Off-campus UMass Amherst users: To download campus access theses, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your UMass Amherst user name and password.

Non-UMass Amherst users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this thesis through interlibrary loan.

Theses that have an embargo placed on them will not be available to anyone until the embargo expires.

Access Type

Open Access

Degree Program


Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Native American, African, material culture, diffusion/independent invention


Native American and African American material culture of mid-19thcentury to present day appear to hold evidence for a more ancient spiritual and cultural relationship between these two diverse peoples. There is evidence of strikingly similar, and in some instances, identical, pre-Columbian (before 1492) symbols from Africa and North America which allows us to examine questions of diffusion or independent invention.

This thesis provides an examination of cultural practices and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous peoples of North America and Africa through symbols incorporated in the material culture of each, focusing primarily on textiles and it provides an exploration into the traditional knowledge systems that under-lie the adaptations and syncretism of these culture groups in creating objects and ascribing meaning to symbols. In order to understand the similarities, along with the continuity and retention of ancient belief systems, it is necessary to travel the path back, as far as possible.

Anthropological debates such as diffusion vs. independent invention are encountered and examined. Through the many processes of colonization, the histories of Indigenous peoples have been sanitized or erased to accommodate European hegemony and perceptions of superior knowledge systems. In searching for that which has been misplaced or stolen through colonization, the necessity of supporting an Indigenous praxis of Theory and Method in the discipline of Anthropology is presented. By recognizing Indigenous knowledge systems, and from such a perspective, it would be disingenuous to believe that there was no intercontinental contact between the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and those of Africa prior to 1492.

First Advisor

Jean S. Forward

Second Advisor

Robert Paynter