Africans have dispersed around the globe and built a community known as the African Diaspora. It arose thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade and has influenced science, art, literature, and religions of people the world over. Africans and their descendants everywhere have created thriving cultures to sustain themselves and their relationships with Africa. In the Americas, major Diasporan communities can be found throughout Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and South America. In this section, discover dimensions of the Diaspora.
Trace routes taken by Africans over the millennia. Sometimes voluntary, sometimes forced, these journeys have brought Africans to every continent.
Africans travel to the ancient Mediterranean
In 218 B.C.E., Hannibal led his North African army onto the Italian peninsula. By 100 B.C.E., Egyptians were trading with Europe and India. Throughout this time period, the Library of Alexandria in Egypt was a regional center of study and knowledge.
Ethiopians connect with other Christians.
After Ethiopia adopted Christianity in the 4th century, it developed ties to Christians in Byzantium, Syria, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. In 1189, Saladin, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem, granted two pilgrimage sites to Ethiopian Christians long active in the region. Over the next three centuries, European Crusaders sought alliances with Ethiopia against Islam.
East Africans journey to Asia
In 1415, East African diplomats voyaged eastward and presented the Chinese Emperor with giraffes-- continuing a 700 year trade history. The slave trade took Africans to Islamic countries and india, where there are still significant communities of African descent. In the 1500s and 1600s, Africans enslaved in India won their freedom and became local rulers.
Enslaved Africans are forced to the Americas
The Atlantic slave trade carried millions of people form Western, Central and Southern Africa to the Americas and Europe. In the Americas, these Africans were driven to labor on plantations and in the mines, producing goods for European markets. Seeking freedom, enslaved people fled to isolated areas and created communities. in 1888, Brazil was the last country to legally abolish slavery.
Diasporan people return to Africa
In 1878, hundreds of Africans formerly enslaved in North America found a new society in Sierra Leone. Between 1810 and 1890, Africans from Brazil -- and later Cuba -- returned to West African ports, bringing with them Roman Catholicism and Latin American architecture. In 1916, Jamaican Marcus Garvey brought the United Negro Improvement Association to New York, advocating black dignity and a return of diasporan blacks to Africa.
People travel back and forth from Africa
In recent decades, millions of Africans have settled around the globe. WIth the end of colonialism came increased freedom to travel. African emigrants sought opportunites in education and business as well as refuge form civil upheaval. At the dawn of the 21sth century, approximately 100million Africans and people of African decent live in the Americas.
Listen to the words of enslaved people from different parts of the Diaspora as they describe their experiences (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)
I was born September 16th 1850. I was born in Orange County North Carolina near Hillsborough. I belonged to a man named Bob Hall; he was a widower. He died when I was eight years old and I was put on the block and sold in Nelson Hall's yard by the son of Bob Hall. I saw my brother and sister sold on the same plantation my mother belonged to the Halls and father belonged to the Glenns. They sold me away from my father and mother and I was carried to the state of Kentucky. I was bought by a Negro speculator by the name of Henry Long who lived not far from Hurdle Mills in Person County [NC]. I was not allowed to tell my mother and father goodbye. I was bought and sold 3 times in one day. Mother was told on the threat of woopin' not to make any outcry when I was carried away. When the time of parting came and I had to turn back, I burst out crying loud. I was so weak from sorrow, I could not walk. The two girls who were with me took me by each arm and led me along half carrying me.
Now I remember, I remember seeing a heap of slave sales. They's all in chains and speculators selling and buying them off. I also remember seeing a drove of slaves with nothing on but rags betwixt their legs in gap wound for the buyers But about the worst thing I had ever seen though it was a woman in Louisburg sold off from a 3 week old baby and she be marched to New Orleans. She had walked and she was about to give out. So weak, weak enough to fall into the middle of the road. She was chained to 20 or 30 other slaves and they stopped to rest in the shade of a big old oak tree while the speculators get their dinner. Of course the slaves had no dinner and as I passed by this woman begged me in God's name for a drink of water. Oh I give it to her too, I ain't never been so sorry for nobody. It was the month of August and the sun was bearing down hot on the slaves and the drivers and so when they leave the shade they walk for a little piece and this woman fallout, fallout she died right there at the side the road. Dead, right there and right there they buried her..
Charlie Jones one slave that had his wife working in the same field with him. They was plantin' tobacco. He was setting out and she with him. Annie was big with child is getting near her time. So one day she made a slip and chopped a young shoot down. Old man overseer come running up screaming at her It made her more nervous and she chopped off another one. Old overseer lifted up that raw hide and beat Annie across the back and shoulders until she fell to the ground. And Charlie, he just stood there hearing his wife screaming and staring at the sky not daring to look at her or even say a word
Mother was working in the house and she cooked too. She said she used to hide in the chimney-corner and listen to what the white folk said. When freedom was declared, Master wouldn't tell her. But mother she hear him telling missus that the slaves was free but they didn't know which and he not going to tell him to he makes another crop or two. When mother hears it, she said she slipped out the chimney-corner and cracked her heels together four times and shout, "I's free I's free" . Then she run to the fields against master's will and told all the other slaves and they quit work. Then she run away in the night. She slipped into a big ravine near the house and have them bring me to her me. Master, he come out with his gun and shot at mother. But she run down the ravine and gets away with me.
Them days was hell. Babies was snatched from their mothers’ breasts and sold to speculators. Children were separated from sisters and brothers and never saw each other again. 'course they cry. You think they don't cry when they was sold like cattle. I could tell you about it all day but even then, you couldn't guess the awfulness. It’s bad to belong to folks who own your soul and body and they can tie up to a tree with your face to the tree and your arms fastened tight 'round it. Would take a long cuttin' whip and cut the blood every lick. Oh trust... trusting was the only hope for the poor black critters in those days. Us just prayed for strength to endure it to the end.
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, slave ships carried 3-5 million Africans to Brazil. There they created dynamic Afro-Brazilian religions, such as Candomblé, that are still widely practiced.
Among the enslaved were Yoruba-speakers from West Africa, Kongo-speakers from Central Africa, Christians, and Muslims. Their philosophies and concepts of the soul blended with one another and with Brazilian Indian practices, Catholicism, and European mysticism.
Through the tragedy of freedom lost, to liberation finally won, African religious beliefs took new life.
"In my work with objects of Candomblé, I look for a balance between Yoruba iconography and my own experience of the tradition. Each orixá possesses specific qualities. The group of symbols engraved on the metal invokes that entity. Each piece thus conveys a story, an attitude, and a philosophical thought."
Bahia, Brazil 1997