Friday, May 3, 2013

African American Ring Shouts (Origins & Video Examples)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents information about and examples of African American ring shouts.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, educational, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

A ring shout is a form of religious song & movement. Ring shouts are performed by persons who shuffle counterclockwise in a single file in a circle (ring). The ring shout participants may also perform imitative movements to the words that are sung (for instance, acting out picking up leaves to the song "Adam In The Garden"). The accompaniment is provided by persons who stand to the side of the ring, and sing while they clap their hands. Traditionally, the only instrumental accompaniment for ring shouts was one man rhythmically beating a long stick on the ground. Later, a tambourine might also be used as accompaniment for ring shouts.

Here's an excerpt from [hereafter given as Wikipedia: Ring Shout]
"...shout or ring shout is an ecstatic, transcendent religious ritual, first practiced by African slaves in the West Indies and the United States, in which worshipers move in a circle while shuffling and stomping their feet and clapping their hands. Despite the name, shouting aloud is not an essential part of the ritual.

The ring shout was practiced in some African American churches into the 20th century, and it continues to the present among the Gullah people of the Sea Islands."
Some scholars such as Robert Farris Thompson indicate that the ring shout comes from the Bakongo peoples of Central Africa. Some information about the Kongo Cosmogram is found below after Video #1 of this post.

Another theory is that "The [ring shout] ritual may have originated among enslaved Muslims from West Africa as an imitation of tawaf, the mass procession around the Kaaba that is an essential part of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. If so, the word "shout" may come from Arabic shawṭ, meaning "a single run", such as a single circumambulation of the Kaaba, or an open space of ground for running...

"According to musicologist Robert Palmer, the first written accounts of the ring shout date from the 1840s. The stamping and clapping in a circle was described as a kind of "drumming," and 19th-century observers associated it with the conversion of slaves to Christianity.[5] [Wikipedia: Ring Shout]
In my opinion, given the way that various African traditions were combined during slavery in the West Indies and the Americas, both the Bakongo and the West African Muslim theories about the origin and meanings of the ring shout could be true.

While the ring shout continued in among some Christians in the United States well into the the 20th century, that tradition was vehemently frowned upon by Black ministers because of their opposition to dancing and because the ring shout was considered a form of dancing. [Source: Joseph E. Halloway's book Africanisms In American Culture, p. 238 for a description of ring shout and an example of minister's opposition to ring shouts]. Furthermore, the fixed pews of contemporary churches spelled the demise of the ring shout, which needs an open space for its performance. However, the custom in some Black churches of a church member who "feel the spirit" circling around the church sanctuary (running from the front of that space to the back) can be attributed to the ring shout.. The phrase "to sing and shout" that is included in a number of African American Spirituals and African American Gospel songs probably originally referred to the ring shout rather than the usual meaning given to it of “exclaiming loudly”.

(These videos are presented in chronological order based on the date of their YouTube posting, with the oldest dated videos posted first.)

Video #1 RIng Shout

AlovePhotog Uploaded on May 9, 2010
New Project
The first slide for this video reads “Bakongo Cosmograph And The Ring Shout. The Continuance Of Culture Through Sacred Dance."

Here's some information about Kongo Cosmogram from for information about the Kongo cosmogram:
"The cosmogram is a symbol which is one of many manifestations of Kongo, or Bakongo, culture in the Americas. It is described and illustrated in detail in Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy by Robert Farris Thompson...

The Kongo yowa cross does not signify the crucifixion of Jesus for the salvation of mankind; it signifies the equally compelling vision of the circular motion of human souls about the circumference of its intersecting lines. The Kongo cross refers therefore to the everlasting community of all righteous men and women:
Nzungi! n'zungi-nzila.........Man turns in the path,
N'zungi! n'zungi-nzila........He merely turns in the path;
Banganga ban'e E ee!.......The priests, the same (49)

A fork in the road (or even a forked branch) can allude to this crucially important symbol of passage and communication between worlds. The "turn in the path", i.e., the crossroads, remains an indelible concept in the Kongo-Atlantic world, as the point of intersection between the ancestors and the living”...

Members of the [Bakongo] Lemba society of healers had initiates stand on a cross chalked on the ground, a variant of the cosmogram. "To stand upon this sign,: Fu-Kiau Bunseki tells us, "meant that a person was fully capable of governing people, that he knew the nature of the world, that he had mastered the meaning of life and death." He thenceforth could move about with the confidence of a seer, empowered with insights from both worlds, both halves of the cosmogram.(50)

Drawing a "point", invoking God and the ancestors, formed only a part of this most important Kongo ritual of mediation. The ritual also included "singing the point". In fact, the Bakongo summarize the full context of mediation with the phrase "singing and drawing [a point]: yimbila y sona. (51) They believe that the combined force of singing Ki-Kongo words and tracing in appropriate media the ritually designated "point" or "mark" of contact between the worlds will result in the descent of God's power upon that very point....

Video #2: The Ringshout & the Birth of African-American Religion

Uploaded by newtimbuk2 on Jul 17, 2009

Video #3: McIntosh County Shouters ORIGINAL GROUP.AVI

Uploaded by McIntoshCtyShouters on Feb 23, 2010 Renowned Master Artists of the Ring Shout, THIS group is the real deal. Be educated and entertained by learning about Georgia Coastal History. The ORIGINAL McIntosh County Shouters was featured on 2009 Grammy winning "Best Historical Album" by Art Rosenbaum.
Click for a 57 minute YouTube video of a presentation by the McIntosh County Shouters.

Video #4
Gullah Ringshout July 2011 Anacostia Museum

SterlingFlowMedia, Uploaded on Jul 25, 2011

Nearly 400 Participants break record for the largest Ring Shout ever recorded.
This video begins with the song “Here Come The Line”. The group refrain is "here comes the line". The lyrics sung by the lead singer are:
Here come the line...
Oh you preachers...
Oh you children...
You better follow...
Cause here come the line...
Click for a pancocojams post that includes the lyrics to the second song "Adam In The Garden" which is performed in this video.

Thanks also to those who have studied & disseminated information about ring shouts. Thanks to the unknown composers of these songs and thanks to those who are featured in these videos, the producers of these videos, and the video's publishers on YouTube.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. Miss Azizi Powell I have learned so much - Thank you

    1. You're welcome, Marcia.

      I'm also learning a lot by doing the research for this and other posts on this blog.

  2. A special thank you Azizi Powell, this is Griffin Lotson a proud member of the Gullah Geechee culture and the manager of the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters, thanks for featuring our group In your well written article. Just for your knowledge and for history the ring shout was presented for the first time in a major motion picture "The New Roots Movie. Hollywood producers and directors consulted with us to be the choreographer to bring the true essence of the Ring Shout to a major motion picture production.


    1. You're welcome, Griffin Lotson.

      And thanks to all those who are associated with the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters for keeping this part of African American culture alive.

      I'm glad that the producers of the new Roots movie consulted with you to help make that movie more authentic.

      Here's the hyperlink for your organization:

      And here's the hyperlink for a trailer for the new Roots movie which was shown on American television: Roots: Official Trailer | History

  3. Are you related to Cathy Powell who offered martial arts and Dunham classes in Oakland many years ago?

    1. Hi Jacckie.

      No I'm not related to Cathy Powell, but I know her and her family and have lots of love for them. They were one of the first families (named Powell) or with any other last name who I met when I first came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1969.

    2. Wow!!! I am so excited!!! I have been trying to figure out where she is and how to contact her. She was my Dunham Teacher. I have taught Dunham Technique based around what I learned from her in that studio in Oakland years ago.

    3. Jacckie, I'm sorry but I've lost touch with Cathy Powell some years ago.

      You can email me at azizip 17 at yahoo dot com if you would like to continue this conversation.

      One love.

  4. Hi,

    Thank you for such amazing insights. I was wondering if you know where I could find some primary sources on ring-shouts among maroon societies or slaves on plantations? I understand such sources would be hard to come by, but maybe you've come across them in instances of slave owner diaries, memoirs etc.?

    1. Hello, Anonymous.

      I'm sorry that I can't be of assistance to you. I know nothing about this subject beyond what I've found online. I haven't read any slave owner diaries, memoirs etc.

      I hope that you find the information that you seek. Your research sounds quite interesting.

      Best wishes.