Literature of African Diaspora as a Postcolonial Discourse

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Literature of diaspora as a postcolonial discourse addresses issues such as home, nostalgia, formation of identity and to the interaction between people in diaspora and the host society, the center and the margin. Sufran believes that ‘diaspora’ is used as a ‘metaphoric designation’ to describe different categories of people ‘expatriates, expellees, political refugees, alien residents, immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities . Thus, the term diaspora is not related to those people who are dispersed from their countries because of agitations and wars only, but to any transnational migrant community that maintains material or sentimental attachments to its country, while adopting to the limitation and opportunities in its country of settlement. Departure from its homeland need not have been violent or traumatic.

In his book Global Diasporas: An Introduction, Robin Cohen identifies four main types of diaspora. This categorization is based on the different reasons that have affected people to leave their countries and the relationship between migrants and the host society. For Cohen the term diaspora is conceptualized as a 'deterritorialised' and 'transnational' population dispersing from an original homeland, who develop a strong ethnic group consciousness, alienation or a feeling of solidarity, and varied levels of desire to return home

According to Robin Cohen’s taxonomy, diaspora can be categorized into four main types; victim diaspora, Imperial diaspora, Labour diaspora and Trade diaspora in which ethnic groups are moved out of their countries for a reason or another. Imperial, Labour and Trade diasporas are all motivated by different reasons to fulfill people’s desires and needs. Orozco (2006a) maintains that diasporas are not always happened because of dispersion but sometime people themselves are motivated to become diaspora”.

Cohen defines labor diaspora as the one that is associated with all groups of people who migrate internationally in search of work such as the indentured Indians, particularly in Britain, South Africa and Caribbean. This type of diaspora is often labeled as a new system of slavery . Many poems and narratives are written to demonstrate the conditions in which those people spent this journey.

For the imperial diaspora, it is created by imperial powers in the world. The British, French, and Spanish colonists tended to establish their own colonial settlements abroad to further their imperial plans. Reader may consider Marlow’s reference to the Roman conquest of Britain as “robbery with violence” in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It seems that Marlow differentiates between the Roman conquest of Britain and the British conquest of Africa as he considers the former as violent invaders and the latter as missionaries to civilize the backward natives. This classification, according to Conrad’s view, may indicate that there are two types of imperial presence; destructive and constructive presence, the first related to conquest and the second to imperial diaspora.

Cohen provides two main examples of trade diasporas in the world; Lebanese and Chinese due to their active integration in the world of commerce and business. In Cross-cultural trade in world history, Curtin claims that merchants move from one community and settle in a new one; learn the language, the customs and the commercial practices of their hosts then start the exchange of goods. Curtin’s view shows that the trade diaspora is a process in which the person tends to have a plan and strategy to live in and to get profit of the host society. However, we may notice that the trade diaspora related more to modern urban life.

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In his book, Cohen identifies Jewish, Palestinian and African diasporas among others as victim diasporas. Literary texts have offered different images of these diasporas as they tell stories of Jewish, Palestinian and African people who lived the miseries of dispersion. The term diaspora was confined at the beginning to describe the Jewish experience in which many writers in diaspora start to tell the historical Jewish experience in relationships to homelands and host lands and the problems of the perception of Zionism depicting the cases of the integration of Jews in the different societies in which they lived in their writings.

For a long time, Africa was impacted by issues related to colonialism, imperialism and slavery creating a situation in which African people were dispersed all over the world. Sufran claims that “black Africans had been victimized by imperialism, forcibly uprooted from their homelands, and dispersed, only to be subjected to disabilities and persecutions in their host societies”

African American literature tends to commemorate slaves and their history. It provides readers with a full image of the African slaves’ journey from their homeland into new land where they were dehumanized and lost their dignity and freedom. The features of dehumanization and repression of African slaves is well depicted by Luke Dixon , a former slave, who describes the way his grandparents were kidnapped and taken away from their country. Dixon states:

I used to set on Grandma’s lap and she told me about how they used to catch people in Africa. They herded them up like cattle and put them in stalls and brought them on the ship and sold them. She said some they captured they left bound till they come back and sometimes they never went back to get them. They died. They had room in the stalls on the boat to set down or lie down. They put several together. Put the men to themselves and the women to themselves. When they sold Grandma and Grandpa at a fishing dock in New Port, Va., they had their feet bound down and their hands crossed, up on a platform. They sold Grandma’s daughter to somebody in Texas. She cried and begged to let them be together. They didn’t pay no ’tenshion to her.

This description shows the way African diaspora comes to existence. For Africans, diaspora was not a choice but they were forced to accept it and gradually they lost hope and returning back to their country of origin seems to be impossible. In 1948 and onwards, the Arab diaspora is often associated with the Palestinian catastrophe of dispersal by the Israeli forces. After the Arab- Israeli war was culminated , the State of Israel was established by the Jews, and witnessed the complete damage of the Palestinian villages, towns and public institutions as well as the displacement of Palestinian people toward neighboring countries or remain stateless and in refugee camps. This period is known as ‘Nakba’ that witness the beginning of the Palestinian diaspora that lasts till the present time. Many authors write about Nakba in all its dimensions that affected their lives.

Mahmoud Darwish is an eminent Palestinian poet. In his poem; Diary Of A Palestinian Wound, Darwish depicts a scene of the bleeding Palestinian wound. Darwish's poetry tends to raise the people’s national awareness and adherence to Palestine, which has become a melody in which grief and hope mixed together, through which Darwish resists all cases of pain and defeat.

In his poetry, Darwish has a strong desire for resistance. The poem is a call for Arab conscience to help in stabilizing the Palestinian identity in the face of the policy of colonialization, and the Zionist denial of the Palestinian rights.

Since the middle of the last century and as political and social anxieties have dramatically escalated in more than one Arab country; Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Egypt, the term diaspora is no longer confined to the Palestinian diaspora. Because of this destabilization, hundreds of thousands of Arab citizens found their way to escape the scourge of war through illegal and unsafe means that often lead to death of a lot of them before reaching the refuge.

The spatial move or spatiality involves two ideas related to each other; de-territorialization and reterritorialization. De-territorialization means the loss of both geographical and cultural territory. It is a concept introduced first by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to explain the relationship between globalization, transnationalism and cultural, social and geographical territories. The process of deterritorialization is simultaneously accompanied by reterritorialization which is the restructuring of a place or territory that has experienced de-territorialization. Robertson claims that both of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are considered two sides of the same coin of cultural globalization. 

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