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The African Diaspora is the term used to describe the dissemination of African peoples and culture as a result of the trafficking and enslavement of Africans during colonization. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, an estimated 12 million Africans (1) were taken from their homelands and brought to the many European colonies of the "New World.”

The African Diaspora map shows the routes that were taken by slave ships during the transatlantic slave trade. The majority of people were taken from West Africa, though there was some movement both to and from Eastern Africa as well.

Map of Transatlantic Slave Trade RoutesBased on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Database map, “Overview of the Slave Trade Out of Africa.” http://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/intro-maps.

Several European countries took part in the slave trade, and the culture of the colonies where these people were brought often ended up reflecting a mixture of European, African, and indigenous traditions and beliefs. 

The African Diaspora in Brazil

Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese, has the largest number of original people from the diaspora. All told more than four million (2) African people were brought to Brazil as slaves. As a result, Brazilian culture still shows signs of both the Portuguese and African influences. The food, culture, and music of Brazil is heavily influenced by African culture. Even traditions like Carnaval, a Catholic tradition brought over from Portugal, are closely associated with the African rhythms found in samba music. With so many African people brought to Brazil during this time, even the genetics of the Brazilian people reflect the African Diaspora. To this day over 50% (3) of Brazilians have African ancestry.

The African Diaspora in the Caribbean

As in Brazil, the majority of people in the Caribbean also have African heritage. Although there is no universal Caribbean culture, one thing that all of the islands share is a strong influence from the African Diaspora. More than three million people of African descent were brought to various Caribbean islands, where they often outnumbered people of European descent. It was easier for these slaves to permanently escape captivity due to the isolation of these islands and their challenging topography (often particularly mountainous or full of thick jungles that were difficult to traverse).

As a result, the Caribbean is the location of some of the African Diaspora's most successful maroon communities(4) — that is, communities of escaped slaves that managed to form their own societies largely outside of European influence. In fact, Haiti was the site of the first successful slave revolt, which led to the abolition of slavery in that country and the formation of the first free black colony in the Americas.

The African Diaspora in the U.S.

Compared to Brazil where four million African people were brought over as slaves, only a relatively small number of people of African descent—about 388,000(5)—were brought directly to the U.S. Although most slaves were brought to the southern U.S. to work on plantations, some were also brought to the northern U.S., where Africans largely worked in both domestic roles and as highly skilled workers and tradesmen (6). As in the rest of the diaspora, the cultural influence of African Americans is deeply embedded in American culture. In fact, much of what the world thinks of as "American culture" has some origination in African culture and the experiences of the people who were brought here. The roots of American music come from spirituals and work songs that gave rise to the blues. Even some of America's most unique cuisine, such as New Orleans' Creole and Cajun food, is largely influenced by African food traditions. 

Though not always acknowledged, the contributions of enslaved people who were brought to the Americas is significant. Though the countries in the Americas all have their own distinct cultures and traditions, across the board we find that much of what really makes these places unique, is the influence of people of African descent brought over during the African Diaspora. What's more, because of this mass involuntary migration, many people in the Americas may find that they have connections with Africa that they never would have imagined.

 

  1. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “How Many Slaves Landed in the U.S.?” PBS. January 2, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/.
  2. Christopher Muscato. “History of Slavery in Brazil.” Study.com.  Accessed January 17, 2019. https://study.com/academy/lesson/history-of-slavery-in-brazil.html.
  3. Tom Phillips. “Brazil Census Shows Africans in the Majority for the First Time.” The Guardian. November 17, 2011. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/nov/17/brazil-census-african-brazilians-majority.
  4. PortCities UK.“Identity in the Caribbean.” PortCities Bristol. Accessed January 17, 2019. http://www.discoveringbristol.org.uk/slavery/after-slavery/wider-world/african-diaspora/identity-in-caribbean/.
  5. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “How Many Slaves Landed in the U.S.?” PBS. January 2, 2013. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/.
  6. “Slaves in New England.” Medford Historical Society & Museum. Accessed January 17, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/how-many-slaves-landed-in-the-us/