Monday, August 20, 2007

The Forgotten African American Ethnic Groups

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a population of human beings whose members identify with each other, either on the basis of a presumed common genealogy or ancestry, or recognition by others as a distinct group, or by common cultural, linguistic, religious, or territorial traits. Processes that result in the emergence of such identification are summarized as ethnogenesis.

Members of an ethnic group, on the whole, claim cultural continuities over time, although historians and anthropologists have documented that many of the cultural practices on which various ethnic groups are based are of relatively recent invention. The term is used in contrast to race, which refers to a classification of physical and genetic traits perceived as common to certain groups. (1)

The following is a list of several distinct African American ethnic groups that are often never considered or even known about. It is important to remember that there are a number of people with different cultures who can fall under the rubric of African American.

Gullahs/Geechees - The Gullah African Americans who live in the Low Country region of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. Historically, the Gullah region once extended north to the Cape Fear area on the coast of North Carolina and south to the vicinity of Jacksonville on the coast of Florida; but today the Gullah area is confined to the South Carolina and Georgia Low Country. The Gullah people are also called Geechee, especially in Georgia.

Gullah Women from the Film Daughters of the Dust

The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other native African American community in the United States. They speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords and significant influences from African languages in grammar and sentence structure. The Gullah language is related to Jamaican Creole, Bahamian Dialect, and the Krio language of Sierra Leone in West Africa. Gullah storytelling, cooking, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, etc. all exhibit strong influences from African cultures.

Black Seminoles - The Black Seminoles are a small offshoot of the Gullah who escaped from the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia. They built their own settlements on the Florida frontier, fought a series of wars to preserve their freedom, and were scattered across North America. The Gullahs were establishing their own free settlements in the Florida wilderness by at least the late 1700s. They built separate villages of thatched-roof houses surrounded by fields of corn and swamp rice, and they maintained friendly relations with the mixed population of refugee Indians.
Abraham, a Black Seminole Leader in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842)

In time, the two groups came to view themselves as parts of the same loosely organized tribe, in which blacks held important positions of leadership. The two groups led an independent life in the wilderness of northern Florida, rearing several generations of children in freedom—and they recognized the American settlers and slave owners as their common enemy. Today, there are still small Black Seminole communities scattered by war across North America and the West Indies. The "Black Indians" live on Andros Island in the Bahamas where their ancestors escaped from Florida after the First Seminole War.

Maghrebim, Sephardic Jews, Black Jews – African Americans who have Jewish descent either through ancient communities from from Morocco, Egypt, or Algeria who reside in America. Some have descent from marriage between Spanish/Portuguese Jews and African American converts or Ashkenazi Jews and African American converts. Can also consist of African Americans who returned or converted to Judaism. This group is often found within the various Jewish communities i.e. Sephardic, or Ashkenazi (Orthodox-Conservative-Reform-Reconstructionist). There are also a growing number of Black Jewish synagogues in places like New York, Chicago, and LA.

Moroccan Jewish groom and bride during the Chena Ceremony

Rabbis of Beit Elohim Congregation of Queens, NY

Hebrew Israelites and Black Hebrews – African Americans who are attached to groups that believe that they are lost Israelites from Africa. Many of these groups believe that all African Americans and many or most Africans are lost “Hebrew Israelites.” Most of these movements spawned off of certain movements of Black Jews in New York. They believe that Devarim (Deut.) 28 in the Bible prophesied the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade where in the view of some of these groups “the real Hebrew Israelites” were brought to America as slaves as a punishment from God.

Hebrew Israelites of Dimona, Israel (Originally from Chicago)

Black Muslims – Black Muslims is a phrase often used in the United States of America to denote members of separatist Black-nationalist movements who in some form or manner were influenced or descend from the Nation of Islam. After the death of his father, Warith Deen Muhammad broke away from the nationalist teachings of the Nation of Islam. However, other groups have also appeared, such as the Black Muslim group formed by Yusuf Bey in Oakland, California, in the 1960s. They also founded Your Black Muslim Bakery, which is associated with his group. Today, the vast majority of Black Muslims are not members of the Nation of Islam. Many Black Muslims follow a number of local religious leaders who may or may not be Black, such as Siraj Wahaj.

Nation of Islam - an Islamic centered, religious, and socio-political organization founded in the United States by Wallace Fard Muhammad in 1930 with a declared aim of resurrecting the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of the black men and women of America and the rest of the world.

Haitian Americans – Primarily made up of members of the various ethnic groups from Haiti who have come to America and settled together in Creole speaking communities. Some of the 1st generation and 2nd generation of this community loosely associate with being Haitian. Many who live in the inner city areas often associate with various native born African American communities.

Ethiopian Americans – Exclusively made of native Ethiopians and 1st generation Ethiopians. Most Ethiopians maintain a strict Ethiopian identity even with the 1st generation Americans. Most still speak Amharic, the Ethiopian national language, even to the 1st generation Americans. There is also a growing number of Ethiopian Israelis in areas like New York and California.

Note: Other African ethnic groups who moved to America in some cases follow a similar social structure to the groups mentioned above. Due to the societal pressures though the 1st and 2nd generation who do not maintain the language of their origin often blend into some segment of African American society.


Miriam said...

BTW, Everytime I go on your blog,the children all just want to look at your baby picture!

Ehav Ever said...

That's funny. When I look at pictures of myself when I was younger I find it hard to believe that was me so many years ago. My mother told me that I was always a happy baby.

Yobachi said...

This is a good an intersting piece on some of the sub-racial ethnic groups found amongst Blacks in America.

I'll have to book mark it or something for future reference.

Miriam said...

There was a very old movie that I watched a long long time ago, I don't know if you know it. It had Sidney Poitier acting in it and he was a cowboy (or perhaps it was a different actor) Anyway, It was two black guys (one was a supposed preacher with a gun box that looked like a Bible) who befriended the Indians but was on a mission to bring their family to a different town and had to contend w/the not so friendly cowboys along the way.

If you know this movie, was that about Geechees?

Tr8erGirl said...


Ehav Ever said...

Miriam I haven't heard of that movie. It sounds interesting. The next time I am in the states I will have to look for it.

Yobachi Thanks for checking out my blog. I have added yours to my list.

Invisible Woman said...

Great post.

Invisible Woman said...

The movie is called "Buck And The Preacher"; Sidney played Buck and Harry Belafonte was the preacher (but really a con artist). Buck was a guide that helped former slaves get out West, but they weren't Geechee (you know I know-haha)

Ehav Ever said...

Greetings Invisible Woman. I did have a feeling if anyone would know it would be you. (ha-ha) Thanks for the alliup, the assist, and the score on that one.