In relocation diffusion, cultural elements such as ideas, religions, cuisines, and customs are spread overseas by people when they move to a new place. At the same time, the prominence of these cultural elements in their place of origin diminishes or disappears completely.
What occurs is a shift of a culture from one place to another:
- The culture becomes more prominent somewhere new, and
- The culture becomes less prominent in its place of origin.
In other words, the culture relocates.
Relocation diffusion is different from other kinds of diffusion such as contagious diffusion or hierarchical diffusion in that these are types of expansion diffusion. This means that in their case, an idea originates from a place and spreads outwards while maintaining its hold on the source of its origin.
Whereas in the case of relocation diffusion, the idea may or may not be present at its source after the act of relocation, having completely been ‘diffused’ to a new geographical location.
Examples of Relocation Diffusion
1. Blues Music
Blues has elements of African music that were taken to the United States by slaves. Its popularity subsided in Africa but remained strong in the USA for many decades.
Blues is a genre of music that originated from among the African American populations of the USA working on cotton plantations as slaves.
Modern Blues, as we know it, began life in the American South in the 19th century out of a fusion of African music that the slaves brought with them from Africa, with Christian Gospel musics of the European settlers.
The ethnomusicologist Kubik Gerhard called West Africa the “cradle of the blues” because of the heavy influence of the music that West African slaves brought with them to America (Gerhard, 1999).
Blues is characterized by a style known as call-and-response, in which the songs are composed in a two-phrase pattern, with the second phrase being a direct response or commentary on the first.
This call-and-response is a distinctive style found in West African music, and upon the forced relocation of West African slaves to America, it developed into what is known as the Blues.
While in America Blues became a definitive style of music, further evolving into other popular genres such as Rock n’ Roll, little remained of the genre in its original home of West Africa itself, until it was revived in the late 20th century by artists such as Ali Farka Toure.
Hinduism is said to have originated in central Asia but is now predominantly found in India, and far less common in central Asian locations like Afghanistan.
Hinduism is one of the oldest religions of the world, and as a result, its exact origins are hard to pinpoint.
However, the most widely accepted theory of the origin of Hinduism is that it was brought to the Indian subcontinent by migrants from central Asia. These migrants composed the series of Hindu scriptures known as the Vedas. Historians place this example of cultural diffusion at sometime around 2000 B.C.
This theory is referred to as the Aryan invasion theory.
While the religion and culture brought by the Aryan migrants from Central Asia took root in the Indian sub-continent, it disappeared almost completely from the source of its origin.
Traces of Hindu culture are now to be found only among remote, secluded Central Asian tribes such as the pagan Kalash people of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan (Rickett, 2011).
In some ways mirroring the trajectory of Hinduism, Buddhism too was taken to different parts of the world by migrants and traders, while it slowly died out from the land of its origin.
Buddhism originated in present-day India and Nepal around 500 BC as a protestant movement against Hinduism.
It soon spread to much of Central, and East Asia from India through trade routes and migration.
However, within a few centuries, Buddhism disappeared from India and Nepal while it flourished in East and South-East Asia, where it continues to remain the dominant religion.
4. Amish Settlements in the United States
The Amish are a socio-religious community that originated in Europe but are now found almost exclusively in the north-eastern United States and south-eastern Canada.
The Amish are distinguishable from other Christian communities due to their insistence on adherence to a simple life that emphasizes rural and agrarian values and skepticism towards the conveniences of modern life.
The Amish church was formed in the late 17th century after a rift among Swiss Anabaptist Christians and the faith soon spread to neighboring southern Germany.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, most of the European Amish migrated to the United States, in particular to Pennsylvania. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Amish faith had vanished from Europe but was thriving in the United States (Crowley, 1978).
Curry is a popular dish brought to the western hemisphere by the Indian diaspora. So popular has curry become in the UK that is often called the “adopted national dish”.
Curry Houses are a common sight in the UK, with the word “curry” being associated with a certain type of spicy food that uses an assortment of rich ingredients and requires elaborate preparation.
However, in India, there is no specific dish called the curry. The word “curry” (pronounced Kadhi) simply means a sauce (Collingham, 2007).
Any food item can be converted into a curry, and it is rarely a grand affair. Most Indian “curries” are simple meals consisting of little more than vegetables, onions, and salt boiled in water, closer to what in the west would be called a stew or a broth.
Thus, in the process of relocation from India to the west, the curry has acquired meanings that were not present in its original home and has also acquired a popularity and fame not enjoyed by it at home where it is a humble food preparation of everyday consumption.
6. The American Log Cabin
Relocation diffusion can be observed in architectural styles as well, such as with American log cabins. Log cabins were originally popularized in Scandinavia but are now popular in the USA and uncommon in Scandinavia.
The log cabin or the log house is an important cultural marker of the American identity, associated with the pioneer culture and hardy lifestyle of early settlers to North America (Belonsky, 2018).
Log cabins were brought to America by the first wave of European migrants, especially from Scandinavia, who settled along the north-eastern coast of the United States.
Beginning with the 19th century, in a twin-layered process of relocation diffusion, the log cabin spread to much of the United States and Canada, just as it was being replaced in its original European home by modern housing.
Shortly thereafter, in the 20th century, the log cabin began to disappear from much of northeastern United States as well, replaced by brick houses.
However, it spread across the American plains, where this architectural style was diffused by the relocation of migrants from the northeastern United States westwards into the American hinterland. (Kilpinen, 1995)
Thus, in a two-step relocation process, the log cabin first diffused from Scandinavia to the northeastern United States while disappearing from the former, and then diffused further from the northeastern United States to the American midwest and the South, disappearing once again from the former.
7. English Language Diffusion
The English language originated from a blend of Germanic dialects spoken by tribes such as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes who migrated to Britain during the early Middle Ages. Over time, it evolved into Middle and then Modern English, absorbing elements from Latin, French, and other languages.
English was then exported to different parts of the world through British colonialism and trade in the 17th to 20th centuries, most notably to North America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa and Asia.
In regions like India and the Philippines, English has been adapted to local linguistic landscapes, leading to unique dialects and pidgin forms. In places such as Scandinavia, the language is taught extensively as a second language, making the population highly proficient in it.
The irony is that Old English, the dialect from which Modern English originated, is barely intelligible to modern speakers and is largely a subject of academic study. The language has evolved and adapted in different geographical regions, distancing itself considerably from its roots.
Christianity, which originated in the eastern Mediterranean, primarily in the region that is modern-day Israel and Palestine, was spread extensively through relocation diffusion.
Early followers of Jesus Christ spread his teachings throughout the Roman Empire, leading to the establishment of Christian communities in places as diverse as Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople.
Christianity was then propagated further through European colonialism and missionary activities, most notably to the Americas, Africa, and Asia starting from the late 15th century onwards.
The historian Philip Jenkins notes that the “Global South” is the new center of Christianity, as the religion has gained massive following in regions like Africa and Latin America (Jenkins, 2002).
In the Americas, particularly in Latin America, Christianity transformed into various forms, incorporating indigenous beliefs and practices. Today, Latin America is home to some of the world’s largest Christian populations, practicing a form of Christianity that is significantly different from its Mediterranean roots.
Back in the Middle East, where Christianity was born, the religion is now a minority faith, especially with the rise of Islam in the 7th century. Despite its dwindling numbers in its place of origin, the religion has become a global faith, shaping cultures and civilizations around the world.
9. The Spread of Sushi
Sushi, a traditional dish from Japan, has undergone vast diffusion and transformation as it has spread around the world. Initially, sushi was a method of preserving fish by fermenting it in rice for several months.
Over time, this evolved into what the Japanese recognize today as sushi: a dish comprising vinegared rice combined with various ingredients, such as seafood, vegetables, and occasionally tropical fruits.
While authentic sushi places can be found around the world, localized versions have emerged. For instance, in Brazil, you might find sushi rolls with mango, cream cheese, and strawberry sauce. In the United States, the concept of fusion sushi led to rolls filled with cooked meats like chicken or beef, or even deep-fried sushi rolls.
Though the dish has been adapted in myriad ways to suit various cultural tastes, its essence as a combination of rice and other components remains. Yet, many of these global sushi varieties might be unrecognizable in its native Japan, a testament to how relocation diffusion can lead to significant cultural evolution.
10. The Parsis
Parsis are the followers of the Zoroastrian faith that flourished around 2000 BC in Persia. After the Islamic conquest of Iran, most adopted the Islamic faith, while the rest migrated to the western coast of the Indian subcontinent.
An oft-repeated oral history of Parsi relocation tells of an Indian king.
This king learned that a ship containing Parsi migrants had arrived on the coast, and sent them a bowl of milk filled to the brim. This was an indication that his kingdom was already brimming with people and there was no place to accommodate new arrivals.
The Parsis, in reply, sprinkled the bowl of milk with a pinch of sugar, indicating that they would live among the Indians like a pinch of sugar in a bowl of milk – not only would they not let the milk spill over, but would also enrich it with sweetness (Nelson & Silva, 2008).
The parable stands as a metaphor for relocation diffusion itself, showing how relocation allows for diffusion of culture to other places, enriching them like sugar sweetens milk.
True to the nature of the parable, Parsis have formed a small but highly influential community that has contributed to business, arts, science, and literature of whichever country they have migrated to, far out of proportion to their minuscule numbers.
In India, despite their small and diminishing population (the Parsi population in India is estimated to be around 69,000, which is also the single largest concentration of Parsis in the world), Parsis have had a major impact in shaping the culture of western India, especially in the development of the metropolitan city of Mumbai (Bombay).
For instance, in the field of business, Ratan Tata, an Indian Parsi, and chairman of the Tata Group that owns the luxury carmaker Jaguar Landrover among other firms, is one of the richest men in the world and a well-known philanthropist.
In the 20th century, Parsis have migrated from India to several other countries, where they continue to contribute to all fields of human endeavor.
Perhaps the most famous Parsi is Freddie Mercury who was born Farrokh Balsara to an Indian Parsi family that later migrated to the UK.
Other notable Parsis in the field of the arts include Rohinton Mistry, a Canadian novelist born in India who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize on two occasions, and Homi K. Bhabha, one of the best-known critical theorists.
Thus, while the Zoroastrian faith and Parsi culture died out in Persia itself, through their relocation, Parsis have been able to diffuse their culture to various parts of the world. In regions where they are concentrated in significant numbers, they have had a major impact in shaping the cultural, social, and political lives of the region.
Relocation diffusion is a unique type of cultural diffusion in which elements of a culture are brought to a new geography by migrants, while at the same time the hold of the culture diminishes or vanishes completely in its original home.
Since the history of mankind on earth is one of constant migration, we can think of as many examples of relocation diffusion as there have been mass migrations of people on earth.
Culture, thus, is rarely static and is constantly being both reinforced and eroded by arrivals and departures.
Belonsky, A (2018) How the log cabin became an American symbol Mentalfloss https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/540212/how-log-cabin-became-american-symbol
Collingham, L. (2007) Curry: A tale of cooks and conquerors. Oxford University Press.
Crowley, W.K. (1978) Old order Amish settlement: Diffusion and growth. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 68(2), 249-264. Doi: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2562217
Gerhard, K. (1999) Africa and the Blues. Mississippi: University of Mississippi Press.
Kilpinen, J.T. (1995) The front-gabled log cabin and the role of the Great Plains in the formation of the mountain west’s built landscape. Great Plains Quarterly, 15(1), 19-31. Doi: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23531771
Nelson, D. and Silva, N. (2008) Sugar in the milk: A Parsi kitchen story. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2008/03/20/88505980/sugar-in-the-milk-a-parsi-kitchen-story
Ricektt, O. (2011) Culture Kalash in Pakistan The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2011/apr/17/pakistan-taliban-hindu-kush
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]