Aunt Dinah

This song has roots in oppression.

“Dinah” is a caricature of the African American “Mammy.” “ ..these caricatures were used to defend and romanticize slavery, and the characters were never shown as particularly smart or able to function well outside their role as domestic servants, as they neglected their own rowdy families. After slavery, these stereotypes encouraged employers to restrict African Americans to low-income drudgery work.” (source)

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2 thoughts on “Aunt Dinah”

  1. Hello Beth,

    What song about Aunt Dinah are you writing about? I cannot find how to listen to the tune and I am not at all familiar with it, as I live in the Netherlands (Dutch). I suppose it is not Scott Joplin’s “Aunt Dinah Has Blowed De Horn” (Scott Joplin’s original spelling in the lyrics of his song) in his opera Treemonisha?

    Today I searched in Google and Wikipedia to find out more about Scott Joplin’s sources. The only thing I could find is that Joplin based the story on African legends, I would very much like to learn more about.

    Central theme is the Sacred Tree. But in the opera story it resembles the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life from Genesis, the Hebrew Bible. Unlike Eve should not eat the apple, Treemonisha must not take a wreath from the tree who gave or sheltered her life as a baby, but receives education as a blessing on behalf of her parents, who trade to do menial work for a white lady, if she will teach their child her own knowlegde. Treemonisha eventually is chosen to be the new leader of the freedmans’ and freedwomans’ community. Education leading to emancipation as the message Scott Joplin wished to convey in his opera.

    Treemonisha’s loving foster parents Monisha and Ned procured an education for her by doing manual work for that white lady in exchange for her to educate their very much longed for, adopted, daughter, Treemonisha, found under the ‘sacred’ tree on the doorstep of their home. She resembles Moses (?)

    Do you know, recognize any of the implied folk legends, rooted in African ancestry, in their history?

    What intrigues me is the use of ‘de’ instead of ‘the’. Is there any influence of the Dutch language here?
    Or is it merely a phonetic way of writing how the African pronunciation sounded, a rounded d, not th?

    I wonder whether the Horn has anything to do with the Shofar, the Jewish horn blown at Rosh Hashanah. With the sound of the Ram’s Horn the people are summoned to question themselves, look inward, inquire if they went or did wrong in the year past, whom to make a mends to and find peace with God.

    A few years ago I read a piece from a historical source, an inquiry by a Dutch military, sent to Suriname in the 18th century, to research for the Dutch government , in colonial times, to explain the rebellion of the Marrons, their wars with the Dutch colonial power. For they proved to be a stark opponent in the woods.

    He once made a remark, that slaves/enslaved from christian owners ‘complained’ about the free or rather rascal behaviour of slaves/enslaved by Jewish owners. Did their comments reflect a christian bias then, a prejudice against Jews, the Jewish masters of these slaves? Or is this an indication for a specific relation between Jewish plantage holders and their slave households differing from the attitude of christian plantage holders towards their slave households, a difference in appraisal, in their mutial relationship?

    Anything to do with Passover? Did the household slaves participate in this celebration somehow? Where they educated or forced to adapt to the Jewish life rules, some of the many commands from the Bible? Did this mean they were, in recompensation for that, recognized as fellow human beings, though grossly subjected, somewhat more than in christian households? Or opposite? Can anything be generalized here?

    In Roman times once a year at the Saturnalia, the tables were turned in a three day festivity, where the ‘masters’ played the role of ‘slaves’ and their enslaved were to ‘rule’ shortly as ‘masters’. Carefully though, for soon the three festive days would be over and their masters would resume full power over their lives.

    I am curious about the African-American legends at the root of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha. And more?

    Who knows? Don’t WOKE it away. A historically true answer is needed for real, thus fair understanding.

    1. Alida,

      Thank you for your questions and the information you wrote about.

      I do not know what legend is at the root of Treemonisha. There are many songs that mention “Dinah,” which was a pejorative term. I removed all songs that mentioned “Dinah,” as I believe derogatory terms have no place in music education. There are many more great songs to choose from as we educate the next generation!

      My understanding is the “de” in Spirituals and other African American songs is due to the phonetic pronunciation of “the.”

      Thank you for your thoughtful questions,

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