Congo Square, New Orleans

Congo Square, New Orleans

The earliest Africans to arrive in Louisiana were brought as slaves in 1719 from the Senegambia region. Slavery was widely accepted in New Orleans, and over time, some Africans managed to obtain their freedom, becoming known as "free people of color". Many of these "freemen" were well-educated and were the descendants of black mothers and French or Spanish settlers.

In addition to culinary knowledge, African settlers brought their native music and spiritism in the form of the Voodoo religion. Congo Square, now part of Louis Armstrong Park near the French Quarter, served as a gathering place for both slaves and free people of color. This was particularly true on weekends when the Square transformed into a site for exotic tribal dances and celebrations.

The slave dances at Congo Square were a unique attraction for visitors to New Orleans. Herbert Asbury, in his book "The French Quarter", describes one such gathering: "The favorite dances of the slaves were the Calinda, a variation of which was also used in the Voodoo ceremonies, and the Dance of the Bamboula, both of which were primarily based on the primitive dances of the African jungle, but with copious borrowings from the contra-danses of the French . . . The male dancers attached tin or other metal to ribbons tied about their ankles. Thus accoutered, they pranced back and forth, leaping into the air and stamping in unison, occasionally shouting "Dansez Bomboula! Badoum! Badoum!", while the women, scarcely lifting their feet from the ground, swayed their bodies from side to side and chanted ancient song . . . The entire square was an almost solid mass of black bodies stamping and swaying to the rhythmic beat of the bones upon the cask, the frenzied, chanting of the women, and the clanging of the pieces of metal which dangled from the men's ankles."

The African instruments, such as drums and banjos, as well as the songs, eventually gave rise to street bands and, later, the development of jazz music. However, as the gatherings at Congo Square raised concerns among New Orleans citizens, who feared slave uprisings, they were restricted to Sunday daylight hours only in 1817.

Marie Laveau, often referred to as the first and most powerful "Voodoo Queen" of New Orleans, is one of the most well-known practitioners of Voodoo associated with Congo Square. In the 1830s, she not only led Voodoo dances but also organized more secretive rituals along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and Saint John's Bayou.

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Congo Square on Map

Sight Name: Congo Square
Sight Location: New Orleans, USA (See walking tours in New Orleans)
Sight Type: Attraction/Landmark
Guide(s) Containing This Sight:

Walking Tours in New Orleans, Louisiana

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