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"African Holocaust" redirects here. For the Steel Pulse album, see African Holocaust (album).

Maafa (or African Holocaust, Holocaust of Enslavement, or Black holocaust as alternatives)[1][2][3] are terms used to describe the history and ongoing effects of atrocities inflicted on African people.[4][5][6][7] The Maafa includes the Arab and Atlantic slave trades, and continued through imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression to the present day.[4][6][7][8][9][10][11]

History and terminology[edit]

Usage of the Swahili term Maafa ("Great Disaster") in English was introduced by Marimba Ani's book "Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora".[12][13] It is derived from a Swahili term for "disaster, terrible occurrence or great tragedy".[14][15] The term was popularized in the 1990s.[16]

The term African Holocaust is preferred by some academics, such as Maulana Karenga, because it implies intention.[17] One problem noted by Karenga is that the word Maafa can also translate to "accident", and in the view of some scholars the holocaust of enslavement was not accidental. Ali Mazrui notes that the word "holocaust" is a "dual plagiarism" since the term is derived from Ancient Greek and thus, despite being associated with the genocide of the Jews, no one can have a monopoly over the term. Mazrui states: "This borrowing from borrowers without attribution is what I call 'the dual plagiarism.' But this plagiarism is defensible because the vocabulary of horrors like genocide and enslavement should not be subject to copyright-restrictions."[18]

Some Afrocentric scholars prefer the term Maafa to African Holocaust,[19] because they believe that indigenous African terminology more truly confers the events.[13] The term Maafa may serve "much the same cultural psychological purpose for Africans as the idea of the Holocaust serves to name the culturally distinct Jewish experience of genocide under German Nazism."[20] Other arguments in favor of Maafa rather than African Holocaust emphasize that the denial of the validity of the African people's humanity is an unparalleled centuries-long phenomenon: "The Maafa is a continual, constant, complete, and total system of human negation and nullification."[7]

The terms "Transatlantic Slave Trade", "Atlantic Slave Trade" and "Slave Trade" have also been said by some to be deeply problematic, because they serve as euphemisms for the intense violence and mass murder. Referred to as a "trade", this prolonged period of persecution and suffering is rendered as a commercial dilemma, rather than as a moral atrocity.[21] With trade as the primary focus, the broader tragedy becomes consigned to a secondary point, as mere "collateral damage" of a commercial venture. Others, however, feel that avoidance of the term trade is an apologetic act on behalf of capitalism, absolving capitalist structures of involvement in human catastrophe.[22]

In scholarship[edit]

While Maafa can be considered an area of study within African history in which both the actual history and the legacy of that history are studied as a single discourse, it can also be taken as its own significant event in the course of global or world history.[23] When studied as African history, the paradigm emphasizes the legacy of the African Holocaust on African peoples globally. The emphasis in the historical narrative is on African agents and the pattern of oppression, in opposition to what is perceived to be the conventional Eurocentric voice; for this reason Maafa is an aspect of Pan-Africanism.[citation needed]

Owen 'Alik Shahadah traces a pattern of "Eurocentric" scholarship to the era of slavery and colonialism, where he states that it first came to serve as a means of removing any noble claim from the victims of systemic persecution; this served to rationalize their plight as "natural" and a continuation of a pre-existing historical status, in order to eschew moral responsibility for destroying societies and undermining indigenous social and political systems. He goes on to state that the first expressions of this academic trend appeared in the claim that "Slavery was a natural feature of Africa, and that Africans sold each other everyday." This contention sought to justify the commercial exploitation of humanity while denying the moral question, a pattern Shahadah perceives to have continued beyond the eclipse of slavery and colonialism.[24]

Maulana Karenga puts slavery in the broader context of the Maafa, suggesting that its effects exceed mere physical persecution and legal disenfranchisement: the "destruction of human possibility involved redefining African humanity to the world, poisoning past, present and future relations with others who only know us through this stereotyping and thus damaging the truly human relations among peoples."[17]

Performative Representations of Maafa[edit]

Maafa is a Kiswahili term for "the great catastrophe" or "the great disaster" used to name the horrific journey of the transatlantic slave trade. The Maafa Suite is an annual performative reenactment of this experience. Following the concept of "Sankofa" (go back and fetch it, learn from your past for a better future) this theatrical production is thought of as a healing experience for people of the African diaspora. Through confronting ancestral experience, not only does the show tell their stories but it is thought to confront the cast with their own healing being that slavery is not far removed from their lineage. Although, the Maafa suite is indeed a show, with acting, music, dance and poetry and an audience comes to see and enjoy it, the focus of the Maafa experience is really put on the cast and their healing from trauma passed down for generations from slavery.

Maafa is done every year at St. Paul's Community Baptist Church, which is a Christian church in East New York that puts a special focus on African heritage, black self and building the black community. It has been happening for 21 years, as it was started in 1994 by Reverend Dr. Young Blood who has been a very influential part of community building in Brooklyn, NY. Maafa consists of a very large cast, varying in number but is often more than 100 people. This is an all black cast with the addition of 3 white people who act as slave masters or auctioneers. The rest of the cast go through the journey of the transatlantic slave trade. The story starts in Africa, where tribes are captured and then taken to a foreign land, brutalized and made to labor. Maafa puts a special emphasis on the actual journey through the middle passage, and telling the stories of the lives that did not make it to the New World or the ancestors who were thrown or decided to throw themselves over board.

The church opens up its doors for over 3 months for intense study of the slave trade and for getting the cast into physical shape to be able to tell these stories correctly. The intense physical activity plus the emotional attachment to blackness and the dynamic created by the white characters acting as slave masters makes for a very personal experience. Approximately 1,000 people each day come to view this experience as it is held for 5 days during the month of September.


Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Wright points to the differences between black history, and African history, and argues that the African Holocaust is a major reason why these two histories are not synonymous: William D. Wright, Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography, p. 117
  2. ^ "What Holocaust". "Glenn Reitz". 
  3. ^ Ryan Michael Spitzer, "The African Holocaust: Should Europe pay reparations to Africa for Colonialism and Slavery?", Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, vol. 35, 2002, p. 1319.
  4. ^ a b Barndt, Joseph. Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century. 2007, page 269.
  5. ^ The Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui. Omari H. Kokole.
  6. ^ a b Reparations for the Slave Trade: Rhetoric, Law, History and Political Realities”.
  7. ^ a b c Jones, Lee and West, Cornel. Making It on Broken Promises: Leading African American Male Scholars Confront the Culture of Higher Education. 2002, p. 178.
  8. ^ 'Alik Shahadah (10 2005; revised 07 2012). "African Holocaust". Maafa. Retrieved 6 May 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ William D. Wright, Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography.
  10. ^ The Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui. Omari H. Kokole.
  11. ^ Ryan Michael Spitzer, "The African Holocaust: Should Europe pay reparations to Africa for Colonialism and Slavery?", Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, vol. 35, 2002, p. 1319.
  12. ^ Dove, Nah. Afrikan Mothers: Bearers of Culture, Makers of Social Change. 1998, p. 240.
  13. ^ a b Gunn Morris, Vivian and Morris, Curtis L. The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African American Community. 2002, p. x.
  14. ^ Harp, O.J. Across Time: Mystery of the Great Sphinx. 2007, p. 247.
  15. ^ Cheeves, Denise Nicole (2004). Legacy. p. 1. 
  16. ^ Pero Gaglo Dagbovie (2010). African American History Reconsidered. University of Illinois Press. p. 191. 
  17. ^ a b "Problem with Maafa". "Ron Karenga". 
  19. ^ Tarpley, Natasha. Testimony: Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity. 1995, p. 252.
  20. ^ Aldridge, Delores P. and Young, Carlene. Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies. 2000, p. 250.
  21. ^ Diouf, Sylviane Anna. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. 2003, p. xi.
  22. ^ Epps, Henry. A Concise Chronicle History of the African-American People Experience in Americ. p. 57. ISBN 9781300161431. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  23. ^ "African Holocaust: Holocaust Special". Owen 'Alik Shahadah. 
  24. ^ "Removal of Agency from Africa". "Owen 'Alik Shahadah". Retrieved 2005. 

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