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The Work of Diaspora: Engaging Origins, Tradition and Sovereignty Claims of Jamaican Maroon Communities

  • Author(s): Nisbett, Mario
  • Advisor(s): Hintzen, Percy C
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines the concept of the African Diaspora by focusing on four post-colonial Maroon communities of Jamaica, the oldest autonomous Black polities in the Caribbean, which were established by escapees from slave-holding authorities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In exploring the Maroons as a Black community, the work looks at how they employ diaspora in making linkages to other communities of African descent and for what purposes.

Maroons are being positioned in relation to the amorphous concept of diaspora, which is normally used to refer to people who have been dispersed from their place of origins but maintain tradition and connections with kin in other countries. However, I complicate the definition, arguing that diaspora, specifically the African Diaspora, is the condition that produces the collective consciousness of sameness rooted in the idea of common African origins based on a common experience of Black abjection.

This understanding of diaspora opens the way to see that the uses of the concept are varied. This approach to diaspora challenges conventional debates in the humanities and social sciences on whether the concept is either a grouping of peoples, a process, or a method, making it possible to simultaneously engage all three modes along with their conceptual and theoretical contributions to the field of Diaspora Studies.

Most importantly, the study permits us to see how the critical practice of diaspora is articulated in communities of African descent. Here, “critical practice” refers to acts or utterances that critique, challenge, and re-position distorted understandings of particular peoples and communities. The African Diaspora seen as a critical practice ultimately challenges Western understandings of Black people. Another important concept is “articulation,” as in enunciation and making linkages, which highlights the significance, aim, and utility of the critical practice of diaspora for different Black communities. This approach to diaspora as a critical practice that explores articulation is crucial for understanding the varying responses of Black peoples to global inequality and exclusion. It creates a nuanced approach to diaspora and shows how different Black communities may engage it in their own way.

In addition, this study demonstrates how diaspora, not race, as a unit of analysis for understanding the connection of peoples who are considered Black. I view race here to be a social construct that has no biological basis. Thus, in its articulations, diaspora is not a matter of subscribing to an essentialist racial agenda, but incorporates significant differences across diverse Black peoples to fully understand their lived realities and experiences.

Furthermore, this view of diaspora permits an interdisciplinary approach to engage the fields of history, anthropology, literature, and political philosophy in the study. Such a comparative and interdisciplinary approach helps to explore systematically the significance of diaspora to Black peoples in general and at site-specific locations. In this case, it de-centers Americo-centric analysis by focusing on the Caribbean.

Overall, the dissertation, through an innovative approach, explores how Black communities, particularly Jamaican Maroons, engage diaspora. Undeniably, diaspora, as a critical practice, has contributed much from its earliest articulation and will undoubtedly continue to contribute to an enhanced understanding of Black peoples. Arguably, exploration of the critical practice and articulation of diaspora demonstrates the significance of communities of African descent engaging in endeavors for Black autonomy and sovereignty against the discourse of Black inhumanity.

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