Skip to main content

FunTimes Magazine

How The Diaspora Is Keeping African Customs Alive

Jul 02, 2024 10:00AM ● By Gift Joe

Family dressed in traditional African attire. Photo by Askar Abayev

Millions of immigrants have left Africa. Some were forcefully taken during the slave trade era. Others relocated to Europe, America, and other parts of the world in search of greener pastures or to acquire higher education. While forging new lives and adjusting to the new environment, the African diaspora, spread across the globe, has found ways to preserve and celebrate their customs.

Like many immigrant groups, preserving cultural identity is important to African diaspora communities, ensuring their children and future generations have strong traditional values foundation as they navigate a new world.

The African diaspora has a rich history of keeping their customs alive. Here are some of the ways they have achieved this:

Keeping Culture Alive Through Food

Food has been a powerful tool for Black people in the diaspora to preserve their culture. Families have not stopped cooking traditional meals just because they are in a foreign land. Some who cannot find the original ingredients from home have adapted and incorporated what’s available in their new environment. This has resulted in unique variations of traditional dishes that reflect the fusion of African and local cuisines. The recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, preserving the flavors and memories of these traditional dishes.

Africans in the diaspora also have food festivals that provide opportunities for sharing and preserving traditional recipes.

Pilau from Tanzania. Photo by RichardmwaikamboCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Read also:

The 5 Best Desserts from the African Diaspora

There are a variety of African desserts, some influenced by the foreign civilizations who settled on the continent, and others based on ingredients that are naturally accessible in the area. Read More » 


Through Cultural Festivals and Events

Many cities with a considerable amount of African diaspora populations host cultural festivals every year. Some of these festivals which have become famous over time attract people from far and wide. These events celebrate the identities, cultures, and traditions of diaspora communities, serving as a platform for sharing and experiencing African heritage. Notable examples include the Afro Nation Festival in Portugal, Africa Oyé in the UK, AfroFest in Toronto, Kenako Afrika Festival in Berlin, Odunde Festival in Philadelphia, AFRAM Festival in Baltimore, MD, and many others.

Different community gatherings promote a sense of belonging among participants. Some of these activities include African drumming circles, dance workshops, and storytelling sessions.

Nigerian drumming. Photo by Freepik

Read also:

The Odunde Festival Shaping Philadelphias Cultural Narrative

The Odunde Festival: Shaping Philadelphia’s Cultural Narrative

One of Philadelphia’s brightest cultural jewels is the Odunde Festival which draws up to 500,000 people annually to celebrate African culture. Read More » 


Preserving African Identity Through Traditional Clothing and Fashion

For many in the diaspora, traditional or cultural clothing is more than just clothes. They mean so much more; they are symbols of identity, spirituality, and community. These attires are powerful means of preserving and promoting African history and culture. Those in the diaspora proudly wear traditional clothing for special occasions, religious ceremonies, and cultural events as a way to honor their ancestral roots and proudly showcase their cultural identity. 

Designers are adding a new twist by incorporating traditional African fabrics like Ankara and Kente designs into contemporary fashion. Not only does this preserve traditional fashion, but it is also an avenue to promote cultural pride and awareness. So go on and rock those Ankaras, show off those Kentes with pride, and strut into church in your dashikis.

Woman wearing headwrap and Ankara dress. Image by Freepik

Read also:

Colorful threads of culture Traditional African attires across the continent

Colorful threads of culture: Traditional African attires across the continent

Africans are known for their colorful and vibrant attires, which are often displayed during cultural events. Read More » 


Sustaining African Customs in Diaspora Through Language

Many families in the diaspora are taking steps to preserve their ancestral language. They ensure their children learn to speak these languages alongside the dominant language of their country of residence.

Also, there are community centers and cultural organizations that offer classes in African languages like Swahili, Yoruba, and others. By offering these classes, the younger generations are empowered to connect with their roots and ensure these languages are kept alive.

As the world embraces technology, online platforms and apps, where one can learn African languages have also sprung up, making the process easier and more accessible to a global audience.

Read also:

Kiswahili how a standard version of the east African language was formed  and spread across the world

Kiswahili: how a standard version of the east African language was formed – and spread across the world

Kiswahili originated in east Africa, spreading around the continent and the globe. Read More » 


Using Religious Practices to Keep African Customs Alive

The diaspora has found creative ways to keep their ancestors' customs via African spiritual practices and religions. Some of the practices have been adapted to their new environments and blended with local beliefs, creating unique expressions of faith that still hold core African spiritual principles. Santeria in the Caribbean (a blend of Yoruba beliefs and Catholicism), Haitian Vodou (combining West African Vodou with Catholicism and indigenous Taíno practices), and others are practiced and celebrated in diaspora communities.

Temples, churches, and spiritual centers provide spaces for worship and spiritual gatherings, helping to pass down traditions to younger generations.

Read also:

Yoruba gods that influence lives

Yoruba gods that influence lives

The Yoruba people of West Africa have a rich and varied mythology. Their gods and goddesses cover a wide range of topics, from love and fertility to war and death. Read More » 


Keeping African Customs Alive Via Music, Dance, and Storytelling

Africans outside the continent have kept tradition, cultures, and practices alive through song and dance, storytelling, and oral hand-downs. African slaves adapted oral storytelling traditions from their ancestors, passing down stories, myths, and legends from generation to generation. These stories serve as a reminder of who they are and where they come from.

Did you know that Africans across the globe have music for different occasions? There are songs for marriage ceremonies, birth, burials, farming seasons, hunting, and others. These songs are passed down through families and communities to the next generation of individuals who will keep the torch burning.

Traditional African dance is a powerful way the diaspora preserves customs. If you have ever seen a typical African dance performance, you would know that it is not just something improvised on the spot or casually learned. The symbolic gestures and precision are a testament to generations of practice. These dances are taught and performed at cultural events, dance schools, and community centers. There are specific dances with cultural significance.

Traditional African dance. Image by KayspectaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Read also:

Sankofa Embracing the African Concept of Learning from the Past

Sankofa: Embracing the African Concept of Learning from the Past

This concept emphasizes the importance of drawing wisdom and knowledge from one's history to navigate today's and tomorrow's challenges. Read More » 


Through Art and Craft

From intricate sculptures to symbolic textiles, diaspora communities are preserving their rich cultural heritage through various artistic forms. These arts and crafts convey various meanings that are passed down to generations. They serve as a visual language that narrates the stories, beliefs, and customs passed down through generations. For example, no two Zulu bead designs are ever the same as they convey different meanings.

As a way to prevent their customs from disappearing, Diaspora communities establish institutions dedicated to preserving and showcasing African art, history, and traditions. Art galleries and cultural exhibitions showcase the works of artists in the diaspora, such as sculpture, beadwork, and textiles, preserving the artistic heritage.

There are also craft workshops and classes that teach traditional skills, ensuring they are passed down to future generations.

Africans in the diaspora are one set of people who have stayed intimately connected to their roots. Despite facing centuries of oppression, they have found ways to preserve their customs and forge new paths for future generations. They have not forgotten where they came from and have continued to keep in touch with happenings on the continent. The ways the diaspora keeps customs alive, passing them down to their children, is a testament to the enduring strength and adaptability of African culture.

Read also:

Zulu Beadwork A Cultural Tapestry of South Africa

Zulu Beadwork: A Cultural Tapestry of South Africa

Beyond its visual appeal, the beadwork holds significant cultural and social importance. It is a tangible manifestation of the Zulu people's values, beliefs, and history. Read More » 


Kente A symbol of the rich culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana

Kente: A symbol of the rich culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana

Traditionally, Kente cloth was reserved for Ashanti royalty, where it originated from, who wore it during sacred ceremonies. Read More » 


The Beauty of African Art Exploring the Richness of the Continents Creative Expression

The Beauty of African Art: Exploring the Richness of the Continent's Creative Expression

African art demonstrates the continent's people's ingenuity and talent. Read More » 


Read more from Gift Joe:

Cocoa and Shea Butters African Beauty Secret for Hair Care and Glowing Skin

Cocoa and Shea Butters: African Beauty Secret for Hair Care and Glowing Skin

Both are nourishing skincare ingredients that are known to help your skin feel healthy and smooth. Read More » 


June Travel Destinations: Where To Go For The Perfect Summer Vacation

According to St. Augustine, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” Read More » 


Favorite American Foods You Didnt Know Originated From Africa

Favorite American Foods You Didn’t Know Originated From Africa

There is a probability that something you ate or drank today was first brought to America by slaves from Africa. Read More »