The African Diaspora – experienceafrica

Posted By on August 9, 2015

The African Diaspora

Introduction to the African Diaspora across the World

When once were dispersions, there now is Diaspora[i]. As illustrated by this quote, the notion of Diaspora underlines the specificity of some migration phenomenon, thereby contributing to make sense out of certain transnational movements.

Etymologically, the word diaspora, meaning dispersal, stems from the Greek sporo (seed), and speira (to spree). Originally, it was used in the Antique tradition to refer to the dispersion of Hellenic establishments around the Mediterranean Sea[ii]. Later on, in the biblical tradition, it was used to discuss the dispersal of the Jewish People.

Since the 1980s-90s, Diasporas have become the focus of numerous academic research and publications in the field of social sciences, gradually referring to more and more different communities around the world. Today, Diasporas can be defined as national migrant communities living in interaction among themselves and with their country of origin[iii]. The notion of diaspora must be distinguished with other phenomenon of migration, as the importance of the ties between members of the Diasporas and their country of origin is prevalent.

The nature of these ties is diverse: they can be political, economic, cultural as well as social and academic. Often, Diasporas are also linked to a founding myth related to their place of origin and to the conditions under which they were forced or urged to leave their motherland. As a matter of fact, according to Dominique Schnapper[iv], many Diasporas are built on a major event, often dramatic, which ties a community together, despite its geographical dispersion. This is, for example, the case for the Jewish Diaspora, which appeared after the destruction of the Temple and the annexation of Judea by Romans.

As of today, the African Diaspora is one of the most important in the world in terms of numbers. According to the African Union, the African Diaspora is composed of people of African origin living outside of the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union[v].

Three main periods can be identified, when it comes to giving an overview of the history of African Diasporas. Historically, the first wave of forced African migrations began during the Transatlantic Slave Trade (16th-19th century). Europeans captured or bought African slaves, mostly from West Africa, and brought them to Europe, and later on to South and North America. The number of Africans who were shipped across the Atlantic is estimated to be around 12 million[vi].

This population movement can be considered as the migration that paved the way for the constitution of the first African community outside of Africa. In point of fact, slave trade can be considered as the founding myth of the African Diaspora in Europe and in America. Many Africans were deported out of Africa during this period, but the feeling of belonging to a community, the African community, did not disappear. In a way, this feeling became even stronger.

The transatlantic slave trade contributed mostly to creating a large community of African origins in the American continent, especially in the US and in Brazil. This diaspora belongs to the first wave of migration, and is often referred to as the historical diaspora. It is to be differentiated, from later movements of population of the 1960s, in the sense that these migrants blended more into local populations, partly losing the connection with their land of origin. The members of this diaspora tend to be more attached to Africa as a continent of origin, rather than linked to a specific country in Africa. They are still considered as part of the diaspora. In fact, if the concrete connection to their land of origin was often lost throughout generations, symbolic ties were kept, which will be assessed later on in this paper.

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The African Diaspora - experienceafrica

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