The Purpose of the Ring Shout
Many enslaved populations during the late 1600s and 1700s spoke various languages as they came from different coastal regions along the coast of West and Central Africa. The Ring Shout served as the vehicle for communication among all groups. The ring shout was a tool to facilitate community. It holds the history of those who came before us.
Through my reading in lesson three, I learned about the essence of the ring shout and what it provided for my ancestors. Africans were captured from their homeland, which caused them to be stripped of their language. They could not speak to each other, so the ring shout served as a communication tool within the different communities of the enslaved. After the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade ended in the US in 1807, the Ring Shout continued to serve as a means for community building, notably as Praise Houses were being formed. Praise Houses were built for worship during the 1800s for enslaved and freed people. An overseer was present, and an evangelist would preach specific verses from the Bible to the enslaved people. Many enslavers did not live on the plantations, so there were assigned people to ensure no one practiced African culture, including language, songs, dances, music, and religion; the culture was completely stripped away. They did this because they feared the Africans would revolt and turn on them one day. Once Evangelical Christianity became the primary source of religion for enslaved Africans, they began meeting in praise houses covertly to practice Christianity in a meaningful way without being observed by their overseers.
A Gullah “praise house,” a surviving example of slaves’ secret meeting places, and its pastor, Rev. Henderson; St. Helena Island, South Carolina, 1995
The Ring Shout united the community and preserved aspects of the West African traditions and cultures. The name came from the idea that there is no beginning or end when one thinks of a ring. The circle is complete in itself. The same is the significance or symbolism of the ring shout ritual practiced throughout Central and West Africa. The purpose was to make it evident that God is the past, present, and future.