The Ring Shout is a powerful, ancestral ritual of song and rhythmic movement that Black people in the USA have practiced for many generations. It is a form of worship that we developed during slavery – combining the sacred songs of our strength and affliction (Spirituals) with the circle dance traditions of West and Central Africa. Danced worship forms of African Indigenous origin are common all over the Afro-Atlantic diaspora and the Ring Shout is the BlackUSA variant of this venerable rite.
The Ring Shout was one of the primary tools our ancestors used to transform Christianity from a religion of domination (as it was imposed by the slaveholders) into a religion of liberation, collective strength and ancestral connection. Through the Ring Shout, enslaved people gave the Christian tradition a powerful African fragrance and molded a rhythm of resistance, determination, community and hope into the fabric of our life as a Black nation-in-exile. In these difficult days, we call on our ancestors for strength and we thank them for the many gifts they have made available to us, including these magnificent songs and the sacred dance that encircles the family and holds us all together.
This video shows a beautiful service at the Beauty Grove Primitive Baptist Church in Thomaston, Georgia — with a moving, acapella song led by Elder Nathan Rolle.
A young scholar-friend, Elaina Smith, shared the video with me last week and it has been a mercy and a balm in my heart. I hope the song serves well all who hear it.
– Rachel E. Harding
The artwork featured in this post is “Ring Shout Gullah Islands” by painter Synthia St. James