The African diaspora

The dictionary definition of the word diaspora is disperse, sow, scatter. The word comes from the Greek, for ‘scatter through’ and is used to describe the dispersion of people from their homeland. It is usually used to mean a forced dispersion of a religious or ethnic group, but it can refer to the situation of any group dispersed, forcibly or voluntarily, throughout the world.

Over several centuries, from the 7th to the 20th, millions of Africans were forced from their homes by the slave trade. It is estimated that between 9 and 11 million people were taken from Africa in the transatlantic slave trade and landed alive in the Caribbean and the Americas. Between one and two million more probably died crossing the Atlantic Ocean. It is thought that about the same number were sold into the northern and ‘oriental’ slave trade, which took black Africans to North Africa, Europe, India and the Arab world.

This great forced relocation of people does not fit exactly the definition of a diaspora. The Africans enslaved over the years were not from one religious or ethnic group. They came from different ethnic groups, with different cultures and beliefs. But the word can be used for the African diaspora in its widest sense of dispersal and remembered cultural heritage. The millions of enslaved Africans were dispersed to many different countries, from Brazil to India. But many remembered their past, and kept it alive through religion, storytelling, music, customs and names.