Uncommon Ground



Course Instructor


Uncommon Ground

What Ferguson Means By Ideological Power

            Ideological power refers a kind of power that is not based on force. Ideology is a critical issue embedded in the view of community as competing images. Ideology is paramount, as it maintains the coherence of an image coherent. In this case, the African Americans used their different ideologies, as power. They therefore, promoted their ideologies, which included their beliefs and values that helped them make sense of the world, in the midst of domineering ideologies of the European. They mainly were able to embrace their ideologies, when they resisted most of the ideologies of the colonial masters, which were imposed on them.

The African-American slaves utilized their material culture as a source of their power, and independence, and used this to shape their lives according to their preferences.  To counteract the ideological power of the African-American slaves, the planters too used ideology as a way of covering up their exploitations of the slaves and blinding the African-Americans on the evils of slavery. They therefore, did this through different attempts to gain control over the material culture of the slaves. Instead of the slaves using their material culture, the planters offered them “nicer” clothing, housing, and food. However, most of the slaves did not accept the material culture of their planters, but preferred their own. They therefore, used their own material culture as a source of their “dominance” and power. Therefore, by “ideological power”, Ferguson referred to the culture of the African-Americans, since they based on this to resist the exploitations and injustices of slavery.

After many years of life in slavery, in the end, the African-Americans were able to liberate themselves from slavery. The whites were more developed, with an advanced culture and education, compared to Africans. Therefore, it was least expected that the African-Americans would get powerful to the extent of ending slavery. The African-Americans had no powerful weapons to engage in a war with the whites, in pursuit of their liberation. Additionally, African-Americans lacked an education, which could be compared to the Whites.’ Therefore, these used their distinct culture, which served as an ideological power, to end slavery. The African-American culture was stronger than the American culture, since this combined both the indigenous African culture and some aspects of the American culture, which was acquired through the interaction of the blacks with the whites (Ferguson 123).

Some archaeological examples of African-American ideological power in colonial America examined in Uncommon Ground.

            The ideological power of the African-American slaves mainly lay in their material culture. This form of ideological power helped African-Americans to resist the oppression of the white masters. This also served as a basis for resistance for the inequalities and exploitations by the white masters. This ideological power of the African-Americans mainly linked their social meanings with power. Therefore, the archaeological research by Ferguson is essential in tracing the distribution of material culture and establishing the different ways through which the adoption of these by the African-Americans played the role of resistance to the white oppression and exploitation. By refusing to embrace the material culture of the whites, the African-Americans wanted to maintain their cultural and social identity, thus avoiding assimilation by the American culture. There is different archaeological evidence provided by Ferguson that reveals the African-American ideological power during slavery. However, all these lay in the cultural aspects of the African-Americans.

Ferguson has used the concept of “creolization” to explain the major ways in which African-Americans developed their distinct culture, which was a symbol of power. This happened because of the interactions of different cultures, leading to a new culture on plantations. The elements of this culture of African-Americans include material culture and language, among others. On language, although most of the African-Americans adopted their masters’ language and some material culture, the way they used it, including grammar and lexical rules, remained typically African. Even today, the African-Americans have a distinct way of speaking the American language (Ferguson 101).

The archaeological artifacts collected in Ferguson’s research shows that the artifacts used by Africans during slavery were mostly African and not European. The artifacts produced by Europeans varied significantly from those produced by African-Americans. African-Americans therefore, used artifacts, which they produced themselves, to conduct their daily activities. However, a number of archaeological evidence shows that some slaves in the Cannon’s Point Plantation used glazed and decorated English plates for eating while their masters used plain plates. However, it is assumed that African-Americans used these English plates to eat their African meals. African-Americans typically used ceramic plates; however, the shape of the English plates used suggested that the meals were African and not European (Ferguson 98).

Another aspect, which represents the power of African-Americans, is the internal economies they formed amongst themselves, which were not known by their masters. They made different material culture such as plates and sold them among themselves. Additionally, these planted crops in their kitchen gardens as well as the land given to them by their masters. They therefore, exchanged different crop produce among themselves as a form of trade. This therefore, increased their self-reliance and empowered them, not to rely on the Whites.

Archaeological evidence in the Georgia’s plantations has also shown that African-Americans used clay pots for cooking and eating their foods. The use of the pots by African-Americans is important, as this reveals important information about the foodways of the African-Americans. The kind of food eaten by African-Americans symbolized their unity, and gave them their cultural identity. Different archaeological evidence reveals that most African-Americans ate food, which they were used to eating before slavery. Today, most African-Americans in the USA still eat this kind of food. These included yams, white potatoes, grains, rice, cassavas, and bananas, among others. When African-Americans moved to urban areas, they carried along with them their food, material culture, and other cultural aspects that made up their culture (Ferguson 122). Therefore, the culture of African-Americans was powerful, since its significance among the Whites was felt. This kind of influence the African culture had, helped it to win the struggle against slavery successfully.

Ways in which enslaved people accepted or had imposed upon them aspects of European American material culture.

            As mentioned, the African-Americans adopted specific elements in the culture of the Europeans. This is why Ferguson has used the term creolization to explain this phenomenon. Therefore, the African-Americans accepted some aspects of European culture, and incorporated them into their culture to result in a mixed culture, which was stronger compared to that of the Europeans. Nonetheless, the archaeological evidence by Ferguson shows that African culture and the culture of Native Americans borrowed from one another mainly in the methods of food consumption and preparation of food. In the colonial period, Ferguson (p. 97) notes that Africans main menu included green vegetables and starch, sometimes accompanied with meat. Africans prepared their food in clay pots. Serving of the food was in clay bowls, and they would eat their food using their hands, or with spoons. In the African context, gourds were produced and used by Africans for various purposes. Mostly, these were used as musical instruments, as well as utensils for serving food. However, African-Americans accepted changes to their original material culture, when they incorporated some elements of European material culture into their own, either by their own free will, or upon being forced to by the whites (Ferguson 4).

The changes in African material culture occurred partially or wholly. Therefore, either the Africans made a few changes to their material culture to resemble that of Europeans, or they completely adopted some of the European material culture. One of the instances that points to this is the archaeological evidence of shards of cooking pots. This shows that the American natives influenced the Africans to adopt some aspects, which related to their material culture related to food. The Africans were influenced to adopt iron pots and wooden buckets as their new forms of material culture, which they did not possess previously (Ferguson 7). However, although the Africans readily accepted some new forms of material culture, they used them in a way that fits in their African context. On the other hand, the Africans also adopted the English plates, which were glazed and decorated. However, these had varying shapes. Africans had typically used clay to make their crafts, therefore, anything that was not clay among the possessions of Africans, shows it was borrowed, mainly through acculturation between the Africans and Europeans. Therefore, although the African-Americans adopted some forms of material culture from the European, this did not weaken their culture, but strengthened it even more. Later, this was instrumental in helping them pursue their liberation from slavery.


Works Cited

Ferguson, Leland. Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800.

Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.



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