The Origin Of The Diaspora

The Black Spotlight
6 min readApr 20, 2020

“The formation of a diaspora could be articulated as the quintessential journey into becoming; a process marked by incessant regroupings, recreations, and reiteration. Together these stressed actions strive to open up new spaces of discursive and performative postcolonial consciousness.”
-Okwui Enwezor, Nigerian Curator, Art Critic, Writer, and Educator

Photo by Hian Oliveira on Unsplash


While migration due to persecution is one of the many reasons a person may migrate, the biggest reason for religious dispersal throughout the diaspora is widely accepted to be the transatlantic slave Trade. The transatlantic slave trade is thought by many scholars to have begun due to the exploits of Prince Henry of 15th century Portugal. He oversaw a part of the trans-Saharan economic infrastructure. By 1470, Portugal had its sights on the Saharan gold trade and had conducted raids on coastal regions for slaves and rafts to traverse the Niger Delta in their search for gold. As the demand for slaves grew, there was a shift to trading with local aristocracy and regional traders for commodities such as guns, horses, and rum amongst other things. It was reported that by 1490, over 3000 slaves a year were traded to Portugal and Spain. The shift to local brokers increased competition amongst tribes and in some cases started insulated wars for control of the slave trade, which further supplied Europeans with slaves. Prince Henry was also the head of a militant order that was formed during the Crusades. Religious ideology arguably had a larger impact on societal institutions than they do in western nations today so it is important to understand that many European nations often did things for their interest in the name of evangelization. During Henry’s global imperialistic voyages through Africa, he used Christianity as a conversion agent for the subjugation of Africans. Africans were exposed to Christianity through the work of missionaries, priests, monks, and evangelists. People were also converted through the process of conquest: meet with the king/chief of the indigenous population, encourage the conversion to Christianity and if the submission was refused it was legal and one’s religious duty to sanction the indigenous population. Those that did not conform to Christian imperialists were deemed pagans, heretics, and savages against Christ; this provided a justification for the brutality of European imperialism. Everything that was done to the Africans was a divine right.

It is important to understand that creation of the diaspora must be looked at with a sensitivity to religion because the enslavement and forced migration of Africans throughout the world was done by Europeans with an imposed religious justification. Another layer to the subjugation of Africans under the guise of humanitarian evangelism during the transatlantic slave trade was the theo-ethical idea of racialized normativity. It is the concept of Europeans proclaiming to be ordained by God to be the superior, free, and masters to justify the racial hierarchy which classifies Africans and those of African descent as inferior, bound and slaves. The imperial powers, the white elites controlling every facet of society, intentionally created a schism between them and the Africans. Essentially deifying themselves while reinforcing the ideas of Africans being less than human; only giving them the right to exercise Christianity. The idea of spiritual freedom, ironically only within Catholic/Christian boundaries, is what allowed and pushed slavery to be as commodified to the extent it was.

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash


The transatlantic slave trade is the largest forced migration in world history. At the beginning of the 16th century, Africans in Europe were transported in small groups on vessels full of commodities for establishing towns in the New World. After 1526 to the mid-century the slave ships taking Portuguese and Spanish dominated routes were being directed to the Caribbean and Hispaniola for resale and distribution. Brazil in 1560 emerged to be one of the biggest destinations for the ship, estimated to have accounted for 40% of the trade. By the mid-1700s six imperialist nations had the slave trade become an integral part of their growing economies. Britain, France, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and the Netherlands were the imperial powers that heavily relied on the slave trade to run their economies based on sugar, rice tobacco and coffee amongst other commodities. Due to the naval dominance of Portugal and Britain, most African slaves were sent to Brazil and British colonies.

It is important to understand that Africa as a whole did not simultaneously experience an expansion of slavery but instead had regions individually have large increases of involvement in the trans-Atlantic trade followed by a decline. Scholars agree that each region supplied Europeans with slaves for about a century. Over time the various regions had increased the exports of African slaves to meet the European’s increasing demand. By the early 1800s, the West Central African region had exported more slaves to the Americas than all of the other regions combined. The volume of slaves jumped in a century to its height in 1690 from 30 thousand Africans a year to 85 thousand Africans a year by 1790. It was estimated that by 1820 that there were four Africans for every European that traveled the Atlantic Ocean.

No matter what region the African arrived in the New World from, the deleterious conditions they faced from the start of the voyage was not matched. Europeans arrived as indentured servants, convicts, free migrants, and military personnel, and none of them were subjected to a fraction of the harsh treatment Africans faced. Africans survived through inhumane living conditions had left them naked in cramped spaces, unsanitary spaces and given inadequate food all while chained together. This all contributed towards conditions and symptoms such as blindness, swelling, dysentery, respiratory diseases along a host of vitamin and mineral deficiency. The shortening life expectancy was shown through disease proliferation, a decreased mortality rate and accounts of the condition given by the slaves.

The slave trade had come to an end in the mid-19th century, with Congo and Benin had been accounted for as the only regions still participating in heavy trade, and at this point over 12.5 million slaves had been sent from Africa with only having 10.7 million people arriving the new World. Among the numerous reasons that the slave trade was abolished was that the doctrines of Protestantism played a role in outlawing slavery because it made European powers view the relationship between religious freedom and the hypocrisy of the subjugation of Africans in slavery. This partially led to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 for British territories.

Photo by Glodi Miessi on Unsplash


While the Transatlantic Slave Trade is the biggest reason that the Diaspora is as expansive and multi-layered as it is today, the tragedies of those times do not completely define members of the diaspora today. The 1619 Project curated by The New York Times is an anthology created to reexamine the legacy of slavery specifically in the United States 400 years after the first Africans arrived in Virginia. The richness of African and Black culture is seen in this project and an emphasis is placed on how the cultures within the Diaspora permeate into society at large deeper than many can imagine. Coming very far from what anyone centuries ago had envisioned members of the Diaspora of becoming, African and Black people continue to surpass expectations and bulldoze passed barriers all while facing centuries of institutional adversity. The Diaspora has become an integral part of the global ecosystem occupying many important roles. Creators. Innovators. Leaders. Champions. Doing more every day to maintain and further the legacies of those before them.



The Black Spotlight

Celebrating Africa and the Diaspora while shedding light on the topics and issues affecting them. A proud student of Africana Studies. Email: harrynof@gmail