USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘slave’
Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Jumping the Broom

Background: M.M. is a 43-year-old woman who was born and raised in Chicago to an African American family. She works as a pharmaceutical representative, educating and helping physicians and their staff to know more about the proper use, schedule benefits, costs, and uses of medications. M.M. is married, and loves playing with her 2 kids and also enjoys her busy schedule.

 

Main piece:

M.M.: So you have jumping the broom. So this was um a tradition that was practiced during slavery and it was the – it was when marriages were not performed legitimately and it symbolized a union between slaves.  Now the reason why they jumped the broom – the symbolism of the broom was kind of two fold – you talk about the spray – which is all the stuff you sweep up that part – the straw –  which was the spray which was the house and the handle was holding the union together. So it’s really simple.  The thing about it though is that there were many years where jumping the broom was not practiced by African Americans because of the association with slavery and in recent years it has become much more popular and a lot of African Americans are- jumping the broom again – there was a movie called jumping the broom.

 

Q: How did you learn about this tradition?

 

M.M.: You know, I always have known about it but I didn’t know the actual symbolism – you know why –  you always know about it – why was it was a broom – and I think it was popularized again at the time where Alex Haley wrote Roots and the movie came out so that everyone knew about jumping the broom but you still didn’t know well what did the broom symbolize – you just knew slaves did it so it’s something you grow up and everyone knows “jumping the broom” but you don’t know why you use a broom – so it’s like passed on passed on passed on. Everyone doesn’t do it because probably their probably generations before me – I know my parents didn’t do it and they didn’t jump the broom and they were married.  I know there were generations that did NOT jump the broom at all and then now, I’d say in the last 15-20 years it’s more popularized again. But it’s not the negative association – its more just like ceremonial and it’s more like something to have at your wedding, which is legal, and then you jump the broom which is just symbolic of the union between you now.

 

Q: And then how do you jump? Do you jump with your husband?

 

M.M.: You you jump together. You hold hands and you jump together.

 

Q: What happens if someone trips?

 

M.M.: They don’t trip.  I don’t know anyone that’s ever tripped. I jumped the broom in the sand – barefoot so.  It’s a small broom.  Some people make their own.  So you can make your own or you can order um – whatever so it’s a small broom.

 

Q: Are there special brooms for jumping the broom?

 

M.M.: Yes, it’s a special broom – it’s a special broom. You don’t go to the store and get a broom at Target or Walmart – no it’s small – it’s small.

 

Q: What did you do with the broom after the wedding?

 

M.M.: It’s in the same box with my wedding dress.  It becomes part of your, your collecting – you know, whatever you’re collecting

 

Performance Context: Jumping the broom would be performed primarily by African Americans at the end of a wedding ceremony.

 

My Thoughts: Jumping the broom symbolizes a liminal state. A wedding is a life transformation from being single to being connected with someone, and is known to be one of the most important events in a lifetime in many cultures. During a wedding, the bride and groom are together in a liminal period of change, not single and not yet married. Jumping the broom symbolizes the passage out of that liminal period and into married life.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Xica da Silva

Xica da Silva was an African slave woman in Brazil long before the nation abolished it in 1888.  She was able to gain her freedom through marriage into the Portuguese court.  A particular royal Portuguese official (Tax Collector according to my informant) “fell desperately for her” and she gave him sexual favors, winning her emancipation.  The collector, who was becoming wealthy and powerful due to the success of gold mining in Brazil, had a palace built for his wife.  Even though the colony in which they lived was landlocked, he also built a ship and a lagoon for the ship, just so Xica could feel the sensation of sailing.
My informant says that it was Xica’s rise out of slavery and into wealth and luxury that made her legendary among the slaves.  I asked her if Xica was some kind of hero to the slaves or did anything to benefit them, and my informant said that Xica, through sex, earned only her own freedom and in fact had slaves herself.  This story remained a popular local legend until the emancipation of the slaves in 1888, and has now apparently become a migratory legend.  When the slaves were freed, their labor was replaced by that of immigrants.  My informant’s family, originally of Italian descent (she had one Portuguese grandmother; the rest of the family were Italian), emigrated to Brazil in 1890, where her grandfather grew up on a coffee farm.  He heard this historical legend from the local workers, who were former slaves, and he passed it to my informant, who recalled it as the story “that impressed me the most” of all those she heard from Brazilian lore.  She said that Xica was indeed a historical person, and that the essence of the story is true (how Xica used sex to buy freedom and lived in abundance as the wife of a wealthy nobleman), but that the popular imagination among the slaves may have exaggerated the amount of gold and luxury she enjoyed.

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