Melville J. Herskovits (e.g., 1966, 1941) argued that African
Americans in virtually every American nation “retained”
some greater or lesser cultural “memory” of the African
past. Assuming that the cultures of the West African Fon,
Yorùbá, and Ashanti (as reconstructed in the
“ethnographic present”) represented the extant
“base line,” or starting point, of African-American
cultural history, Herskovits' “ethnohistorical”
method posited that less-acculturated African-American groups
instantiated the earlier historical stages of the more acculturated
African-American groups. Thus, for example, spirit possession in the
Brazilian Candomblé, could be taken to demonstrate the African
derivation of “shouting,” or the behavior of those
“filled with the Holy Spirit,” in black North American
churches (Herskovits 1958:220–1). No less, the
Candomblé, could be taken to represent an earlier stage
of black North Americans' gradual syncretic adaptation,
accommodation, and acculturation (Herskovits 1958:218).
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