Brown, Ras Michael L. B.
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This dissertation addresses the presence and cultural influence of West-Central Africans in the early South Carolina-Georgia Lowcountry, and the impact of West-Central Africans on the cultural dimensions of the relationship between the African-descended people and the natural environment of the Lowcountry. West-Central Africans figured as the largest regional cohort of Africans during every phase of the legal trade in African captives. This demographic dominance coincided with key stages in the expansion of plantation slavery in the Lowcountry. The numerical significance of West-Central Africans during key periods allowed them to act as leaders in the elaboration of African Lowcountry society and culture. This dissertation brings together evidence from demography, linguistics, archaeology, and oral traditions to explore the West-Central African impact on the cultural dimensions of the relationship between human beings and their natural environments in the Lowcountry. Through an examination of the crops and techniques used in the gardens of enslaved people, we see the significance of West-Central Africans in shaping domestic agriculture in the African Lowcountry community. Additionally, West-Central Africans provided the knowledge for collecting wild animal food sources, particularly rats and birds. In the spiritual realm of the relationship between people and culture, we find that African-descended people in the Lowcountry understood the sounds of animals to tell the future and followed the phases of the moon to determine planting and hoodoo activities. Further, the sacred landscape in African Lowcountry tradition included the forest, where people sought spiritual transition, and the river, where people experienced spiritual rebirth. Just as West-Central Africans contributed to this knowledge of the sacred landscape, they also recognized the presence of local, nature spirits (bisimbi) that connected enslaved people with the realm of spirits and provided the intellectual material for forging trans-ethnic bonds during the earliest stages of settlement in the Lowcountry. Indeed, West-Central Africans shaped profoundly the bond between African-descended people and the natural environment in the Lowcountry.