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Webster's Dictionary [1]

(1): ( n.) A black man; especially, one of a race of black or very dark persons who inhabit the greater part of tropical Africa, and are distinguished by crisped or curly hair, flat noses, and thick protruding lips; also, any black person of unmixed African blood, wherever found.

(2): ( a.) Of or pertaining to negroes; black.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

(from Latin niger, "black") is the name generally applied to the African natives. This is, however, an incorrect use of the word, for Negro races inhabit only portions of the African continent, principally between lat. 10 ° N. and 20 ° S. The Negro has no connection, at least not intimately, with the races inhabiting Northern Africa, such as the Egyptians, Berbers, Assyrians, Nubians, etc. The southern extremities of Africa, too, are comparatively free from Negroes; they are inhabited by the Hottentots (q.v.). The Kaffres (q.v.) are sometimes classed with the Negroes In some of the border countries a strict classification of their inhabitants is difficult, as they have considerably intermixed. The Negro, too, is not at all confined to the African continent, but is found in various parts of Asia and its islands, and throughout America and the West Indies, whither he was originally carried for bondage servitude. (See Slavery).

In Blumenbach's fivefold division of mankind the Negroes occupy the first place under the variety Ethiopian, which likewise embraces the Kaffres, Hottentots, Australians, Alforians, and Oceanic Negroes. In Latham's threefold division they are placed among the Atlantidae, and form the primary subdivision of Negro Atlantidae in that author's classification; while in Pickering's elevenfold division they occupy the last place in his enumeration of the races of mankind. Physically the Negro is distinguished by a soft and silky skin, dull cherry-red in the infant, and growing black very soon; it differs from that of the whites principally in the greater amount of pigment cells in the Rete Malpighii (the epidermis being uncolored), and in the greater number of cutaneous glands. His hair is generally called woolly, though improperly, for it differs but little from that of the other races except in color, and in its curled and twisted form, and is rather harsh and wiry. His lips are thick, the lower part of his face prognathic, or projecting like a muzzle. His skull, which is very thick and solid, is long and narrow, with a depressed forehead, prominent occiput and jaws, a facial angle of 700 to 65 ° . According to Camper's lateral admeasurement, the head of the Negro shows an angle of 700, while that of the European shows one of 80 ° , on which difference of 10 ° , as he considered, depends the superior beauty of the latter.

There is not much dependence, however, to be placed on such a mode of admeasurement; and the same may be said of Blumenbach's vertical method. According to this, a considerable difference would appear to exist between the skull of the Negro and that of the European. "But," says Dr. Prichard, "I have carefully examined the situation of the foramen magnum in many Negro skulls; in all of them its position may be accurately described as being exactly behind the transverse line bisecting the antero- posterior diameter of the basis cranii. This is precisely the place which Owen has pointed out as the general position of the occipital hole in the human skull. In those Negro skulls which have the alveolar process very protuberant, the anterior half of the line above described is lengthened in a slight degree by this circumstance. If allowance is made for it, no difference is perceptible. The difference is in all instances extremely slight; and it is equally perceptible in heads belonging to other races of men, if we examine crania which have prominent upper jaws. If a line is let fall from the summit of the head at right angles with the plane of the basis, the occipital foramen will be found to be situated immediately behind it; and this is precisely the case in Negro and in European heads." There is, in fact, neither in this respect the conformation of the Negro skull nor in any other, solid ground for the opinion hazarded by some writers, and supported either through ignorance or from interested motives by many persons that the Negro forms a connecting link between the higher order of apes and mankind.

The skin, hair, skull, lips, maxillary profile, and general facial appearance of the Negro, are not, however, the only features that distinguish him in a great degree from the European, and seem to stamp him as a distinct variety of the human race. "In the Negro," says Prichard, "the bones of the leg are bent outwards. Soemmering and Lawrence have observed that the tibiae and fibulse in the Negro are more convex in front than in Europeans; the calves are very high, so as to encroach upon the upper part of the legs; the feet and hands, but particularly the former, are flat; and the os calcis, instead of being arched, is continued nearly in a straight line with the other bones of the foot, which is remarkably broad." As to the supposed excessive length of the forearm in the Negro, a circumstance also dwelt upon as showing an approach to the anthropoid apes, facts are altogether against the statement; there being no greater difference than is observable in individuals of any other variety of mankind. His height is seldom six feet, and rarely below five and a half; and as a rule the Negro figures are fine, especially their torso. Seen from behind, the spine usually appears depressed, owing to the greater curvature of the ribs; the nates are more flattened than in other races, and join the thighs almost at a right angle instead of a curve. Besides these characteristics may be mentioned the projecting upper edge of the orbit; broad, retreating chin, and great development of lower part of the face; small eyes, in which but little of the yellowish-white ball is seen; small, thick ears, standing off from the head, with a small lobe and a general stunted look; black iris; very wide zygomatic arches, giving large space for the muscles of the lower jaw; large and transverse opening of the nasal cavity. The pelvis is long and narrow, its average circumference being from twenty-six to twenty-eight inches, instead of thirty to thirty-six as in the whites; this shape in the female, according to Vrolik and Weber, corresponds to the characteristic shape of the Negro head; those writers considering it as a type of degradation, as it approaches that of the quadrumana in the more vertical direction of the iliac bones and their less width, in the smaller breadth of sacrum, and in the consequent less extent of the hips.

In the skin of the Negro there is much oily matter, and he perspires profusely, which serves to keep him in health. The Negro flourishes under the fiercest heats and unhealthy dampness of the tropics, notwithstanding the virulent epidemics and endemics of the country where the white man soon dies; he has less nervous sensibility than the whites, and is not subject to nervous affections; is comparatively insensible to pain, bearing surgical operations well; the effects of opium and other narcotics appear rather in the digestive, circulatory, and respiratory functions than in the cerebral and nervous system; he is little subject to yellow fever, and more to yaws and other cutaneous affections; he is generally very torpid under disease. The senses of the Negroes are acute; the voice in the males is hoarse and not powerful, and in the females high and shrill. They are fond of music, and have many ingeniously contrived musical instruments, generally of a noisy character; they have a keen sense of the ridiculous, and are of a cheerful disposition; though cruel to their enemies and prisoners, and setting little value on human life, they are naturally kindhearted, hospitable to strangers, and communicative of their joys and sorrows; the females are remarkably affectionate as mothers and children, and as attendants on the sick, even to foreigners. They are less dirty in their persons and dwellings than most other barbarous races.

They are ready to receive instruction, and to profit by it up to a certain point; quick to perceive the beauty of goodness, they generally appreciate the services of the missionaries in their behalf, and were not their teachings counteracted by the intoxicating drink brought by traders, they would probably in time, in outward observances if not in reality, merit the name of semi-Christian communities. The custom of polygamy prevails among all the Negro tribes, and where these are constituted into nations or kingdoms, as in Dahomey, the sovereign has often as many as two or three thousand wives, whom he occasionally disposes of as presents to his chief officers and favorites. In those parts of Africa where the slave-trade has flourished the Negro is lowest in the stage of civilized life. In other parts he shows a capacity for practicing the arts of life. Negroes are ingenious in the construction of their dwellings and in the manufacture of their weapons; they have some knowledge of the working of iron and other metals; they manufacture arms, dress and prepare the skins of animals, weave cloth, and fabricate numerous useful household utensils. Neither are they altogether deficient in a knowledge of agriculture. These marks of civilization are, for the most part, apparent in the districts either wholly or partially converted to Mohammedanism. Mungo Park, in his account of Sego, the capital of Bambarra, describes it as a city of 30,000 inhabitants, with houses of two stories high, having flat roofs, mosques in every quarter, and ferries conveying men and horses over the Niger. "The view of this extensive city," he says, "the numerous canoes upon the river, the crowded population, and the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa."

The languages of the various nations and tribes of Negroes are very numerous. Vocabularies of nearly 200 languages have been brought from Africa by the Rev. Dr. Koelle. "A slight examination of these vocabularies," says Mr. Edwin Norris, "seems to show that there are among the Negro idioms a dozen or more classes of languages, differing from each other at least as much as the more remote Indo-Germanic languages do." To these Negro idioms Dr. Krapf has given the name of Nigro-Hamitic Languages. These may perhaps have affinities with some of the other African tongues, but not with any of the great well-defined families of languages. For further information upon this subject, as well as upon the classification of the different Negro races, we must content ourselves with referring to Dr. Prichard's Natural History of Man, and especially to a learned note by Mr. Edwin Norris in volume 1 of that work (page 323). It has been said that no Negro nation ever possessed a literature, or had the ingenuity to invent an alphabet, and until recently this was probably true; but Christian missionaries have discovered a tribe in Western Africa, named Vei, which possess a well constructed written language, with books, the invention of one of their number still living, who presents a case as remarkable as that of the invention of the Cherokee alphabet. Among the Negro race there is a great variety, greater, perhaps, than among any other family, yet while the several tribes have these clearly distinctive peculiarities, they yet bear a strong general resemblance to each other, not only in their physical appearance, but in their intellectual capacities, moral instincts, customs, and manners.

The religion of the Negroes is but a debased fetich worship, (See Fetichism), except where Mohammedanism has made them acquainted with an ethical religion. Those who have not accepted the teachings of the Koran (q.v.) make fetiches of serpents, elephants' teeth, tigers' claws, and other parts of animals, at the dictation of their Fetich Man, or priest. They also manufacture idols of wood and stone, which they worship; and yet, under all this, they have some idea of a Supreme Being. They believe in good and evil spirits, and are perpetually practicing incantations to ward off the baneful influence of their spiritual enemies. In Eastern Africa, Speke (Discovery of the Source of the Nile, page 243) mentions that on one occasion, "as there was a partial eclipse of the moon, all the Wanguana [a Negro race] marched up and down from Rumanika's to Nuanagi's huts, singing and beating our tin cooling-pots to frighten off the spirit of the sun from consuming entirely the chief object of their reverence, the moon." Lander (Niger Expedition, 2:180,183) mentions that at Boussa, in Central Africa, an eclipse was attributed to an attack made by the sun on the moon. During the whole time the eclipse lasted the natives made as much noise as possible, "in the hope of being able to frighten away the sun to his proper sphere, and leave the moon to enlighten the world as at other times." They make prayers and offerings to their idols, and have sacred songs and festivals, dances, ceremonies, and places; and they have priests and holy men, who are also magicians and doctors. They believe generally in an after-life (see Lubbock, pages 139,140), without. however, any distinctive idea of retribution, and some tribes hold the transmigration of the human soul into a gorilla, or other beast, bird, reptile, or fish; they are very superstitious and have great fear of ghosts and apparitions. Their religion, in fact, is one altogether of fear; and as this leads to cruelty, we find them for the most part indifferent to the sacrifice of human life. They sacrifice animals, and in some parts they even offer up human victims to propitiate their deities. They are cruel to their enemies and prisoners, and often shed blood for the mere savage delight they experience in seeing it flow from their victims. We need only allude to the inhuman customs, as they are called, of Dahomey, and the Yan and Adai customs of the Ashantees, as described by Bowdich, in support of this statement. The Negroes are easily influenced by the teachings of ethical religions, and the converts made for Mohammedanism are believed to be very numerous, (See Mohammedanism); Christian missionaries have met with success also. The Romanists were early workers among them, but in recent years the Protestants have been most successful in propagating Christianity among them. For further details regarding the civil, social, and religious condition of the Negroes, and of missions among them, see the articles SEE AFRICA; (See Kaffres); (See Liberia); (See Mandingoes); (See Po), FERNANDO; (See Yomba).

Of the condition and prospects of the Negroes in the various countries into which they have been imported during the prevalence of the slave-trade we have not room to speak here, but refer to the article (See Slavery). They are found in all the West India Islands, to the number of about 3,000,000; in the United States, Brazil, Peru, and other parts of South America; also in the Cape de Verde Islands, Arabia, Morocco, etc. In the British West India Islands they were emancipated from slavery in 1834, and in those belonging to France in 1848. Indeed, slavery now exists nowhere in the West Indies, with the exception of Cuba and Porto Rico. In the United States the Negroes amount to about 6,700,000; they are now liberated, and enjoy civil rights, and some occupy prominent positions in ecclesiastical and political life, and in all the other walks of life many are rising to influence and power.

The Negroes figure in history from very ancient date. They were not much known by the Hebrews and the Homeric Greeks, to judge from the writings at our command, but the Egyptians became acquainted with Negroes, about B.C. 2300, through the conquests of their rulers, and we find Negroes represented on Egyptian monuments as early as B.C. 1000. For nearly thirty-five centuries the type has remained unchanged in Egypt. The Greeks first knew them in the 7th century B.C., their Ethiopians being merely any people darker than the Hellenic, like the Arabs, Egyptians, Libyans, or Carthaginians, none of whom are Negroes. The typical Negroes of the Guinea coast are generally rude and nearly naked savages, of a deep black color and ugly features; in the interior many of the tribes, like the Fan, and others visited since 1855 by Paul du Chaillu and Winwood Reade, are fierce cannibals, but fine-looking, warlike, ingenious, and skilful in the working of iron. Those on the Slave Coast are more degraded, selling their neighbors to slave-dealers. In the vast region explored by Livingstone, Barth, Du Chaillu, Burton, Speke, Baker, Schweinfurth, and other recent travellers, there are many tribes more or less savage, for an account of which the reader is referred to the respective special notices in this work, and chiefly to the narratives of these explorers.

The father of English ethnology, Dr. Prichard, thought that the original pair must have been Negroes, and that mankind descended from them. His words are: "It must be concluded that the process of nature in the human species is the transmutation of the characters of the Negro into those of the European, or the evolution of white varieties in black races of men. We have seen that there are causes existing which are capable of producing such an alteration, but we have no facts which induce us to suppose that the reverse of this change could in any circumstances be effected. This leads us to the inference that the primitive stock of men were Negroes, which has every appearance of truth" (Researches, page 233). It is not a little remarkable that although Blumenbach and Prichard were both advocates for the unity of man, they materially differed in their argumentation. Blumenbach saw in his five varieties of man nothing but degeneracy from some ideal perfect type. Prichard, on the contrary, could imagine no arguments, or knew of any facts, to support such a conclusion. Prichard, however, was not alone in this supposition, for Pallas, Lacipede, Hunter, Dornik, and Link were also inclined to the same view. See Hunt, in Memoirs of the Anthropol. Society of London, volume 1, art. 1; see also in these memoirs, same volume, art. 2; Prichard, Researches into the Phys. Hist. of Mankind, 1:199-21. (3d ed.); Latham, Varieties of Man, page 469 sq.; Nott, Types of Mankind, page 260; Quatrefages, Unite de l'Espece Humaine (Paris, 1861); Lubbock, Origin of Civilization, chapters 4-6; Trans. of the Ethnological Society of London, volume 1, new series, page 317 sq.; Casalis, Les Bassoutos ou Vingt-trois annees de sejour et d'observations au sud d'Afrique (Paris, 1859), especially pages 257-268; Burton, Lake Regions of Central Africa, (1861), volume 1; Gorz, Reiseskizzen aus Nordost-Afrika (1855), 1:162 sq., 175 sq.; Reade, Savage Africa, chapters 36; Pruner Bey, Memoir on the Negro; Wanderings in West Africa, volumes 1 and 2; the Reverend Henry J. Cox, D.D., in Methodist Quarterly Review, January 1875, art. 4; and in the same Review, April 1874, art. 4; Blackwood's Magazine, May 1866, art. 3. See also the recent publications on Africa by the celebrated travellers Barth, Livingstone, Speke, Chapman, and Schweinfurth.