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The Maafa, the African Holocaust, the Holocaust of Enslavement, or the Black Holocaust[1][2][3] are political neologisms which have been popularized since 1988[4][5][6][7] and they are used to describe the history and ongoing effects of atrocities which have been inflicted upon African people, particularly when they have been committed by non-Africans (Europeans and Arabs to be exact,[8] specifically in the context of the history of slavery, including the Trans-Saharan slave trade, the Indian Ocean slave trade and the Atlantic slave trade) which continues to the present day through imperialism, colonialism and other forms of oppression.[4][6][7][9][10][11] For example, Maulana Karenga (2001) 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".[12]

The Canadian scholar Adam Jones characterized the mass death of millions of Africans in the Atlantic slave trade as a genocide due to it being "one of the worst holocausts in human history" because it resulted in 15 to 20 million deaths according to one estimate, and he claims that arguments to the contrary such as "it was in slave owners' interest to keep slaves alive, not exterminate them" are "mostly sophistry" by stating: "the killing and destruction were intentional, whatever the incentives to preserve survivors of the Atlantic passage for labor exploitation. To revisit the issue of intent already touched on: If an institution is deliberately maintained and expanded by discernible agents, though all are aware of the hecatombs of casualties it is inflicting on a definable human group, then why should this not qualify as genocide?"[13]

History and terminology[edit]

The usage of the Swahili term: Maafa, lit.'Great Disaster' in English was introduced by Marimba Ani's 1988 book Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora.[14][15] It is derived from a Swahili term for "disaster, terrible occurrence or great tragedy".[16][17] The term was popularized in the 1990s.[18] The Maafa represents a way to discuss the historic atrocities and impact of the African Slave Trade.[19]

The term African Holocaust is preferred by some academics, such as Maulana Karenga, because it implies intention.[20] 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".[21]

Some Afrocentric scholars prefer the term Maafa instead of African Holocaust[22] because they believe that indigenous African terminology more truly conveys the events.[15] 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".[23] 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 historian Sylviane Diouf posits that, the terms "transatlantic slave trade", "Atlantic slave trade" and "slave trade" are deeply problematic because they serve as euphemisms for 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 a moral atrocity.[24] With trade as the primary focus, the broader tragedy becomes consigned to a secondary point as mere "collateral damage" of a commercial venture. However, others feel that avoidance of the term "trade" is an apologetic act on behalf of capitalism, absolving capitalist structures of involvement in human catastrophe.[25]

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. Archived from the original on 2007-10-18.
  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"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  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. ^ Stewart, Sharon; Butts, Edward; Sadlier, Rosemary, Canadian Cultural Heritage Bundle: Louis Riel / Harriet Tubman / Simon Girty, Dundurn (2013), p. 314, ISBN 9781459727915
  9. ^ Wright, William D. (2001). Black History and Black Identity: A Call for a New Historiography. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 9780275974428.
  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. ^ "Letter by Maulana Karenga, 2001". 2010-04-29. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  13. ^ Jones, Adam (2006). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Publishers. pp. 23-24 ISBN 978-0-415-35385-4.
  14. ^ Dove, Nah. Afrikan Mothers: Bearers of Culture, Makers of Social Change. 1998, p. 240.
  15. ^ a b Gunn Morris, Vivian and Morris, Curtis L. The Price They Paid: Desegregation in an African American Community. 2002, p. x.
  16. ^ Harp, O.J. Across Time: Mystery of the Great Sphinx. 2007, p. 247.
  17. ^ Cheeves, Denise Nicole (2004). Legacy. p. 1.
  18. ^ Pero Gaglo Dagbovie (2010). African American History Reconsidered. University of Illinois Press. p. 191.
  20. ^ "Interview With Dr. Maulana Karenga | The Two Nations Of Black America | FRONTLINE | PBS". Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  21. ^ "Ancestry, Descent And Identity" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-13. Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  22. ^ Tarpley, Natasha. Testimony: Young African-Americans on Self-Discovery and Black Identity. 1995, p. 252.
  23. ^ Aldridge, Delores P. and Young, Carlene. Out of the Revolution: The Development of Africana Studies. 2000, p. 250.
  24. ^ Diouf, Sylviane Anna. Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. 2003, p. xi.
  25. ^ Epps, Henry. A Concise Chronicle History of the African-American People Experience in America. p. 57. ISBN 9781300161431. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  • Anderson, S. E., The Black Holocaust For Beginners, Writers & Readers, 1995.
  • Ani, Marimba, Let The Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in the Diaspora. New York: Nkonimfo Publications, 1988 (orig. 1980).