ATTEMPT A CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS OF THE WORD DIASPORA AS IT RELATE TO THESE COURSE
A diaspora is a large group of people with a similar heritage or homeland who have since moved out to places all over the world.
The term diaspora comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “to scatter about.” And that’s exactly what the people of a diaspora do — they scatter from their homeland to places across the globe, spreading their culture as they go. The Bible refers to the Diaspora of Jews exiled from Israel by the Babylonians. But the word is now also used more generally to describe any large migration of refugees, language, or culture.
The term is derived from the Greek verb διασπείρω (diaspeirō), “I scatter”, “I spread about” and that from διά (dia), “between, through, across” + the verb σπείρω (speirō), “I sow, I scatter”. In Ancient Greece the term διασπορά (diaspora) hence meant “scattering” and was inter alia used to refer to citizens of a dominant city-state who emigrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonization, to assimilate the territory into the empire. An example of a diaspora from classical antiquity is the century-long exile of the Messenians under Spartan rule and the Ageanites as described by Thucydides in his “history of the Peloponnesian wars.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, the first known recorded usage of the word diaspora in the English language was in 1876 referring “extensive diaspora work (as it is termed) of evangelizing among the National Protestant Churches on the continent”. The term became more widely assimilated into English by the mid 1950s, with long-term expatriates in significant numbers from other particular countries or regions also being referred to as a diaspora. An academic field, diaspora studies, has become established relating to this sense of the word.
CONCEPTUAL ANALYSIS OF THE WORD DIASPORA AS IT RELATE TO THESE COURSE
A diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “scattering, dispersion”) is a scattered population whose origin lies within a smaller geographic locale. Diaspora can also refer to the movement of the population from its original homeland. Diaspora has come to refer particularly to historical mass dispersions of an involuntary nature, such as the expulsion of Jews from Judea, the fleeing of Greeks after the fall of Constantinople, the African Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese or Hindus of South Asia during the coolie trade, the Irish during and after the Irish Famine, the displacement of Palestinians in the 20th century, the exile and deportation of Circassians, and the emigration of Anglo-Saxon warriors and their families after the Norman Conquest of England, many of whom found employment in Constantinople and bolstered the elite bodyguard of the emperor, the Varangian GuardAs a field of study, the African diaspora has gathered momentum in recent times. This is reflected in the proliferating conferences, courses, PhD programs, faculty positions, book prizes, and the number of scholars who define themselves as specialists. But, as far as I know, no one has really attempted a systematic and comprehensive definition of the term “African diaspora,” although the concept has been around since the 19th century and the term has been used since the 1960s, if not earlier. Does it refer simply to Africans abroad, that is to say the peoples of African descent who live outside their ancestral continent? Is Africa a part of the diaspora? Is the term synonymous with what is now being called the Black Atlantic?
The concept of a diaspora is not confined to the peoples of African descent. For example, historians are familiar with the migration of Asians that resulted in the peopling of the Americas. Sometime between 10 and 20 thousand years ago, these Asian peoples crossed the Bering Strait and settled in North and South America and the Caribbean islands. The Jewish diaspora, perhaps the most widely studied, also has very ancient roots, beginning about two thousand years ago. Starting in the eighth century, Muslim peoples brought their religion and culture to various parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa, creating communities in the process. European peoples began their penetration of the African continent in the 15th century, a process that in time resulted in their dispersal in many other parts of the world, including the Americas. Obviously, these diasporic streams, or movements of specific peoples, were not the same in their timing, impetus, direction, or nature.
The study of the African diaspora, as mentioned at the outset, represents a growth industry today. But, there is no single diasporic movement or monolithic diasporic community to be studied. For the limited purposes of this discussion, I identify five major African diasporic streams that occurred at different times and for different reasons. The first African diaspora was a consequence of the great movement within and outside of Africa that began about 100,000 years ago. This early movement, the contours of which are still quite controversial, constitutes a necessary starting point for any study of the dispersal and settlement of African peoples. To study early humankind is, in effect, to study this diaspora. Some scholars may argue, with considerable merit, that this early African exodus is so different in character from later movements and settlements that it should not be seen as constituting a phase of the diasporic process. This issue ought to be a subject for a healthy and vigorous debate among our colleagues and students.2
The second major diasporic stream began about 3000 B.C.E. with the movement of the Bantu-speaking peoples from the region that is now the contemporary nations of Nigeria and Cameroon to other parts of the African continent and to the Indian Ocean. The third major stream, which I characterize loosely as a trading diaspora, involved the movement of traders, merchants, slaves, soldiers, and others to parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia beginning around the fifth century B.C.E. Its pace was markedly uneven, and its texture and energy varied. Thus the brisk slave trade conducted by the Muslims to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries starting after the seventh century was not a new development but its scope and intensity were certainly unprecedented. This prolonged third diasporic stream resulted in the creation of communities of various sizes composed of peoples of African descent in India, Portugal, Spain, the Italian city-states, and elsewhere in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia long before Christopher Columbus undertook his voyages across the Atlantic. In his important study of blacks in classical antiquity, for example, Frank Snowden notes that while the “exact number of Ethiopians who entered the Greco-Roman world as a result of military, diplomatic, and commercial activity is difficult to determine . . . all the evidence suggests a sizable Ethiopian element, especially in the population of the Roman world.”3 In the parlance of the time, the term “Ethiopian” was a synonym for black Africans. The aforementioned three diasporic streams form what I shall call the premodern African diaspora.
One of the largest diaspora of modern times is the African Diaspora, which dates back several centuries. During the Atlantic Slave Trade, 9.4 to 12 million people from North, West, West-Central and South-east Africa survived transportation to arrive in the Western Hemisphere as slaves. This population and their descendants were major influences on the culture of English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish New World colonies. Prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, millions of Africans had moved and settled as merchants, seamen and slaves in different parts of Asia and Europe. From the 8th through the 19th centuries, an Arab-controlled slave trade dispersed millions of Africans to Asia and the nations in the region of the Indian Ocean.
In all cases, the term diaspora carries a sense of displacement the population so described finds itself for whatever reason separated from its national territory, and usually its people have a hope, or at least a desire, to return to their homeland at some point, if the “homeland” still exists in any meaningful sense. Some writers have noted that diaspora may result in a loss of nostalgia for a single home as people “re-root” in a series of meaningful displacements. In this sense, individuals may have multiple homes throughout their diaspora, with different reasons for maintaining some form of attachment to each. Diasporic cultural development often assumes a different course from that of the population in the original place of settlement. Over time, remotely separated communities tend to vary in culture, traditions, language and other factors. The last vestiges of cultural affiliation in a diaspora is often found in community resistance to language change and in maintenance of traditional religious practice
Adams, Hannah (1840). The History of the Jews: From the Destruction of Jerusalem to the Present Time. Sold at the London Society House and by Duncan and Malcom, and Wertheim.
Diamond, Jared (1993). “Who are the Jews?” (PDF). Retrieved November 8, 2010. Natural History 102:11 (November 1993): 12-19.
Kenrick, Donald (2007). Historical Dictionary of the Gypsies (Romanies) (2nd ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. xxxvii. The Gypsies, or Romt it is generally accepted that they did emigrate from northern India some time between the 6th and 11th centuries, then crosanies, are an ethnic group that arrived in Europe around the 14th century. Scholars argue about when and how they left India, bused the Middle East and came into Europe.
Kalaydjieva, Luba; Gresham, D; Calafell, F (2001). “Genetic studies of the Roma (Gypsies): A review”. BMC Medical Genetics. 2: 5. doi:10.1186/1471-2350-2-5. PMC 31389 . PMID 11299048. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
Ma, Laurence J. C.; Cartier, Carolyn L. (2003). The Chinese diaspora: space, place, mobility, and identity. ISBN 78-0-7425-1756-1