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The Praise House - A Symbol of Black Resistance & Tenacity

The Praise House (also known as a Pray's House or Prayer House) is today considered by many in the Hoodoo community as an iconic symbol of the tenacity of the Ancestors.
 

Rootwork was a form of resistance and the Praise House is one of the more solid examples that are still standing today, as these were not sites of worship for Christianity during antebellum South Carolina. A spiritual people, since long before enslavement, our Ancestors of the East Coast built these structures and gathered often during the weeknights to conduct their own spiritual methods despite being forced to an oppressive Christian sermon on Sundays. There wasn't always approval from the owner-class, but was typically hard to quell and seemed to not be an issue. 

It was with these and other forms of spiritual gathering that not only did they manage to largely avoid conversion until after Emancipation, but also that modern Black Americans have managed to maintain what information has been passed down today. 

The praise houses were simple and functional, typically seen painted white or left with plain brown wood, they symbolically paralleled the type of worship they housed, one that was more intuitively led rather than intentionally choreographed. The inside contained no pulpits and very few chairs or pews if at all. The space itself served as an altar, leaving plenty of room available for the Ring Shouts. It is recorded that a Mr. Olmsted recalled visited one South Carolina rice plantation where the master had attempted to provide the plantation praise house with “seats having a back-rail,” only to be informed by the slaves that this would not “leave them room enough to pray.”

The Ring Shout is a prayer dance derived directly from the Motherland of Africa, one with spiritual roots and often specific purpose that everyone present put their energy into, performed by forming a circle and dancing a shuffle counterclockwise. Singing, wailing, prayer and shouting accompanies this dance as the participants and onlookers feel led. These dance and prayer sessions could last long into the night and can be seen in many ways replicated throughout today's practices. The Ring Shout was something found in many Black American communities due to its prevalence in West Africa. 
 
All major events were centered around the Praise Houses, including weddings, funerals, blessings, and more. Following emancipation, these structures continued to be vital meeting places for the community. Some of these structures went on to be converted into public meeting houses for political and social rights, and one room schools for the children. However the use evolved, they remained charged with the loving energy of the Ancestors who had prayed for freedom in those very spaces. 

 

The Praise House's existence among the Gullah people and those in and around South Carolina is a powerful, tangible example of the failure of Christian Colonization to eradicate African Traditional Religion and Black culture from our enslaved Ancestors. The plantations may have had borders, but those taken from Africa did not respect them, and shared information, food, energy, and prayer as often as they could in the privacy of the night.

The brutal and abusive conditions of slavery were not capable of eradicating the power of Hoodoo, the religious practices of our Ancestors, nor the strength that it gave them. The Ase of the prayers and dances conducted in those halls was a sustaining force in the daily struggle against the inhumane system that they referred to as "white supremacy", but was really a disruption in the long history of Black existence. 

 

 

 

 

The Praise House Tealight Decor is made in this tradition, as a reminder of that tenacity, to make space, and to honor where we come from. This one was fashioned with many of those pictured here in mind, and includes some other touches the Ancestors might have enjoyed if they had the chance. Click Here to learn more!

 

Works Cited:

Carawan, Guy, and Candie Carawan. Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? The People of Johns Island, South Carolina–Their Faces, Their Words, and Their Songs. Rev. ed. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.

Cooper, Nancy Ashmore. “Where Everybody Is Somebody: African American Churches in South Carolina.” In Religion in South Carolina, edited by Charles H. Lippy. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Praise Houses Pictured:

- Mrs Johnson and the Praise House by Ron Mayhew

- Eddings Point Community Praise House

- Coffin Point Praise House

- Gullah Praise House with Rev. Henderson; St. Helena Island, SC, 1995 National Humanities Center

- Charleston Praise House by Virgil Bunao

- Man Looking Out Praise House Window, St Helena Island

- Bluffton Simmonsville Rd Praise House

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