The African diaspora refers to emigrants of African descent living in Europe, America and the Middle East. Historically, the term African diaspora predominantly referred to African descendants enslaved in the Americas; currently, the term African diaspora even includes people who voluntarily migrated from Africa. At some point in human history, many black people from Central and West Africa were transferred to the Americas to serve as slaves. This group of people largely constitutes the African diaspora. In the last few decades, historians have differed in characterizing the African diaspora. This has led to the raging debate explained using the diaspora apart model, and the diaspora plus homeland model. In principle, the diaspora plus homeland model is the best in characterizing the African diaspora.
The world history cannot be complete without a story about the African diaspora. African communities are particularly vital in shedding some light on the dark history of slavery. Slave traders had an easy time transporting slaves from West Africa to North America, and the Caribbean Islands. High mortality rates incurred while transporting slaves from the Eastern side of Africa made west and central Africa the only viable sources of getting slaves. Although the slaves were separated from their homelands, and dispersed in various parts of the globe, they managed to retain their traditions and succeeded in reforming their identities; this resulted into the African diaspora phenomenon1. African societies did not shed their cultural heritage when they went abroad. Instead, African descendants created many homeland institutions that could not be transferred across the oceans.
The African diaspora cannot be divided into separate experiences of people from various regions and nations. There are distinct themes that enabled African slaves to hold together. For example, discussions on race, economic situations and family life brought people from different African ethnic communities together. At some point in the nineteenth century, slavery began to crumble as former slaves rose to prominent political positions in North and South America. All in all, the people retained some elements of African culture such as religion, language and folklore. For example, many people took Christianity and merged it with their own beliefs. They took the message of hope for a better future strongly while retaining some elements of their culture, as well. Adoption of Christianity did not stop them from placing familiar symbols, such as snakes, in their door frames. Wood carvings played a prominent role in preserving the African culture especially in making statues, canes and sculptures.
Some portion of the African emigrants spoke Pidgin English, which has ties to African languages. Their English borrowed heavily from their native languages. They mixed the words they spoke thus creating a means of communicating, and expressing amongst themselves. Although young African migrants were cut off from their homeland, they unconsciously preserved their tradition. This was evident from their use of gestures and vocabulary from their homes2. They also told African stories, which are well documented now. Other aspects of tradition were evident in their songs and dancing. For example, the African aspects in dance led to the innovation of new dancing styles such as the samba dance (in Brazil) and tango dance (in Argentina)3. Occasionally, the African descendants paid pilgrimage to their homelands, and tried to create new homelands. However, some segments of the African slaves could not keep contact with one another due to the demanding nature of their job as slaves.
There is a contrasting view on the characterization of the African diaspora. Some historians are of the view that the interactions within the people of African descent also relied on other aspects, apart from their homelands. Some historians feel that the Americas is the centerpiece of African diaspora. For example, the fast formation of a hybrid culture could be associated with the growth of the American born population. Another school of thought argues that African elements, which still persist, do not come from a particular ethnic institution. Therefore, ethnic identities were subtle, and this facilitated more people to come into contact with each other. In most occasions, the basis for self-identification included age, gender, skills, rank and religion. As a result, cohesiveness between people from different ethnicities grew.
The argument that African diaspora can be single handedly determined by their offshore interactions is utterly wrong. Firstly, it should be understood that Africans did not come to the new world as uniformly homogenous groupings, or as totally heterogeneous groupings. For example, most of the African people were either bilingual or multilingual. This enabled them to shift their ethnic identities from time to time. Naturally, people identify with their neighborhood and kinship groupings. As a result, there is no way the people could exhibit a perfectly homogeneous culture. All in all, although some historians feel that Americas is the centerpiece of African, the aspects on which the Africa diaspora can be identified on are largely attributable to their homelands.
Greene, Jack P., and Philip D. Morgan. Atlantic history: A critical appraisal. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Manning, Patrick. Migration in world history. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005.
Manning, Patrick. Navigating world history: Historians create a global past. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.