October 5 – International African Diaspora Day

Posted on October 5, 2014

To understand today's holiday, you have to understand the word diaspora.

This word is always a noun, and you probably know that a noun can be a person, place, thing, or idea. Well, this particular noun can be people, places, or an idea.

Let's start with the idea:

A diaspora is the scattering of a people away from their ancestral homeland (the area that they had lived for many generations). The movement of people in a diaspora can be forced or voluntary, but it isn't the movement of a whole bunch of people from Point A to Point B. (That could be called migration.) Instead, it's the movement of a whole bunch of people from Point A to many different new locations.

So the idea of “scattering” is important.

Also, it is apparently an important part of a diaspora that the people who have scattered maintain a connection with their homeland. Many continue to think of themselves and label themselves primarily in terms of the homeland rather than the country in which they ended up; they have what are considered “founding myths” related to their place of origin; they sometimes maintain customs and beliefs and maybe even language of the homeland.

Now for the people and places part of the definition of diaspora:

Diaspora can refer to the people settled far from their ancestral homelands.

It can also refer to the the place where these people now live.

When it is capitalized, Diaspora refers to one particular diaspora: the scattering of Jews outside of Palestine after the 6th Century B.C.E. destruction of the temple by the Babylonians, and after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (A.D.)

But scholars also use the word for other scatterings. Today we are encouraged to think about African diasporas.

The historical African diaspora is the result of the enslavement of African peoples and their forced transport to other places, especially places in the so-called New World. The U.S., Brazil, and many Caribbean islands have large populations of people with African ancestry because of the slave trade.
This map depicts the historical African diaspora resulting from the slave trade.

The two more modern African diasporas occurred. The first happened during the time that European colonies in Africa had tied together more closely two particular regions, and the second happened in the last half century as several newly independent nations became dictatorships, or fell into abject poverty, or as people faced political persecution or civil war or even genocide (murder of entire peoples). Whether African people were moving to European nations that had colonized them, or were fleeing from terrible conditions, these last two diasporas were voluntary, as African people moved in an effort to find new economic opportunities, political freedoms, and/or just plain old safety and stability.

(I REALLY like safety and stability, so I can support that motivation!)

Did you know...?

  • Almost all—95%—of Haitians are of African heritage.
  • Italy receives many immigrants from Africa; a study published in 2011 said that 22% of Italy's immigrants come from Africa.
  • The African diaspora in France is one of the largest in the world; the French people with African heritage generally had ancestors who came to France from French colonies in Africa or the Caribbean Sea.
  • In Brazil, the various races have mixed for many generations; more than half of Brazil's population is considered Afro-Latino (and of course “Latino” generally means a mixture of European and Amerindian peoples).
To learn more about the African Diaspora, check out this "Experience Africa" website.

Check out the images in the Museum of African Diaspora website. Be sure to click "Enter Exhibit" to see the transformation of a photo to a photo collage!

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