african masksMalcolm Woods headstones
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African link to cemetery USA studied

 HARRISONBURG - History professor Rachel Malcolm-Woods knows well the academic debate over whether any African cultural traditions survived the slave trade to the United States intact.
Nothing in the historical record suggested that it had.
That's why when Malcolm-Woods in October inspected old cemetery slabs in the George Washing- ton and Jefferson National Forests, she lost sleep for nearly a week, she said.

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JMU professor cites headstones in national forest in examining whether traditions survived intact

BY CALVIN R.TRICE found at TIMES-DISPATCH on Mar 21, 2004

Malcolm-Woods

The headstones bore markings that traced directly back to ideograms in West Africa - symbolic engravings that even some current Africans can recognize at first glance, Malcolm-Woods said.
"We're a little further along on the frontier of proving that there were African traditions practiced in the United States," she said last week at James Madison University, where she's a visiting professor. "This gives us the hard copy [of evidence]."
The engravings are from the Nsibidi sign system of Igbo cultures in Nigeria and northern Cameroon, she said.
African symbols and cultural elements survive in many aspects of black American culture. But what remains are adaptations to Western or Christian traditions, or amalgams of different African traditions that blended in the states, Malcolm-Woods said.
Slave owners suppressed black expressions of their cultural origins, so other known engravings or practices were stylized to evade detection, she said.
The national-forest markings are the only examples of an unadulterated cultural link to Africa, she said.

"This is a very big thing for people who work in diaspora studies and to the argument over whether there were any African traditions in North America," Malcolm-Woods said. "To actually see real African ideograms in the [United States] is proof that there were."
The national forest has 13 stones that date to around 1830. They include etchings for individuals buried until the end of the 19th century. The ideograms include references to the journey of life and to ancestral reverence, she said.
The cemetery in Amherst County contains 20 graves. The last interment appears to have been for a woman who died in 1897. Malcolm-Woods suspects all the engravings were performed by one person and made for a specific family.
The Igbo link at the cemetery site is important. Virginia was unique among slaveholding states in that a majority of African slaves brought in during the slave trade were skilled people from Igbo cultures who worked on plantation industry. Many would have been blacksmith engravers versed in the Nsibidi sign system, she said.

Malcolm-Woods, 54, is a history and art history doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She teaches art history at JMU while working on her doctoral thesis.

An oil painter with six grown children, she first began studying African art and engravings while working on her master's in art history in 1997.
Teaching during her first full school year at JMU last spring, she was at first skeptical when a forest-service worker showed her rubbings of the strange symbols found at the cemetery more than a decade earlier.
When she finally went to see the stones, gray slates carved from a nearby quarry, she recognized the engravings immediately, she said.
A national-forest expert had researched the markings to no avail before making the rubbings. In the mid-1990s, forest workers found some of the stones in a ditch near the site and moved them to a secure storage building, said George Tolley, an archeologist with the national forest.
Archeologists didn't look further into the stones' significance because their small staff is always committed to researching sites targeted for development, said George Tolley, an archeologist with the national forest.
"That cemetery, while very interesting, was not going to be disturbed because it was a cemetery," Tolley said.

Malcolm-Woods received a seed grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to plan a study and restoration of the site. She wants to learn about the family buried there and eventually write about the last woman interred, she said.

Since the time of the site's discovery, some of the headstones have apparently been stolen. Both Malcolm-Woods and Tolley are wary of the cemetery being disturbed further. Tolley warned that cemetery theft or destruction is a criminal offense.
Malcolm-Woods would just like the missing pieces back, and would be willing to take back portions of the rare historical find without asking questions, she said.

"We have to save these for future generations," she said. "They're very, very precious."

Read also Virginia Union University Museum

                Virginia Museum of Fine Arts acquires significant African art

 

Contact Calvin R. Trice at (540) 574-9977 or ctrice*timesdispatch.com

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In this section:
Start
Omhoog
Africa Monaco
Centers for African Study
Wake-Forest University
Malcolm Woods headstones
Virginia Museum of fine arts
Unfa-Utah
Cantor Arts-Stanford
carlosemory
Umfa-Utah
Seymour Lazar collectionneur et Art Africain
Harn Museum-florida
UMMA-collection
Haffenreffer-ethnographic
Kansan-Yoruba-Masquerade
Lowe-art-Miami
Neuberger
Queens-NY
Hofstra Museum NY
Texas-Southern-University
Washington Jefferson College
Frankfort-Indiana
Delaware
Hood Museum
Yale
Barton-Museum
Southern-University-Suma
Loyola-New-Orleans-University
Speed
Virginia-University-Museum
Chambers UCO-Edmond-OK
Brown University
Colgate university
spurlock illinois
Fowler UCLA
Sacramento state university
Kent state
Virginia Art Museum
Hofstra University Museum
Wabash college 

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read also : Start ] Africa Monaco ] Centers for African Study ] Wake-Forest University ] [ Malcolm Woods headstones ] Virginia Museum of fine arts ] Unfa-Utah ] Cantor Arts-Stanford ] carlosemory ] Umfa-Utah ] Seymour Lazar collectionneur et Art Africain ] Harn Museum-florida ] UMMA-collection ] Haffenreffer-ethnographic ] Kansan-Yoruba-Masquerade ] Lowe-art-Miami ] Neuberger ] Queens-NY ] Hofstra Museum NY ] Texas-Southern-University ] Washington Jefferson College ] Frankfort-Indiana ] Delaware ] Hood Museum ] Yale ] Barton-Museum ] Southern-University-Suma ] Loyola-New-Orleans-University ] Speed ] Virginia-University-Museum ] Chambers UCO-Edmond-OK ] Brown University ] Colgate university ] spurlock illinois ] Fowler UCLA ] Sacramento state university ] Kent state ] Virginia Art Museum ] Hofstra University Museum ] Wabash college ]

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