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Airdate: May 24, 1999
Scientist: Albert James (A.J.) Williams Myers


What was once a Dutch celebration of Pentecost soon passed into African hands.

Most people think of cultural history as something that's written, passed down in journals and texts. Well, another way to study the past is by looking at our holidays. Often these annual observances are a kind of time capsule, bearing the story of where we came from. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

During this week, about two hundred years ago, African slaves in New York state gathered to celebrate Pinkster, a spring holiday with Dutch origins.

"Pinkster historically is a celebration which the Dutch introduced to the Hudson Valley and it recognizes, really the return of spring, the return of life."

Albert James Williams Myers a Professor of Black Studies at the State University of New York in New Paltz. He tells us that Pinkster began as the Dutch celebration of Pentecost, which takes place fifty days after Easter. But the holiday soon passed into the hands of the African slaves who were working on Dutch land.

ambience: drumming, Pinkster celebration

"I would say in the beginning they perhaps stood at the sidelines and watched and gradually over time they themselves got involved. What happens over a period of time is that Pinkster, by the middle of the 1700’s really becomes an African festival. It's not that the Europeans have withdrawn; it’s just that the Africans get so involved in it and for the African it was a way of preserving his and her traditions. They were able to use a European vehicle by which to give expression to their African traditions."

Our thanks to Tom Phillips for the fiddle music, and the Children of Dahomey for the drumming.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm Jim Metzner.