The African Diaspora

6 June 2016

The African Diaspora refers to tales of how Africans, although dispersed, managed to keep hold of their cultures, traditions and ways as they reform in identities conforming to a new world. For a period longer than four centuries, about four million Africans were captured, taken away from their homes and shipped to the Caribbean Islands and North America to work as slaves[1]

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The change of location and lives motivated the need for African culture and ways to be upheld in the new home away from home. Despite this separation from their tribes, cultures and people, Africans living in Diaspora managed to maintain different aspects of their culture including language, religion, and folklore which they linked to their past.

The Americanization process saw the Africans form a new culture called Afro-Americans also known as Creoles[2]. Permanent ties between Africa and North America were created by the Trans Atlantic slave trade having being the biggest in the world. Africans from all over the African continent especially the coastal regions were relocated to different parts of North America. The Bantus of the coast of Guinea followed by the Mande had the biggest cultural homogeneity. This made the African-American culture experience a great influence in the Diaspora by the many people coming from these regions.

Culture Maintained

Afro-American culture differed from one region to another. However, religion was the only homogeneous aspect amongst most of the regions. Christianity is a good example of how Afro-American culture fused its beliefs with the existing religion producing a new theology[3]. The religion spread so fast among the slave communities which saw the Great Awakening sweep the colonies with an influx of evangelical Christianity.

The Africans could identify and understand life better with this new wave, which was once used by white slave masters to attract them as potential slaves. The captives later on took Christian teachings of equality which had initially been used as a tool of manipulation by their owners and used it to liberate themselves from captivity[4]. The conversion to Christianity saw the slaves maintain most of their traditions despite having newly acquired some which they blended with their African religious ways.

Language is yet another aspect of culture that affected the slaves who moved from their home countries to colonial territories. Pigeon English, also referred to as Pidgin English, has been in the past used largely by Africans even though it was seen as their incapability of using proper English[5].

Studies however show that African Americans’ way of speaking English is tied to some African Languages. Creole languages are still spoken in parts of the USA currently and have gained much acceptance reflecting the survival of African culture throughout slavery and westernization[6]. These languages include Pigeon English and Gullah. This use of two or more varieties of the same language is referred in “Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community”, a book by Joyner. The writer terms this variance in language as Diglossia.[7]

African Americans merged their old ways with the new ways the learnt in the new land. These included, cooking, woodcarving, story telling and the tradition of singing gospel songs.[8]  They added their spices to already existing western dishes. The blending of cultures was inevitable at some point as both cultures borrowed aspects of the others’ culture at some point. Western dishes ay some point made use of African spices to enrich their food.

Africans living in diaspora kept their culture alive by maintaining their African symbols with their meanings. The placing of familiar snake symbols on metal gates and frames of windows and doors was widely used. Wood used by the carvers played an important role in culture preservation.

This led way for carvers to make statues, sculptures, canes in form of chains so as not to forget the days of their bondage and the endurance the went through. The detailed carvings had relevance to family and friends of the carvers. Songs sung while working in the fields to pass time evolved into gospel music which later on constituted themes of freedom from captivity in conjunction with salvation. These songs came with a distinct style of native dancing which varied from one colony to another. These aspects of culture indicate the merger between western and African culture.

As documented in “The African diaspora: African origins and New World Identities”, the writers show marriage among the natives of Africa as having enhanced the maintenance of the original culture for a long while. In the colonial days, women could not own property on their own unless they were married.[9]This resulted in many black natives intermarrying among themselves so as to own property in the new land. The culture of marriage charged the woman with the responsibility of bearing children and teaching them the African ways and cultures. The writers further show how blacks were assimilated into white culture through marriage.

Middle class educated black men in Venezuela were the first to be socially accepted to marry white women.[10] They thought that would bring an end to racial bias. The process took some time before the acceptance of mixed marriages, its inclusion into both cultures was expected to reduce racial prejudice. However, racial violence against the Afro-Cuban society was highly noticed in an effort to discouraged mixed marriages.

With more time, racial interactions and intermarriages became more tolerable. Black men were better placed to intermarry out of their racial circle as opposed to black women. As documented in “The African Diaspora: African origins and new world identities”, the issue was widely known to a point of being coined into a saying: “White woman for marriage, mulata (biracial) for sex, black woman for work.”[11]

The gradual subdivision of the colony into diverse social groups was inevitable because of the social and cultural development as well as the changing needs of the society. In “The African Diaspora”, writers Harris and Jalloh shed light into the development of an elite group of merchants, military officials, church officials, planters and officials of the state. Another group was categorized by artisans, professionals, and people with influence in the church.[12] A third lower group consisted of soldiers, hawkers, and professionals of a low level.

The emotional pain suffered by the Africans under captivity was great. However, all slaves were affected differently. Some were emotionally torn by the experience, others died, while other got the better out of the traumatizing experience. Benefits of captivity included, getting education, mastering crude western technology and ways of life like administration, literature, politics, farming, food and religion.[13]

An article on Race and History by Barton shows that Black history and its influence on the world is important not only to the blacks in America but the whole world too. The understanding of this history and the need to remember it is important at this point when globalization has hit the world making it a task for all people of different origins. Culture is important to preserve a people and nation too.

Blacks in the USA and the rest of the world should in this spirit preserve their culture through music, traditions, language and other aspects despite being assimilated into westernization. Aspects such as the strong structure of the family, matrilineal systems, respect for elders and rites should be upheld to ensure continuity in the African culture[14].

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