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A diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, "scattering, dispersion") is "the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established homeland" or "people dispersed by whatever cause to more than one location", or "people settled far from their ancestral homelands".
The word has come to refer to historical mass-dispersions of people with common roots, particularly movements of an involuntary nature, such as the expulsion of Jews from the Middle East, the African Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the southern Chinese during the coolie slave trade, or the century-long exile of the Messenians under Spartan rule.
Recently, scholarship has distinguished between different kinds of diaspora, based on its causes such as imperialism, trade or labor migrations, or by the kind of social coherence within the diaspora community and its ties to the ancestral lands. Some diaspora communities maintain strong political ties with their homeland. Other qualities that may be typical of many diasporas are thoughts of return, relationships with other communities in the diaspora, and lack of full assimilation into the host country.
Origins and development of the term
The term derives from the Greek verb διασπείρω (diaspeirō), "I scatter", "I spread about" and that form διά (dia), "between, through, across" + the verb σπείρω (speirō), "I sow, I scatter". In Ancient Greece the term διασπορά (diaspora) hence meant "scattering" and was inter alia used to refer to citizens of a dominant city-state who emigrated to a conquered land with the purpose of colonization, to assimilate the territory into the empire.
Its use began to develop from this original sense when the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek; the first mention of a diaspora created as a result of exile is found in the Septuagint, first in
- Deuteronomy 28:25, in the phrase ἔσῃ ἐν διασπορᾷ ἐν πάσαις ταῖς βασιλείαις τῆς γῆς, esē en diaspora en pasais tais basileiais tēs gēs, translated to mean "thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth"
and secondly in
- Psalms 146(147).2, in the phrase οἰκοδομῶν Ἰερουσαλὴμ ὁ Kύριος καὶ τὰς διασπορὰς τοῦ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπισυνάξει, oikodomōn Ierousalēm ho Kyrios kai tas diasporas tou Israēl episynaxē, translated to mean "The Lord doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel".
So after the Bible's translation into Greek, the word Diaspora was then used to refer to the population of Jews exiled from Israel in 587 BCE by the Babylonians, and from Judea in 70 CE by the Roman Empire. It subsequently came to be used to refer to the historical movements of the dispersed ethnic population of Israel, to the cultural development of that population or to the population itself. In English when capitalized and without modifiers (that is, simply the Diaspora), the term refers specifically to the Jewish diaspora; when uncapitalized the word diaspora may be used to refer to refugee populations of other origins or ethnicities.(see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/diaspora) The wider application of diaspora evolved from the Assyrian two-way mass deportation policy of conquered populations to deny future territorial claims on their part.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, the first known recorded usage of the word diaspora in the English language was in 1876 referring "extensive diaspora work (as it is termed) of evangelizing among the National Protestant Churches on the continent". The term became more widely assimilated into English by the mid 1950s, with long-term expatriates in significant numbers from other particular countries or regions also being referred to as a diaspora. An academic field, diaspora studies, has become established relating to this sense of the word.
In all cases, the term diaspora carries a sense of displacement; that is, the population so described finds itself for whatever reason separated from its national territory, and usually its people have a hope, or at least a desire, to return to their homeland at some point, if the "homeland" still exists in any meaningful sense. Some writers have noted that diaspora may result in a loss of nostalgia for a single home as people "re-root" in a series of meaningful displacements. In this sense, individuals may have multiple homes throughout their diaspora, with different reasons for maintaining some form of attachment to each. Diasporic cultural development often assumes a different course from that of the population in the original place of settlement. Over time, remotely separated communities tend to vary in culture, traditions, language, and other factors. The last vestiges of cultural affiliation in a diaspora is often found in community resistance to language change and in maintenance of traditional religious practice.
In an article published in 1991, William Safran set out six rules to distinguish diasporas from migrant communities. These included criteria that the group maintains a myth or collective memory of their homeland; they regard their ancestral homeland as their true home, to which they will eventually return; being committed to the restoration or maintenance of that homeland; and they relate "personally or vicariously" to the homeland to a point where it shapes their identity. While Safran's definitions were influenced by the idea of the Jewish diaspora, he recognised the expanding use of the term.
Rogers Brubaker (2005) also notes that use of the term diaspora has been widening. He suggests that one element of this expansion in use "involves the application of the term diaspora to an ever-broadening set of cases: essentially to any and every nameable population category that is to some extent dispersed in space". Brubaker has used the WorldCat database to show that 17 out of the 18 books on diaspora published between 1900 and 1910 were on the Jewish diaspora. The majority of works in the 1960s were also about the Jewish diaspora, but in 2002 only two out of 20 books sampled (out of a total of 253) were about the Jewish case, with a total of eight different diasporas covered.
Brubaker outlines the original use of the term diaspora as follows:
Most early discussions of diaspora were firmly rooted in a conceptual 'homeland'; they were concerned with a paradigmatic case, or a small number of core cases. The paradigmatic case was, of course, the Jewish diaspora; some dictionary definitions of diaspora, until recently, did not simply illustrate but defined the word with reference to that case.
Brubaker argues that the initial expansion of the use of the phrase extended it to other, similar cases, such as the Armenian and Greek diasporas. More recently, it has been applied to emigrant groups that continue their involvement in their homeland from overseas, such as the category of long-distance nationalists identified by Benedict Anderson. Brubaker notes that (as examples): Albanians, Basques, Hindu Indians, Irish, Japanese, Kashmiri, Koreans, Kurds, Palestinians, and Tamils have been conceptualised as diasporas in this sense. Furthermore, "labour migrants who maintain (to some degree) emotional and social ties with a homeland" have also been described as diasporas.
In further cases of the use of the term, "the reference to the conceptual homeland – to the 'classical' diasporas – has become more attenuated still, to the point of being lost altogether". Here, Brubaker cites "transethnic and transborder linguistic categories...such as Francophone, Anglophone and Lusophone 'communities'", along with Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Confucian, Huguenot, Muslim and Catholic 'diasporas'. Brubaker notes that, as of 2005, there were also academic books or articles on the Dixie, white, liberal, gay, queer and digital diasporas.
Some observers have labeled evacuation from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the New Orleans diaspora, since a significant number of evacuees have not been able to return, yet maintain aspirations to do so. Agnieszka Weinar (2010) notes the widening use of the term, arguing that recently, "a growing body of literature succeeded in reformulating the definition, framing diaspora as almost any population on the move and no longer referring to the specific context of their existence". It has even been noted that as charismatic Christianity becomes increasingly globalized, many Christians conceive of themselves as a diaspora, and form an imaginary that mimics salient features of ethnic diasporas.
European history contains numerous diaspora-like events. In ancient times, the trading and colonising activities of the Greek tribes from the Balkans and Asia Minor spread people of Greek culture, religion and language around the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins, establishing Greek city states in Sicily, southern Italy, northern Libya, eastern Spain, the south of France, and the Black Sea coasts. Greeks founded more than 400 colonies. Alexander the Great's conquest of the Achaemenid Empire marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period, which was characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization in Asia and Africa, with Greek ruling classes established in Egypt, southwest Asia and northwest India.
The Migration Period relocations, which included several phases, are just one set of many in history. The first phase Migration Period displacement from between CE 300 and 500 included relocation of the Goths (Ostrogoths and Visigoths), Vandals, Franks, various other Germanic people (Burgundians, Lombards, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Suebi, Alemanni, Varangians and Normans), Alans and numerous Slavic tribes. The second phase, between CE 500 and 900, saw Slavic, Turkic, and other tribes on the move, resettling in Eastern Europe and gradually making it predominantly Slavic, and affecting Anatolia and the Caucasus as the first Turkic tribes (Avars, Huns, Khazars, Pechenegs), as well as Bulgars, and possibly Magyars arrived. The last phase of the migrations saw the coming of the Hungarian Magyars and the Viking expansion out of Scandinavia into Europe and the British Isles, as well as Greenland and Iceland.
Such colonizing migrations cannot be considered indefinitely as diasporas; over very long periods, eventually the migrants assimilate into the settled area so completely that it becomes their new homeland. Thus the modern population of Hungary do not feel that they belong in the Western Siberia that the Hungarian Magyars left 12 centuries ago; and the English descendants of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes do not yearn to reoccupy the plains of Northwest Germany.
In 1492, a Spanish expedition headed by Christopher Columbus reached the Americas, after which European exploration and colonization rapidly expanded. In the 16th century approximately 240,000 Europeans entered American ports. Immigration continued to North and South America. In the 19th century alone over 50 million people left Europe for the Americas.
A specific 19th-century example is the Irish diaspora, beginning in the mid-19th century and brought about by An Gorta Mór or "The Great Hunger" of the Irish Famine. Estimates are that between 45% and 85% of Ireland's population emigrated, to countries including Britain, the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. The size of the diaspora is demonstrated by the number of people around the world who claim Irish ancestry; some sources put the figure at 80-100 million.
One of the largest diasporas of modern times is the African Diaspora, which dates back several centuries. During the Atlantic Slave Trade, 9.4 to 12 million people from North, West, West-Central and South-east Africa survived transportation to arrive in the Western Hemisphere as slaves. This population and their descendants were major influences on the culture of English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish New World colonies. Prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, millions of Africans had moved and settled, usually as slaves, sometimes as merchants and seamen, in different parts of Asia and Europe.
Chinese emigration (also known as the Chinese Diaspora) first occurred thousands of years ago. The mass emigration that occurred from the 19th century to 1949 was caused mainly by wars and starvation in mainland China, as well as political corruption. Most immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated peasants and coolies (Chinese: 苦力, literally "hard labor"), who immigrated to developing countries in need of labor, such as the Americas, Australia, South Africa, Southeast Asia, Malaya and other places.
The largest Asian diaspora outside of Southeast Asia is the Indian diaspora. The overseas Indian community, estimated at over 25 million, is spread across many regions in the world, on every continent. It constitutes a diverse, heterogeneous and eclectic global community representing different regions, languages, cultures, and faiths (see Desi).
The Romani are widely dispersed, with their largest concentrated populations in Europe. Linguistic and genetic evidence indicates the Romanies originated on the Indian subcontinent, emigrating from India towards the northwest no earlier than the 11th century.
At least three waves of Nepalese diaspora can be identified. The earliest wave dates back to hundreds of years as early marriage and high birthrates propelled Hindu settlement eastward across Nepal, then into Sikkim and Bhutan. A backlash developed in the 1980s as Bhutan's political elites realized that Bhutanese Buddhists were at risk of becoming a minority in their own country. At present, the United States is working towards resettling more than 60,000 ethnic Nepalese from Bhutan in the US as a third-country settlement programme. A second wave was driven by British recruitment of mercenary soldiers beginning around 1815 and resettlement after retirement in the British Isles and southeast Asia. The third wave began in the 1970s as land shortages intensified and the pool of educated labor greatly exceeded job openings in Nepal. Job-related emigration created Nepalese enclaves in India, the wealthier countries of the Middle East, Europe and North America. Current estimates of the number of Nepalese living outside Nepal range well up into the millions.
In Siam, regional power struggles among several kingdoms in the region led to a large diaspora of ethnic Lao between the 1700s-1800s by Siamese rulers to settle large areas of the Siamese kingdom's northeast region, where Lao ethnicity is still a major factor in 2012. During this period, Siam decimated the Lao capital, capturing, torturing and killing the Lao king Anuwongse.
The 20th century and beyond
The 20th century saw huge population movements. Some involved large-scale transfers of people by government action. Some migrations occurred to avoid conflict and warfare. Other diasporas were created as a consequence of political decisions, such as the end of colonialism.
World War II and the end of colonial rule
As World War II unfolded, Nazi Germany deported and killed millions of Jews and many millions of others were likewise enslaved or murdered, including Ukrainians, Russians and other Slavs. Some Jews fled from persecution to western Europe and the Americas before borders closed. Later, other eastern European refugees moved west, away from Soviet annexation, and the Iron Curtain regimes after World War II. Hundreds of thousands of these anti-Soviet political refugees and Displaced Persons ended up in western Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States of America.
After World War II, the Soviet Union and Communist-controlled Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, most of whom were descendants of immigrants who had settled in those areas nearly two centuries before. This was allegedly in retaliation for the German Nazi invasion and their pan-German attempts at annexation. Most of the refugees moved to the West, including western Europe, and with tens of thousands seeking refuge in the United States.
Following World War II, the creation of the state of Israel, and a series of uprisings against colonialist rule, the Middle East nations became more hostile in relation to their historic Jewish populations (Sephardim) of nearly 1 million people. Most of them emigrated, with the majority resettling in Israel, where they became known as Mizrahi Jews.
At the same time, the Palestinian diaspora resulted from the war to dismantle Israel in 1948, in which 750,000 people were displaced or emigrated from their former territory. The diaspora was enlarged by the effects of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. Many Palestinians continue to live in refugee camps maintained by Middle Eastern nations, but others have resettled in the Middle East and other countries.
The 1947 Partition resulted in the migration of millions of people between India and Pakistan. Millions were murdered in the religious violence of the period, with estimates of fatalities up to 2 million people. Thousands of former subjects of the British Raj went to the UK from the Indian subcontinent after India and Pakistan became independent in 1947.
From the late 19th century, and formally from 1910, Japan made Korea a colony. Millions of Chinese fled to western provinces not occupied by Japan (that is, in particular Ssuchuan/Szechwan and Yunnan in the Southwest and Shensi and Kansu in the Northwest) and to Southeast Asia. More than 100,000 Koreans moved across the Amur River into Eastern Russia (then the Soviet Union) away from the Japanese.
The Cold War and the formation of post-colonial states
Upheaval in the Middle East and Central Asia, some of which was related to power struggles between the United States and the Soviet Union, created new refugee populations which developed into global diasporas.
In Southeast Asia, many Vietnamese people immigrated to France and later millions to the United States, Australia and Canada after the Cold War-related Vietnam War. Later, 30,000 French colons from Cambodia were displaced after being expelled by the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot. A small, predominantly Muslim ethnic group, the Cham people long residing in Cambodia, were nearly eradicated. The mass exodus of Vietnamese people from Vietnam coined the term 'Boat people'.
In Southwest China, many Tibetan people emigrated to India, following the 14th Dalai Lama in 1959 after the failure of his Tibetan uprising. This wave lasted until the 1960s, and another wave followed when Tibet was opened up to trade and tourism in the 1980s. It is estimated that about 200,000 Tibetans live now dispersed worldwide, half of whom in are India, Nepal and Bhutan. In lieu of lost citizenship papers, the Central Tibetan Administration offers Green Book identity documents to Tibetan refugees.
Sri Lankan Tamils have historically migrated to find work, notably during the British colonial period. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1983, more than 800,000 Tamils have been displaced within Sri Lanka as local diaspora, and over a half million Tamils living as the Tamil diaspora in destinations such as India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and Europe.
The Afghan diaspora resulted from the 1979 invasion by the former Soviet Union; both official and unofficial records indicate that the war displaced over 6 million people, resulting in the creation of the largest refugee population worldwide today.
The Assyrian diaspora expanded by the Civil War in Lebanon, the coming into power of the Islamic republic of Iran, the Ba'athist dictatorship in Iraq, and the present-day unrest in Iraq pushed Assyrians on the roads of exile.
In Africa, a new series of diasporas formed following the end of colonial rule. In some cases as countries became independent, numerous minority descendants of Europeans emigrated; others stayed in the lands which had been family homes for generations. Uganda expelled 80,000 South Asians in 1972 and took over their businesses and properties. The 1990s Civil war in Rwanda between rival ethnic groups Hutu and Tutsi turned deadly and produced a mass influx of refugees.
There was a Jamaican diaspora around the start of the 21st century.
A million Colombian refugees have left Colombia since 1965 to escape the country's violence and civil wars. In South America, thousands of Argentinan, Chilean and Uruguayan refugees fled to Europe during periods of military rule in the 1970s and 1980s. In Central America, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans (however, the country had no dictators) and Panamanians fled conflict and poor economic conditions.
Hundreds of thousands of people fled from the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 into neighboring countries. Thousands of refugees from deteriorating conditions in Zimbabwe have gone to South Africa. The long war in Congo, in which numerous nations have been involved, has also created millions of refugees.
In popular culture
Works of science fiction sometimes refer to a diaspora, taking place when much of humanity leaves Earth to settle on far-flung "colony worlds". (e.g. The Honor Harrington Series, in which humanity has spread out roughly 1000 light years from Earth in all directions over the previous 1900 years, starting in 2103.)
- Your load is heavy
- He's very heavy
- Just because he's your brother
- Your brothers are your pogroms
- When you reach the doorsteps of your friends
- Starts your Diaspora
Punk rock band Rise Against titled one of their songs "Diaspora" in the album The Sufferer & the Witness but later changed it to "Prayer of the Refugee". The originally titled song was available on advance copies of the album.
The experimental rock outfit PINKNOISE released an EP in 2010 titled The Dance Of The Diaspora, expressing the current Indian diaspora, both musically and demographically.
The Progressive Post-Metal group Irepress titled one of their songs "Diaspora" in the album Sol Eye Sea I. The song was the first track on the album and is one of the more popular.
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