4 Pieces of Black Culture with Historical Ties

Despite it being constantly copied, imitated and appropriated, black culture is also criticized and lambasted by people that long for a time when negroes were supposedly more respectable and wore their Sunday best all the time. Typically, the emergence of seemingly new trends is blamed on cultural entities like hip-hop when in reality, there are plenty of aspects of black culture that have historical origins and ties. Here are a few examples:

Grills

I’m a Georgia peach so I’ve seen many a grill and I’ve also heard many criticisms of them. One argument I’ve heard was that it was a demonstration of materialism and wastefulness among black people as if we’re the only ones that have a penchant for shiny things. Well, a recent archaeological discovery shows that people have liked to bedazzle their teeth for centuries.

From National Geographic:

The glittering “grills” of some hip-hop stars aren’t exactly unprecedented. Sophisticated dentistry allowed Native Americans to add bling to their teeth as far back as 2,500 years ago, a new study says.

Ancient peoples of southern North America went to “dentists”—among the earliest known—to beautify their chompers with notches, grooves, and semiprecious gems, according to a recent analysis of thousands of teeth examined from collections in Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (such as the skull above, found in Chiapas, Mexico).

Scientists don’t know the origin of most of the teeth in the collections, which belonged to people living throughout the region, called Mesoamerica, before the Spanish conquests of the 1500s.

But it’s clear that people—mostly men—from nearly all walks of life opted for the look, noted José Concepción Jiménez, an anthropologist at the institute, which recently announced the findings.

“They were not marks of social class” but instead meant for pure decoration, he commented in an e-mail interview conducted in Spanish.

Extravagant Gold Jewelry and Trinkets

Speaking of shiny things, gold chains are another aspect of black culture that gets lambasted on a consistent basis. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone swear up and down that gold chains are a new thing, I might be able to pay my student loans off. In reality, black folks were stunting in gold long before Trinidad James rapped about the gold all in his chain. King Mansa Musa I of Mali makes 2 Chainz’s gold look like quarter machine trinkets. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca was so extravagant that it lowered the market value of gold.

From Encyclopedia Britannica:

 It was this pilgrimage that awakened the world to the stupendous wealth of Mali. Cairo and Mecca received this royal personage, whose glittering procession, in the superlatives employed by Arab chroniclers, almost put Africa’s sun to shame. Traveling from his capital of Niani on the Upper Niger River to Walata (Oualâta, Mauritania) and on to Tuat (now in Algeria) before making his way to Cairo, Mansa Mūsā was accompanied by an impressive caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 slaves, all clad in brocade and Persian silk. The emperor himself rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 slaves, each carrying a gold-adorned staff. In addition, Mansa Mūsā had a baggage train of 80 camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold.

Twerkin’

Much to my dismay, the mainstream media has discovered twerkin’ and it is the newest trend among folks that didn’t know it existed until that dumb Miley Cyrus video hit the net. That said, there’s a group of respectable negroes that complain about folks twerkin’ and shaking their booties as if they weren’t doing the butt back in the day. I’ve talked to many people and read many articles that seem to insinuate that twerkin’ was brought in with the Y2K. In reality, people were twerkin, bouncing, jooking and wining long before Juvenile said he was taking over for the ’99 and ’00.

Look at this video of the traditional African dance Mapouka and tell me that aint twerkin’. Only difference is the music.

According to this article, Mapouka is:

a traditional dance from south east of Ivory Coast in Dabon. From its inception, Mapouka was usually being carried out when some religious ceremonies were being conducted and grandly organized. Gradually, this dance acquired a wider acceptance and got its roots widely spread to other parts like western nations and Sub-Saharan countries and with its high popularity this dance eventually leaded into a unique dance category where different Mapouka contests, Mapouka shows and Mapouka music was being regularly conducted regarding it as a perfect entertainment.

Weave 

Natural hair has made quite the comeback and consequently, I have heard people come down on women that choose to wear that good ole Indian remy. Even though I sport a big poofy fro now, I will never be anti-weave because I used sew-in weaves to go natural. A lot of people tend to think that women that wear weaves are adhering to white supremacy and while that might be true for some I don’t like to make assumptions. That said, there’s evidence that ancient Egyptians wore wigs and I’m not talking about the wigs Elizabeth Taylor wore in that white-washed Cleopatra movie.

They wore braided wigs adorned with beads and like many women do today, they used human hair or synthetic fibers for their hair pieces. They also had different reasons for using extensions.

 Wigs were worn by both men and women and were made of human hair, later of date palm fibres, which were curled and their shape preserved by waxing. They were worn on religious grounds, because they were fashionable or occasionally as a hair substitute hiding natural baldness for which there were a number of remedies. Often they were Hairpiece perfumed and their style and length were subject to the changing fashions, men occasionally wearing very long and women short cropped hair [source].

 

As an Africana studies major, I hate to see black culture stigmatized and demonized. I also hate to see milleneals blamed for what some people consider to be ills of the community as if some of these entities do not have historical ties. Black culture definitely isn’t above critique but I prefer nuanced critique to pearl clutching.

What do you think of this list? Do you have any additions? Leave a comment.

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One thought on “4 Pieces of Black Culture with Historical Ties

  1. Zakia says:

    There is a dance in Kenya similar to twerking that one of the tribes does…..it is performed by men…

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