4.1 African Holocaust & Diaspora
HUM 211 Course Pack - Winter 2010  Fall 2007
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The African Holocaust: (HÓL e kost), n. 1a. a great or complete slaughter or reckless destruction of life.
"The Black Holocaust is one of the more underreported events in the annals of human history. The Black Holocaust makes reference to the millions of African lives which have been lost during the centuries to slavery, colonization and oppression. The Black Holocaust makes reference to the horrors endured by millions of men, women, and children throughout the African Diaspora. In sheer numbers, depth and brutality, it is a testimony to the worst elements of human behavior and the strongest elements of survival." --The Black Holocaust: From Maafa to Colonization KAMMAASI / Sankofa Project Guide, 1999:
 http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Classroom/9912/blackholocaust.html  [Sorry, this link is broken ~ C. Agatucci, Jan. 2010]

The African Diaspora:  The forced and brutal dispersal of millions of Africans into foreign lands created the African / Black Diaspora.  “During  the four centuries after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean, some 12 million people left sub-Saharan Africa for the Western Hemisphere. They were not voluntary immigrants. They came aboard slave ships, packed almost literally like sardines. At least one-tenth of them died before they reached the New World. Millions of others perished on the trek from the interior of Africa to the coast, or during the hard months of 'seasoning' in the Western Hemisphere. The slave trade brought a demographic disaster to Africa outweighed only by the deaths of even greater numbers of indigenous peoples in the New World from the epidemic diseases Europeans unwittingly carried with them" (McPherson).  African slave labor in the mines and plantations of the New World produced much of Europe's wealth from the 16th to the 19th centuries, but the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade "was not the only black diaspora.  From the 8th to the 20th centuries, Islamic slave traders from North Africa carried another 12 million black Africans into slavery around the rim of the Mediterranean and into the Near and Middle East" (MacPherson). 

Mapping Africa: Africa and the Diaspora Movement (Kennedy Center's African Odyssey Interactive)

The Middle Passage:
"For weeks, months, sometimes as long as a year, they waited in the dungeons of the slave factories scattered along Africa's western coast. They had already made the long, difficult journey from Africa's interior -- but just barely. Out of the roughly 20 million who were taken from their homes and sold into slavery, half didn't complete the journey to the African coast, most of those dying along the way.
      "And the worst was yet to come.
      "The captives were about to embark on the infamous Middle Passage, so called because it was the middle leg of a three-part voyage -- a voyage that began and ended in Europe. The first leg of the voyage carried a cargo that often included iron, cloth, brandy, firearms, and gunpowder. Upon landing on Africa's 'slave coast,' the cargo was exchanged for Africans. Fully loaded with its human cargo, the ship set sail for the Americas, where the slaves were exchanged for sugar, tobacco, or some other product. The final leg brought the ship back to Europe.
      "The African slave boarding the ship had no idea what lay ahead. Africans who had made the Middle Passage to the plantations of the New World did not return to their homeland to tell what happened to those people who suddenly disappeared. . . .
     "Despite the captain's desire to keep as many slaves as possible alive, Middle Passage mortality rates were high. Although it's difficult to determine how many Africans died en route to the new world, it is now believed that between ten and twenty percent of those transported lost their lives."

Source: People & Events: The Middle Passage, c.1600 - 1800 (Africans in America, Part I: The Terrible Transformation):

See related reading in HUM 211 Course Pack: Olaudah Equiano,
who describes the horrific conditions aboard European slave ships in his autobiography.

The story of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the New World is a story of European cruelty and African suffering.  The barbarity of the slave trade is attested by the slavers themselves.  For example, a Dutch slave trader on the West African cost in the 18th century wrote: “’The Invalides and the Maimed being thrown out . . . the remainder are numbred. . . . In the mean while a burning Iron, with the Arms or Name of the Companies, lyes in the Fire; with which ours are marked on the Breast. . . . I doubt not but this Trade seems very barbarous to you, but since it is followed by meer necessity it must go on; but we yet take all possible care that they are not burned too hard, especially the Women’" (qtd. in MacPherson).

Of the millions of black sub-Saharan Africans brutally transported to and enslaved in the Western Hemisphere during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, more that 90% ended up in South America and the West Indies, where most died in the "killing fields" of Brazilian and Caribbean sugar and coffee plantations. In contrast, "fewer than 5 percent of the Africans who reached the New World," or about 427,000, ended up in North America; yet "[w]hen slavery ended in the United States in 1865, this country contained 30 percent of the Western Hemisphere's population of African descent" (Segal qtd. in MacPherson). Africans "brought to the West Indies and Latin America did not even reproduce themselves under slavery, while the 427,000 brought to North America became 4,500,000 by 1865. The principal reason for this startling contrast was not the greater humanity of North American slaveholders.  The causes included the healthier climate of North America, the lesser physical demands of cotton and tobacco cultivation compared with sugar and coffee, and the legal abolition of the African slave trade by the United States in 1808, at the beginning of the cotton boom, which led Old South planters to increase their labor force by the reproduction of slaves rather than by their importation.  In Brazil and the Caribbean, by contrast, the slave trade remained open during the heyday of sugar and coffee, and it was cheaper to import slaves from Africa than to raise them from birth" (Segal qtd. in MacPherson; emphasis added). 

Segal believes the "soul" of the Black Diaspora is "freedom. . . . It was in slavery that the diaspora was born, together with the longing and struggle for freedom"; this past is "one of victimization and suffering, but also one of courage and resilience and creativity" (qtd. in MacPherson).  "While abroad, individuals maintain their social identity by living in communities which trace their origins to the homeland": "Diaspora" has meaning only so long as the "idea of an ancestral home" is kept alive (Lovejoy).  African slaves and their descendants carried skills and communitarian values, rich cultural traditions, resiliency, and an ethos of resistance that transformed and enriched the cultures they entered around the world. Thus, as African peoples were globally dispersed, they carried their traditions of cultural creativity and oral arts with them, such as "common musical rhythms, exploration of multicolors…and diverse textures, play on repetition, and call-and-response modes of verbal activity" (Asante and Abarry 111). African folktales, often featuring the tortoise, hare, and spider, widespread on the African continent, were carried from Africa to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States. Though enslaved and uprooted, Diasporic blacks of African descent used their lives and experiences to preserve and reshape their cultures and institutions in new lands, forging new sources of strength, resistance, and hope. 

Learn more: HUM 211 African Timelines Part III:
African Slave Trade & European Imperialism
(CE/AD 15th - early 19th centuries):

Works Cited

Africans in America, Part 1: The Terrible Transformation. Resource Bank. WGBH, PBS Online, 1999. 17 August 2004 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1h320t.html>.

Africans in America Home (WBGH/PBS Online): http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html
. . . Terrible Transformation, Part I Home: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/title.html
. . . Terrible Transformation, Part I Narrative: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/narrative.html

Asante, Molefi Kete, and Abu S. Abarry, ed. African Intellectual Heritage: A Book of Sources. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

Lovejoy, P.E.  "The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture and Religion under Slavery."  Studies in the World History of Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation, II, 1 (1997).  21 Jan. 2002 <http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~slavery/essays/esy9701love.html>.

McPherson, James M.  "Involuntary Immigrants." Review of The Black Diaspora by Ronald Segal (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux).  New York Times Book Review, 27 Aug. 1995.  Rpt. “The New York Times on the Web,” [Subscription Database.]  The New York Times Company, 1997.

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