The massive expansion of the Yoruba occurred in the context of the four continents united by the Atlantic Ocean. The Yoruba were among the African slaves drawn from Central and West Africa and tragically relocated to the Americas. As the enslaved, they were funnelled to the Atlantic. After the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade, secondary migrations occurred as freed slaves returned to West Africa, and thousands migrated within various countries in the Atlantic World.
In my co-edited book, The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, the contributors have examined the history of the Yoruba in different countries. The slave trade violently took the Yoruba to several places in the Americas: Brazil, Cuba, Uruguay, Argentina, Haiti, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.
There are characteristics and patterns. The breakdown reflects the following: first is location, a) in an extensive land mass from Rio de la Plata in South America to the Chesapeake Bay in North America, and small islands in the West Indies; b) in North America, areas of concentrations were in Virginia, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina; c) in Central America, the Yoruba were taken to Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua; d) in South America, the Yoruba were found in Brazil, Suriname, Guyana and Venezuela; and e) in the West Indies, they were taken to Cuba, St. Lucia, Saint-Domingo (Haiti), Barbados, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago.
A second relevant aspect is concentration: in sizeable numbers in relation to the totality of African slaves, the Yoruba were concentrated in three places—Bahia in Brazil, Cuba, and Saint-Dominique. In these places, their value was mainly in their labor, working on plantations and processing firms that produced sugarcane, sugar, tobacco, cotton and other profitable crops; in mines, as domestic servants; and in such other economic sectors as ports and commerce.
While the Yoruba cultural influences were the strongest in Cuba, Bahia, and Saint-Dominique, they equally established a noticeable impact in other places where their numbers were smaller. Some impacts were Yoruba-based, that is, based on elements that we can define primarily as Yoruba. Other newer influences were part of the creolization of cultures as the Yoruba interacted with slaves from other African ethnicities and with European-derived cultures and institutions such as the church and family.
Presence is one thing, impact is another. Be it in Brazil or the United States, the diversity of those countries, even when not recognized, is grounded in the multiple histories and experiences of different groups and ethnicities from various countries. Among the citizens in these places are people with Yoruba roots. Where the roots are denied or unappreciated, or simply not known, alienation develops. This consciousness has been expressed time and again in various poems, essays, and texts to underscore how diaspora groups seek recognition, self-depiction, collective affirmation, and cultural authenticity”
Source & Written By: Professor Toyin Falola