al. 1997 collection shows something of the geographical and literary range of African epic verse.

  • Bascom, William. Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

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    An important collection of divination verses with an introduction by a major early researcher in Africa religion in the Atlantic.

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  • Hale, Thomas A., ed. and trans. The Epic of Askia Mohammed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

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    Translated from an oral recitation, this epic celebrates the career of the famous general who ruled the Songhai Empire from 1493 to 1528.

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  • Hilliard, Constance, ed. Intellectual Traditions of Pre-Colonial Africa. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1998.

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    An excellent collection of texts from all parts of Africa from antiquity through the 1800s, including oral literature, dealing with ideas and aspects of different religious traditions.

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  • Hopkins, J. F. P., and Nehemia Levtzion, eds. Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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    A rich and full collection of translated and annotated Arabic accounts of Africa from about 800 to about 1600, including many accounts of religious practices and intellectual traditions.

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  • Johnson, John William, ed. and trans. The Epic of Son-Jara: A West African Tradition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

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    This translation into free verse from an oral recitation celebrates the magical exploits of the founder of the Mali Empire in the Western Sudan in the first half of the 13th century. The epic of Son-Jara, whose name is also rendered into English as Sundiata, is the most famous West African epic.

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  • Johnson, John William, Thomas A. Hale, and Stephen Belcher, eds. Oral Epics from Africa: Vibrant Voices from a Vast Continent. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

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    A major collection of twenty-five oral epics from West Africa, Egypt, and Central Africa, translated into English free verse.

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  • Niane, D. T. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Translated by G. D. Pickett. Harlow, UK: Longman, 1994.

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    This prose translation of the epic of the founder of the Mali Empire in the first half of the 13th century was originally published in French by Presence Africaine in 1960.

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  • Richardson, Alan, and Debbie Lee, eds. Early Black British Writing: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, and Others. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

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    A rich collection of full texts and excerpts from several narratives, poetry, and letters written in English in the 1700s and 1800s by a range of African and African diaspora writers. The scholarly introductions and notes make this an excellent introduction of African Atlantic literature.

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Collections

Anthropologists pioneered the study of African culture and religion during the early and mid-20th century. Although providing detailed snapshots of particular communities, most anthropological studies lack chronological depth and historical perspectives. Grinker and Steiner 1997 is the best collection available from several disciplinary perspectives and periods. The Bascom and Herskovits 1959, Middleton 1970, and Skinner 1973 collections were all outstanding in their day and remain useful places to acquire information.

  • Bascom, William R., and Melville J. Herskovits, eds. Continuity and Change in African Cultures. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.

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    This classic collection has excellent introductions to language, art, and music along with case studies that emphasize that cultural continuity and cultural change are not incompatible. The introduction to that theme by the two editors (eminent pioneers in black Atlantic studies) is a classic.

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  • Grinker, Roy, and Christopher Steiner, eds. Perspectives on Africa: A Reader in Culture, History, and Representation. Oxford and Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997.

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    A well-chosen collection of classic anthropological studies with new introductions that place the readings in the historical and intellectual contexts in which they were written.

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  • Middleton, John, ed. Black Africa: Its Peoples and their Cultures Today. New York and London: Macmillan, 1970.

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    As the title suggests the fine collection of studies in this volume mostly have little historical depth, but they still provide good introductions to various aspects of African culture including religion and magic and modernization and transatlantic pan-Africanist ideas.

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  • Skinner, Elliott P., ed. Peoples and Cultures of Africa: an Anthropological Reader. Garden City, NY: Natural History Press, 1973.

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    A well-chosen collection of introductory essays and anthropological case studies of particular sub-Saharan African societies, including language, aesthetics, and religion.

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African Arts

The length of African cultural history varies with the discipline. As Blier 2003, Gillon 1986, and Visona, et al. 2007 testify, the visual arts and architecture are well documented since antiquity, especially when associated with large states, and come from many different parts of the continent. Much the same is true of the architecture that Elieh 1996 and Garlake 2002 discuss. On the other hand, surveys of African music (Bebey 1975, Nketia 1974) are hampered by the absence of any recordings before the 1900s and the short lives of most musical instruments, although both authors make the case for considerable continuity (as well as considerable innovation) in African musical forms.

Religions in Africa

In addition to the plethora of traditional religious practices and beliefs that developed and spread within Africa, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all developed significant presences first in North Africa and then, in the case of Islam and Christianity, below the Sahara as well. Seen from a distance, traditional religion in Africa seems to share a common core of beliefs and practices; but seen up close, especially by believers, the differences are more significant. The strength of traditional religion was its attachment to particular communities and places, but that strength became a potential weakness when Africans traveled far from home, encountered strangers, and felt the impact of regional and global forces as they have in recent times. Part of the appeal of Islam and Christianity (and in a much smaller way, Judaism) was their universality for all people, as well as their associations with literacy and learning. The divide between local and world religions is real but in practice Africans have bridged the divide in interesting ways. Converts to world religions abandon some old beliefs and practices, but they bring much more along with them (e.g., beliefs in a Creator, spirits, prayer, witchcraft, and protective amulets). Judaism and Islam accept the African custom of polygamy. Christianity and Islam’s strong belief in an afterlife resonates with many traditional beliefs in the survival of a person’s spirit. Thus, students of religious change have spoken of the cultural “Africanization” of the world religions as they spread in Africa. Although prophecy is part of the heritage of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, it is difficult not to see African traditions of prophecy in the many movements that have shaped some forms of modern African Christianity in particular.

Traditional

The variety of religious traditions in sub-Saharan Africa can be bewildering, but Lawson 1998, Parrinder 1967, and Parrinder 1976 provide good introductions to their common beliefs, concerns, and practices. Although the lack of written sources means that most studies of traditional religions are based on quite recent evidence, Schoffleers 1992 is able to achieve great time depth in his study of the Mbona cult and identify changes over time, demonstrating in the process that “traditional” should not be taken to mean “unchanging.” Fisher 1998 details another West African religious complex that flourished in the Americas, that of the Akan of southern Ghana. See also the works listed under Transatlantic African Religions and Culture and Mbiti 1975, cited under Textbooks and Encyclopedias.

  • Fisher, Robert B. West African Religious Traditions: Focus on the Akan of Ghana. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998.

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    An introduction for students and nonspecialists to the beliefs and practices of the people of southern Ghana.

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  • Lawson, E. Thomas. Religions of Africa. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1998.

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    A brief, straightforward introduction to African traditional beliefs based on a comparison of religious beliefs and practices of the Yoruba of Nigeria and the Zulu of South Africa. Designed for beginners and first published in 1984.

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  • Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. African Mythology. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1967.

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    This informed overview of the categories of African beliefs from creation to witchcraft and sorcery is well illustrated with African ritual objects and places of worship. Still a fine introduction to African cosmology.

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  • Parrinder, Edward Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion. New York: Greenwood, 1976.

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    A systematic analysis of the underpinnings of traditional beliefs and practices by a pioneer in the field.

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  • Schoffleers, J. Matthew. River of Blood: The Genesis of a Martyr Cult in Southern Malawi, c. A.D. 1600. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992.

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    An important, carefully researched account of the cult of Mbona, the snake that controls the rains, as it developed in response to the Portuguese presence on the Zambezi in the period 1590–1622. Includes the texts of seven Mbona cult myths from different historical periods.

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Christianity

Christianity expanded in three waves in Africa: (1) across northern Africa in the early Christian centuries (which survived today in Ethiopia and among the Coptic minority in Egypt); (2) in a limited way along the Atlantic coast through contact with Catholic Europe between 1450 and 1750; and (3) in a much greater and more accelerated movement from the middle 1800s. Isichei 1995 briefly recounts the entire story and Hastings 1994 magnificently recounts the latter two waves (including Ethiopia). For the third period, Renault 1994 has a detailed account of one order of Catholic missionaries that is well researched, as is the Campbell 1995 account of the AME church and the briefer and broader account of black missionaries by Killingray 2003. Falola 2005 is a diverse collection that includes case studies of many topics and places, while the vibrant Christian activity in modern South Africa is well covered by the essays in Elphick and Davenport 1997 and more narrowly and theoretically by Comaroff and Comaroff 1991.

  • Campbell, James T. Songs of Zion: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    A splendid transatlantic account of the AME’s founding in the early 1800s as an independent black-run church in the United States and its missionary embrace of a similar black separatist movement in southern Africa in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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  • Comaroff, Jean, and John L. Comaroff. Of Revelation and Revolution. Vol. 1, Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

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    A sophisticated and probing examination of the southern Tswana people’s encounter with the European Christian missionaries in the 19th century from the perspective of anthropology and intellectual history, stressing the problems each side faced in comprehending the other.

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  • Elphick, Richard, and Rodney Davenport, eds. Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social and Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

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    These studies by South African scholars analyze the slow growth of Christianity under Dutch rule, its 19th-century widening under British imperial expansion, and its spectacular explosion in 20th-century South Africa, including the role of churches in the struggle against apartheid. Chapters also examine Christian literature, music, and architecture.

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  • Falola, Toyin, ed. Christianity and Social Change in Africa: Essays in Honor of J. D. Y. Peel. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2005.

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    A collection of scholarly case studies of the African experience with Christianity in honor of the anthropologist John Peel, covering a range of topics theoretical, historical, and contemporary, including the rise of Pentacostalism and African missionary activity in other continents.

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  • Hastings, Adrian. The Church in Africa, 1450–1950. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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    This volume in the Oxford History of the Christian Church series provides the most thoughtful, erudite, and readable account of the spread and growth of the Christian religion among sub-Saharan Africans from the missionary efforts of the early Portuguese to the late colonial period. Hastings is acutely sensitive to Africans as thoughtful agents in this process. Excellent bibliography.

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  • Isichei, Elizabeth. The History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995.

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    A competent introduction to the subject, which pays the most attention to the missionary enterprises of the 1800s and 1900s.

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  • Killingray, David. “The Black Atlantic Missionary Movement and Africa, 1780s–1920s.” Journal of Religion in Africa 33.1 (February 2003): 3–31.

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    A competent overview of the efforts by black Christians in Europe and North America to evangelize sub-Saharan Africa down to the period when colonial authorities began to oppose them as agents of resistance to European rule.

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  • Renault, François. Cardinal Lavigerie: Churchman, Prophet, and Missionary. Translated by John O’Donohue. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Athlone, 1994.

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    An affectionate and accurate account of the founding of the Catholic missionary order known as the “White Fathers” by Cardinal Lavigerie and their pioneering efforts at evangelization and antislavery from before the main thrust of European imperialism.

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Islam

Islam displaced Christianity as the dominant religion in North Africa and by the year 1000 had spread along the East African coast and the southern edge of the Sahara. It has been suggested that by 1800 the rest of Africa appeared destined to be incorporated into the Islamic world. Instead, the rapid growth of Christianity after 1850 slowed or halted the Muslim advance into new areas of the continent. The history of Muslim religion and culture in Africa is surveyed by four important recent works: Hiskett 1994, Insoll 2003, Levtzion and Pouwels 2000, and (most succinctly) Robinson 2004. Clancy-Smith 1994 looks at popular movements in 19th-century Algeria and Tunisia, while Hunwick and Powell 2002 has assembled important accounts of the trans-Saharan slave trade to North Africa and the Middle East.

  • Clancy-Smith, Julia A. Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Popular Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800–1904). Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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    Gracefully written, analytically rigorous, and deeply moving, this study shows how North African elites and their followers understood and manipulated their Turkish and French colonial rulers in the 19th century.

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  • Hiskett, Mervyn. The Course of Islam in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1994.

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    This survey of Islam in Africa to the present day emphasizes the experience of Nigerian Muslims and Sufi mystical cosmology, as well as the impact of European colonialism and the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

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  • Hunwick, John, and Eve Troutt Powell, eds. The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2002.

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    Although the excerpts from primary and secondary sources in this volume are largely focused on slavery and the trade in slaves, the volume provides an interesting perspective on Islam among sub-Saharan Africans. Excellent bibliography.

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  • Insoll, Timothy. The Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Organized regionally and based on literary as well as archaeological evidence, this scholarly volume superbly places Islamic societies in their African cultural contexts.

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  • Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds. The History of Islam in Africa. Athens. OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    The detailed, scholarly essays in this volume provide the best available introduction to the growth of Islam in different regions of sub-Saharan Africa and the analysis of important thematic topics, including Islamic music, art, literature, law, education, and scholarship.

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  • Robinson, David. Muslim Societies in African History. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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    This collection of thematic essays and case studies by a prominent scholar is an excellent survey of the principal events and issues involved in the spread of Islam in Morocco and below the Sahara up to the present.

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Judaism

Judaism has had a much smaller presence in Africa than Christianity or Islam, but these very different books illuminate the widespread importance of Jews in ancient, medieval and modern African history. Hull 2009’s broad survey is complemented by the more focused studies by Kaplan 1995, Hunwick 2006, and Mark and Silva Horta 2011.

  • Hull, Richard. Jews and Judaism in African History. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2009.

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    A broad survey of Jews in all parts of Africa since antiquity, including the early Jewish diaspora in North Africa and their lives under Arab Muslim rule, the Jews exiled from Spain to West Africa and their role in the Atlantic slave trade, and British Jews’ importance in the development of modern South Africa.

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  • Hunwick, John. Jews of a Saharan Oasis: The Elimination of the Tamantit Community. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2006.

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    A careful study of the rise of a thriving community of Jewish traders in a Sahara town and their massacre by Muslim extremists in the 1490s.

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  • Kaplan, Steven. The Beta Israel: Falasha in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1995.

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    Written from the perspective of Ethiopian history, this scholarly history of the mysterious black Jews argues that they came into existence in medieval Ethiopia, tracing their existence through their evacuation to Israel in the 1980s.

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  • Mark, Peter, and Silva Horta, José da. The Forgotten Diaspora: Jewish Communities in West Africa and the Making of the Atlantic World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    A very original study of the operations of two Portuguese Sephardic Jewish (New Christian) traders in Senegal in the 1500s and 1600s. The resulting Eurafrican Jewish communities that developed there had significant commercial and cultural connections with Brazil and Europe.

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Prophecy and Charismatic Leadership

Prophetic revelation and the resulting charismatic leadership by both women and men have been important religious experiences in Africa, even though both Christianity and Islam reject the possibility of new revelations. Sundkler 1970 is a classic introduction to the subject. In the context of traditional religion Peires 1989 recounts the prophetic movement set off by Nongqawuse, a young Xhosa woman in southern Africa. African prophets have played important roles in Christian religious movements from 17th-century Angola (Thornton 1998) through the colonial era in West Africa (Shank 1994), the Belgian Congo (Martin 1976), and southern Africa (Ranger 1975). Muslim leaders have stayed within the structures of orthodoxy, but Mohammad Ahmed’s proclamation of himself as the Mahdi in 19th-century Sudan resembles a prophetic movement as in some ways does the leadership of the powerful holy man Amadu Bamba (Babou 2007) in colonial Senegal.

  • Babou, Cheikh Anta. Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

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    This thorough account of the life and times of the sainted founder of the Murid brotherhood of Sufi Muslims, the largest Muslim group in Senegal, is focused on his struggles to avoid and then find accommodation with French colonial authorities.

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  • Edgar, Robert R., and Hilary Sapire. African Apocalypse: The Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, a Twentieth-Century South African Prophet. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2000.

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    This case study of how visions led the Xhosa woman Nontetha to preach that the 1918 influenza epidemic was a divine punishment illustrates the widespread receptivity of Africans to new prophet revelations. The fact that South African authorities, fearful of the political implications of her message, imprisoned her in a mental asylum tells another story.

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  • Martin, Marie-Louise. Kimbangu: An African Prophet and His Church. Translated by D. M. Moore. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.

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    The visions that inspired Simon Kimbangu in 1921 to preach a message of reform led to his long-term imprisonment by Belgian Congo authorities and to the foundation of a new Christian denomination that has become part of the World Council of Churches.

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  • Peires, J. B. The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle Killing Movement of 1856–7. Johannesburg, South Africa: Ravan, 1989.

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    A carefully written historical account of how a young Xhosa woman named Nongqawuse recounted to her people the following revelation she had received: if they killed their cattle and burned their crops, then the intruding Europeans would disappear. The author then relates the terrible consequences that resulted.

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  • Ranger, Terence. “The Mwana Lesa Movement of 1925.” In Themes in the Christian History of Central Africa. Edited by T. O. Ranger and John Weller, 45–75. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.

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    A superb account of the witch-eradication movement in colonial Zambia, which turned violent under the direction of Tomo Nyirenda, a Scottish-trained African Christian who had also worked for the Watch Tower movement and who styled himself as the son of God (mwana lesa).

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  • Shank, David A. Prophet Harris, the “Black Elijah” of West Africa. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: E. J. Brill, 1994.

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    A careful study of the African former Episcopal catechist, William Wade Harris, who felt it was his calling to become an itinerant preacher in the early 1900s. He had extraordinary successes in the French Ivory Coast and British Gold Coast.

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  • Sundkler, Bengt. Bantu Prophets in South Africa. 2d ed. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.

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    First published in 1948, this classic work’s strong theoretical analysis of prophecy in the spread of African Christian churches remains influential even if the author later retreated from his dichotomous contrast of the truly Christian and the “heathen.”

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  • Thornton, John. The Kongolese St. Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimba Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    The fascinating story of the young Congolese woman who, believing she was possessed by St. Anthony, led a movement to end the cycle of dynastic warfare in the Christian kingdom of Kongo and to further Africanize religious practices.

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Transatlantic African Religions and Cultures

During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, religious and other cultural beliefs and practices were transported from Africa to the Americas, and, as free blacks returned to Africa, from the Americas to Africa. Religious traditions from Africa included many traditional religions, Islam, and, possibly, Christianity. In recent decades there has been increased contact and communication between Africans and black communities in the diaspora that has affected both sides. Although research on this subject in many disciplines has grown increasingly sophisticated, methodical issues and problems of evidence still abound. The citations under this heading include comparative surveys as well as more specialized studies. Heywood and Thornton 2007, Sweet 2003, Thornton 1988, and the contributors to Heywood 2002 discuss connections between the Angola area of West Central Africa and New World societies. Fernandez-Olmos and Paravasini-Gebert 2003 offers a good overview of different Afro-Caribbean faiths. Miller 2009 and Palmié 2007 discuss Cross River connections with Cuba, but Palmié 2007 takes strong issue with the thesis of a linear historical connection, a criticism that also applies to other transmission lines. Price 2008 combines oral and archival evidence in Surinam to explore transatlantic religious dynamics.

  • Fernandez-Olmos, Margarite, and Lizabeth Paravasini-Gebert. Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santeria to Obeah and Espiritismo. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

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    The authors present nuanced and objective (though not very historically grounded) descriptions and comparisons of African-derived religious beliefs and practices in the Caribbean, including Espiritismo, Obeah, Santaría, and Vudou.

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  • Heywood, Linda M., ed. Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    The scholarly essays in this collection are carefully designed to offer strong historical perspectives and arranged to show the different ways in which religious traditions in the African home area were continued, transformed, and combined with other religious traditions in the Americas, including Brazil, Spanish America, North America, Haiti, and other Caribbean lands.

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  • Heywood, Linda M., and John Thornton. Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585–1660. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    This detailed treatment of the emergent Afro-Portuguese world argues that West Central Africa was a crucible for the cultural and religious development of transatlantic slave societies.

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  • Miller, Ivor L. Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2009.

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    Based on fieldwork in Cuba and Nigeria, this book argues that cultural connections from the days of the slave trade continue to influence contemporary Cuban music, art, and politics, particularly through the men’s secret society known as Abakuá, which Miller argues is connected to the Ekpe society of the Cross River area of southeastern Nigeria.

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  • Palmié, Stephan. “Ecué’s Atlantic: An Essay in Methodology.” Journal of Religion in Africa 17 (2007): 275–315.

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    Essay by an anthropologist who has studied Afro-Cuban religion. Discusses the historical connection between the Ekpe society of southeastern Nigeria and the Abakuá society of Cuba, arguing that more attention needs to be placed on the separate dynamics of each.

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  • Price, Richard. Travels with Tooy: History, Memory, and the African American Imagination. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

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    Prize-winning anthropologist Price combines secret lore gained from conversations with a Surinam religious practitioner with ethnographic and archival research to explore how Africans in the Americas created new worlds of the imagination.

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  • Sweet, James H. Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

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    Important and fascinating monograph documenting the existence of Central African cultural practices in early Brazil. Based on Inquisition records, it is not surprising that most of the examples concern religious practices.

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  • Thornton, John. “On the Trail of Voodoo: African Christianity in Africa and the Americas.” The Americas 44 (1988): 261–278.

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    The author provocatively suggests that enslaved Christians from the kingdom of Kongo carried Afro-Christian beliefs and practices to the Americas where, acting as catechists, they spread them more widely.

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Yoruba

Scholars have given Yoruba religion and culture particular attention because their civil wars sent so many captives to Brazil and Cuba in the last decades of the Atlantic slave trade. Biobaku 1973 presents important background for the study of the complex cultural practices and beliefs that were transmitted from the Yoruba homeland in southwestern Nigeria. The studies in Barnes 1997, Matory 2005, Olupona and Rey 2008, and Tishken, et al. 2009 are vivid testimony to the continuing vibrancy of Yoruba religion in the Americas (at a time when Islam and Christianity have won over most Yoruba in Nigeria) and to the complexity of religious traditions on both sides of the Atlantic. These studies also suggest that, much like the many divisions of Christianity and Islam, Yoruba religion cannot be reduced to a single orthodoxy; these studies also reveal how much both scholarship and religious practices have become transatlantic.

  • Barnes, Sandra T., ed. Africa’s Ogun: Old World and New. 2d ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.

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    An important interdisciplinary collection of essays by major scholars on the beliefs and practices associated with the Yoruba god of iron, war, and hunting in Africa and the Atlantic.

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  • Biobaku, S. O., ed. Sources of Yoruba History. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

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    An important collection of scholarly articles on history, literature, language, and art. Essential background reading for study of Yoruba culture and beliefs in the Atlantic diaspora.

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  • Matory, J. Lorand. Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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    This original anthropological study of the African (Yoruba) basis and growth of one of Brazil’s most important religious traditions. Focuses on spirit possession and stresses the multiple and continuing transatlantic connections.

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  • Olupona, Jacob K., and Terry Rey, eds. Òrìsà Devotion as a World Religion: The Globalization of Yoruba Religious Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

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    A groundbreaking collection of scholarly articles by specialists in Yoruba religions in Africa and the diaspora (including Ifa divination, Candomblé, Lukumi, and Santaría) describing their diversity, complexity, and flexibility.

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  • Tishken, Joel E., Toyin Falola, and Akintune Akinyemu, eds. Sàngó in Africa and the African Disapora. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009.

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    Essays in this collection examine the worship of the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning, Shango (Sàngó in Yoruba orthography), in Nigeria and the African diaspora. Stresses that the complexity and diversity of Shango worship are fundamentally related to the lack of a center of orthodox enforcement in this and other African religious traditions.

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Islam

Islam also crossed the Atlantic with captives from West Africa, and in the 19th century Islam spread via the huge numbers of captives produced by the major wars associated with Islamic reform movements and the Yoruba civil wars. Gomez 2005 offers an outstanding overview of African Muslims in the Americas in that era, while Diouf 1998 presents more detail on particular parts of the Americas. Curtin 1967 and Law and Lovejoy 2001 present the lives of individual Muslims slaves in the Americas.

  • Curtin, Philip D. “Ayuba Suleiman Diallo of Bondo.” In Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade. Edited by Philip D. Curtin. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.

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    A scholarly introduction to and annotation of Ayuba Suleiman’s account of his capture in Senegambia and enslavement in Maryland in the 1730s. Covers his release from slavery and the return to his homeland after he was discovered to be a literate Muslim. Reissued in 1997 (Prospect Hills, IL: Waveland).

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  • Diouf, Silviane. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

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    Detailed study of the role of Muslims in the slave trade and of Islam in the slave colonies of the Americas. Pays special attention to Brazil and Haiti along with mainland North America.

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  • Gomez, Michael. Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A well-written, magisterial survey of African Muslims in North and South America and the West Indies during the era of slavery, pointing to the importance of a widespread but largely neglected aspect of African cultural dynamics in the New World.

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  • Law, Robin, and Paul Lovejoy, eds. The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and the Americas. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2001.

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    A scholarly introduction, contemporary documents and letters, and annotation of Baquaqua’s account of his life in the 1840s and 1850s. Includes his membership in an important West African Muslim family, passage to Brazil, escape from slavery in New York, conversion to Christianity, and abolitionist activities in North America.

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LAST MODIFIED: 04/24/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0003

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