Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices

By Shelley Fisher Fishkin | Go to book overview
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7

Did you ever see the like before?

Mark Twain was no stranger to what Ralph Ellison has called "the interrelatedness of blackness and whiteness." 1 In the "Raftsmen's Chapter," which was written for Huckleberry Finn, removed at the suggestion of Twain's publisher, and restored in the California edition of the novel published in 1985, one of the raftsmen, all of whom are white,

patted juba, and the rest turned themselves loose on a regular oldfashioned keel-boat break-down. 2

"Patting juba" was a well-known African dance popular among the slaves. The name of the dance comes from Bantu, in which "juba," or "diuba," means to pat or beat time. 3 As Solomun Northup described it in his 1853 slave narrative, the dance involved "striking the hands on the knees, then striking the hands together, then striking the right shoulder with one hand, the left with the other -- all the while keeping time with the feet, and singing." 4 A turn-of-the-century observer noted that the standard position for "patting juba" "was usually a half-stoop or forward bend," 5 the standard position for a wide range of African dances to this day. 6

The African and African-American roots of the "break-down" that the other raftsman danced are also well-documented. "Breakdowns," the dance from which our contemporary "break dancing" developed, 7 had been observed among slaves as early as 1700. 8

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