Background information

The transatlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration of people in history. The arrival of African people to the Americas resulted in the formulation of new cultural practices as people brought long and rich cultural traditions from their homelands. These traditions were passed from generation to generation as a means of maintaining and transforming cultural identities.

The black populations in the Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados, St Lucia, British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, can trace their ancestry back to Africa and a large percentage of the black British population can trace their family back to the Caribbean. In the United States, much of the African American population?s family histories are directly connected with the slave trade.

This forced migration led to African cultures being transferred across the globe. Different peoples belonged to specific kinships and tribal systems, with unique cultural identities and traditions that developed over many centuries. Through ingenuity and adaptation, West and Central African cultures ultimately grew out of physical, emotional and spiritual survival. People transformed cultural forms by blending a variety of regional and geographical influences.


Descendents of Africans living in the Caribbean and North and South America, as well as other European and native peoples, developed creole languages and practices within new colonial systems. The Spanish derived term was a European label for people born in colonies which distinguished them from the upper class settlers. The Louisiana Creole or Sans de Colour, brought from Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti in the early 19th century, attached significance to their cultural uniqueness as a separate from the white French Creole. By contrast in Brazil, where an estimated 42% of enslaved Africans were settled, calling an African Brazilian a ?Creole? remains an insult as the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade points directly to superior and inferior interactions. The development of new creole languages enabled enslaved people to have new systems of communication for survival and resistance.

Gullah, a creole born on the rice plantations of Georgia and South Carolina, is an Angolan derived term. Most enslaved people here were shipped from Angola and the Gold Coast as well as slaves being moved to this area from the Caribbean. This creole formation combined African (Yoruba, Ewe, Bambara, Fula, Mende, Vai, Akan, Kongo, Igbo, Hausa, Mandinka, Wolof, Umbundu and Kimbundu) and European (German, English and Dutch) languages. Gullah is still spoken by 250,000 African Americans today.

Creoles united slaves into more cohesive communities; it became a secret language that plantation owners did not readily understand and was often dismissed by them as nonsense. Some owners came to fear it. A shared language brought the ability to exchange ideas and experiences and to develop commonly accepted codes for self-expression and preservation. From organizing daily life in the slave quarters and fields to passing on lessons and traditions to the next generation, language enabled the emergence of collective identities, acts of resistance and active rebellion against the dominant culture on plantations and within slave holding societies. In Haiti for example, plantation slaves speaking Creole plotted the uprising that led to their independence. Toussaint L?Ouverture spearheaded a revolution that resulted in the formation of the first black-led republic outside of Africa in 1807. Creole remains the most widely spoken of the two official languages in Haiti today and has national significance and status because of its links with emancipation.

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