Saturday, March 17, 2018

Finding Your Wakanda Africa with DNA Testing


The instantly iconic Marvel Comics film Black Panther (2018) sparked an epic socio-cultural movement by the masses to take pride in their African roots, to don haute tribal couture, and even hold voter registration drives at movie theaters. Featuring a mostly Black cast and a young African-American director, Ryan Coogler, the nascent epic triggered one of those Malcolm Gladwell tipping points—an uplifting of our collective self-image; a renewed conversation sparked between African-Americans and continental Africans about their connection, and a vibrant curiosity in people lusting to find their specific African roots.

It harkened me back to my adolescence when I was known as "The Great Black One" and became the first student at my famous high school ("Lean On Me") to found an African-American club. My conscience allowed me to exude the same African pride I'm seeing today. Of course my T'Challa then was Kunte Kinte, the Mandinka warrior from the village of Juffra in present-day Gambia.

I knew it would be nearly impossible to find a paper trail like that of Alex Haley's "factional" Roots because the proof was invisible, scarce and scant...we didn't even have the internet. Yet I've always carried within me an innate desire to know more about the beauty, culture, identity, and power that was raped from us. Can I now find my pot of Kwandan vibranium, or was it forever plundered like Akan gold?


It wasn't until 2012 as genetic genealogist "King Genome" that I discovered I can use DNA testing to find the specific tribal origins of my enslaved African ancestors. In this blog I'm going to discuss (1) how to identify your genetic African relatives; (2) you'll "meet" four of my African cousins, and (3) I'll tell you about a fascinating African named Ari Van Guinea, who became the richest Black man in New Jersey 50 years before the US Revolutionary War.


Me as "The Great Black One" at Eastside High School, Paterson, NJ, circa 1990 
Wakanda, Africa, is not a real place. Academic Jelani Cobb wrote in his New Yorker magazine review: "Africa—or, rather, “Africa”—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely beside the point."

For the majority of African descendants in the Americas our "Africa" might as well be in Wakanda because our actual ethnic origins felt like a sort of mythical—and stereotypical—place often shaped by what we saw on TV, absorbed in schools, read in books or ingrained in our psyche by a society still shackled by the psychological chains of chattel slavery. A desert. A disease. A famine. A jungle. A place with primitive people who lived somewhere in the Motherland.

I certainly didn't learn about real-life kingdoms like Manden Kurufaba (Mali Empire), or the fierce Dahomey Amazons of Benin, or the fact that Ethiopia has never been colonized by Europeans. Or that Africa has lush and luxe beauty. Black Panther director Coogler as co-writer was brilliant to draw on these factual gems to create a desirable place to claim like Wakanda.

I was raised around African immigrant communities in the New York City area, and exposed to great Africana intellectuals (Drs. John Henrik Clarke, Wendell Holbrook, Said Samatar, Yosef Ben-Johchannan, Amiri Baraka, Clement A. Price) during my college years at Rutgers University. But in my home ghetto there was no common fellowshipping between Africans and African-Americans about our blood connection to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The concept seemed to be as foreign to them as their (and our) ancestral homeland was to us.

The point is it took a heroic landmark film about a Black Marvel Comics superhero and an imaginary African utopia to get the masses interested in using DNA testing as a tool to learn about their true Africa. 
Let's start our Sankofa...

INTRO TO FINDING AFRICAN DNA MATCHES

To begin your search for African ancestors who were likely brought here as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade you're required to put yourself in a certain psyche—free of judgment, absurd Eurocentric conventions, cultural appropriation, social constructs and other subterfuge. You must understand that the ethnogenesis of Africa and forced peopling of the Americas is severally complex. So before we get started there's 4 points we must first confront:
  • We are Pan Africans. Most of us never knew our specific roots to Africa so we adopted a de facto Pan-African identity. As it turns out we were right all along. African descendants in the Americas come from many tribes, ethnic groups and biogeography—mostly western Africa but also eastern, northern, southern and island Africa (ie Cabo Verde, Madagascar, Sao Tome & Principe, Zanzibar) too. During the Trans-Atlantic slave trade European colonial powers like the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch West India Company and British Royal African Company traded with African rulers. Once enslaved Africans were disembarked in the Americas, they were frequently sold off to other regions, families were ripped apart, and there was widespread slave breeding. Some enslaved Africans were first seasoned in the Caribbean islands (ie BarbadosCuracao) before arriving in U.S., or they were intercepted due to piracy and the "black market." Indigenous Africans were also ethnically mixed before arriving here. Events like the Bantu ExpansionIndonesian settlement in Madagascar; Arabic Indian Ocean slave tradeTrans-Saharan trading  routeSpread of Islam, as well as historic inter- and intra-tribal trading and warfare ensured opportunity for African populations to mingle. 
  • Claiming False Identities. "Woke" folks (Afrocentrists, Hotep's) have taken Pan-Africanism to another level by erroneously claiming roots to ancient Egyptians or Hebrew Israelites without real proof of such connections. Although scientific studies detect an ancient black African presence in North Africa (see Loosdrecht et alD'Atanasio et alSchuenemann et al), these ancient Africans are likely not related to us. Likewise there's a Jewish component in the Lemba people of Zimbabwe, but they were not involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. African roots-seekers must understand that modern-day nations didn't exist during our slave era and names of ethnic groups of today may have changed. Therefore it is imperative to study the history of tribes, be respectful of how they self-identify, and rational about what set you claim (pun intended).
  • Chasing Phantom Surnames. Surnames present a special obstacle for genealogy researchers of enslaved African ancestors. For example females who were allowed to marry during and immediately after slavery often didn't have a last name or took on the surname name of her husband or enslaver. After emancipation formerly enslaved Africans often changed their surnames or adopted new ones. Unlike European-descended men who are able to trace their Y-chromosome DNA to surname pedigrees dating before 16th century, African descended men with African-specific paternal haplogroups run into a dead end during slavery era because of surnames with no biological relationship to them. [See my Guide to Building Your Family's Haplotree]
  • Ethnicity Estimates. Many people take a DNA test, see a certain ethnicity percentage (ie 20% Nigerian) and use it to claim a tribe (Igbo). Nope. Bluntly ethnicity estimates will NOT identify your specific tribe. Your ethnicity percentages won't literally mean you’re related to or have any genealogical connection whatsoever to that specific ethnicity. By design ethnicity estimates only offer a speculative analysis based on the statistical probability of how similar your DNA is to a selected set of reference populations. Another problem is genetically distinct African reference populations (Fula and Igbo) are grouped broadly by biogeography (West African) so not very ancestry informative. AncestryDNA states, "...while a prediction of genetic ethnicity from this region suggests a connection to the groups occupying this location, it is not conclusive evidence of membership to any particular tribe or ethnic group." [For best use of admixture estimates see my Ethnicity Chromosome Mapping]
FINDING AFRICAN MATCHES USING DNA TESTS

The following 5 (five) STEPS will help you identify your African relatives:
    • King Genome's Decree: Culinary Historian Michael Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene, and genealogist Hasani Carter-Nze have not only used the methods below to contact their matches, they've met them on African soil. 
STEP 1: Choosing the Right DNA Test
I always tell people to test at ALL major DNA companies offering Autosomal DNA (atDNA) testing, a two-prong analysis which (1) provides an estimate of your ethnic admixture broken down into percentages, and (2) matches you to biological relatives going back about 500 years; see Types of DNA TestingYou must expose yourself to as many genetic relatives as possible to optimize your chances of meeting an African cousin. So atDNA testing is perfect for detecting African relatives who may share common ancestry from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era. Here's my TOP Recommendations:  
  •  23andMe ($99 U.S. for ancestry-only) has ~5 million testers and many  continental Africans in their database due to successful recruitment initiatives like the current 2018 Global Genetics Project and 2016 African Genetics Project, both which tested (for free) people whose grandparents were born in African countries connected to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 23andMe has been progressive about improving African genetic diversity with such past efforts as Roots Into The Future Project and African American Sequencing Project23andMe includes your haplogroup assignments (low resolution) with your ancestry reports. Offers a chromosome browser, triangulation tools and exceptional chromosome painting. 
  • AncestryDNA ($79 U.S.) has ~7 million testers in their ever-multiplying database, well over 1 billion records (requires subscription) and family-tree building program. By sheer numbers alone you be guaranteed to find a biological African cousin. AncestryDNA has the most granular African breakdown and builds their reference populations based on modern-day nations ensuring diverse representation. Has "Mutual Matches" (in common with) tool but is missing crucial chromosome browser and triangulation tools. 
  • Gedmatch (FREE raw data upload) is a utility with a database of DNA testers, including continental Africans, from all the major DNA companies. In this way you can compare yourself to customers who didn't test at same place as you. Allows for advanced triangulation and phasing for optimal sharing/matching capabilities. 
    • Honorable Mentions: MyHeritage (free raw data upload or $69 US) is a newcomer autosomal-DNA test on the market. Growing as fast as Black Panther's box office sales, it has over 1.2 millions customers so Africans will eventually show up there too. Offers cutting-edge chromosome browser, triangulation tools, family tree building and access to genealogy records (fees apply). FamilyTreeDNA (from $79 US or selective free transfer) is a major player offering excellent genealogy tools and projects to optimize your genetic genealogy experience. But has lower number of African atDNA testers. Offers the best mtDNA and Y-DNA testing on market.
King Genome's Tip: While waiting on your DNA results, spend some time learning about how genetic ancestry works [join my Facebook groups Africana Genetic Genealogy Consortium (advanced level), African Diaspora Ancestry Explorer: Cypher]; study the local histories of your ancestors; as well as search databases like slavevoyages.org, and genealogy collections like this one from the Louisiana Slave Records:
            

    STEP 2: Filtered Searches

    My recommended DNA tests each provide a search function (some work better than others) with their genetic matching feature. Since your African matches may not be immediately visible, you'll have to perform a filtered search to find them. Use these tips: 
    • Do a search by location (ie African country or city) to see if any matches show up with listing the information. 
    • Do a page-by-page search of your genetic matches looking for African names, ethnicity (100% African admixture results) or nationality identifying information, family trees listing African surnames. Start first with your last page of matches and go forward because your African matches will likely appear there first.
    • Always check for new matches, annotate and "star" potential African match profiles.
    STEP 3: Weighing the "Strength" of the DNA Match

    Since most of our African ancestors arrived in the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries this means most of our African matches should show up as distant relatives (4th cousins or higher). However distant matches can be troublesome because they may not be real or impossible to trace. Knowing how much DNA you share with a match AND whether the match shares DNA with your other DNA tested relatives is required to confirm a African match. As you explore your matches here are the main strength tests you must apply:
    • LEGITIMATE MATCHING THRESHOLD —DNA segment size matters. The general acceptable genetic genealogy standard for a legitimate match (identical by descent) is sharing DNA segments 7 centimorgan (cM) / 700 SNPs (@ 1cM per 100 SNPs) or higher. Any DNA relative sharing below this acceptable threshold is prone to a high rate of being false positive (identical by state), or impossible to verify because your DNA relative shares the same exact DNA segment with hundreds of other people (identical by population). As such you will commonly share between 7cM/700 SNPs (5-7th cousin range) and ~20cM /2000 SNPs (4-5th cousin range) with African relatives connected to the Middle Passage. Genetic genealogy experts recommend working with matches sharing above 10cM /1000 SNPs with the largest single segment size 10cM, for the most reliable genetic relationship.  NEVER lower the Gedmatch cM/SNP default to force a match.
    • PHASING — If you and your parent(s) take a DNA test (preferably at the same service), then you’ll be able to determine which parent through which you share an African; this process is known as phasing. In general sharing a DNA match with a parent increases the odds that the kinship is legitimate. Testing your parent's parent would increase the strength of your DNA match...pointedly if all of you share DNA with the match at the same chromosomal location. Phasing across generations can be used to affirmatively prove and disprove DNA matches.
    • TRIANGULATION  Another great way to confirm the legitimacy of a DNA match is through triangulation. If you, your African match, and other close DNA-tested relatives share overlapping segment(s) at the same chromosomal location then it’s extremely likely you all share a common African ancestor. Also smaller segment matches (sharing <10cM /1000 SNPs) can be easier to be confirm or disprove with triangulation. 
    • IN COMMON WITH (ICW) — If you share your African DNA match with other known DNA-tested relatives, it may strengthen the possibility that your African match is real and determine what particular branch of your family it may be on. However ICW comparisons are not as reliable as triangulation and must be scrutinized. For example you and a cousin may share DNA with a mutual African match on different chromosomal locations suggesting the African match may be related to your cousin in an entirely different way by coincidence.    
    STEP 4: Confirming Your DNA Match is Actually "African"

    Just because your genetic match has a high amount of African DNA, it does not mean your match is of recent African descent. Some people in the U.S., Caribbean and Central/South America can show as much as African admixture as continental Africans. Take a look at the admixture estimates of my DNA match who tested at both 23andMe and AncestryDNA:
    23andMe 100% African ancestry profile match - Ancestry Composition comparison to me
    AncestryDNA 100% African ancestry profile match to my father 
    My match shows ~100% African admixture on 23andMe and AncestryDNA. The 23andMe report shows her ethnicity profile vs. mines, but the AncestryDNA results show her amount of shared DNA with my father. The match shares too much DNA (3 segments, 25.2 cM) with my father for her to be of recent African ancestry. Further the match has a lot of major African Ethnicity subregions; continental African profiles usually average 2 or 3. 

    After contacting my match I learned that she is from South Carolina Lowcountry where African-Americans have the highest amount of African ancestry on average (see Bryc et al). 
    • King Genome's Tip: Check out Fonte Felipe's excellent blog Tracing African Roots to view an array of African DNA profiles.
    STEP 5: Contacting Your African DNA Match

    The final step is perhaps the most emotional and challenging. Once you've identified a potential African match, you must attempt to contact them. You must verify any that information your match provides. Please use these quick tips for successful initial contact:
    • Do take time to craft a short, thoughtful response to your DNA match. Be sure to include  information about your family, locations, links to family tree, etc. Messages that are vague or too long may be ignored by your match. 
    • Do ask your match if he/she is of recent African descent and if he/she is comfortable revealing his/her specific tribe(s), ethnic group(s), nation(s) and family/clan surnames.  
    • Do be aware of any cultural and language differences between you and the match. Your match may have problems understanding you or what you're trying to convey (and vice versa). 
    • Do be very patient with hearing from matches. The match (or account administrator) may not check their messages for a variety of reasons: no interest, loss of password, family issues, illness, death, etc. It's OK to send another message in about 6 to 8 weeks.
    • Don't ask for personal information (address, birthday, marital status, alien status etc).
    • Don't express a sense of entitlement (your match owes you nothing) or expect your match to know how they connect to you. 
    • Don't stalk, pressure or force your matches into communicating with you or giving up their family information. 
    My Wakanda, AFRICA, Roots 

    The moment of truth is here. I present four of my African DNA matches and get to tell you about a fascinating man named Ari Van Guinea. Let the voices inside my head guide you (and enjoy the mood song below):

     

    AFRICAN MATCH #1

    I discovered this African match on AncestryDNA. We are considered a "moderate" because we only share 8cM on one segment. This might be a connection to an earlier part of Trans-Atlantic slave trade. He doesn't match any of my other known DNA relatives or father:  
    Based on my match's Ethnicity Estimate, Cameroon/Congo and African Southeastern Bantu comprise the majority of his admixture. Luckily AncestryDNA has a new feature that compares our Ethnicity Estimate to our DNA matches. His admixture proportions indicate recent Cameroonian ancestry: 
        

    I made successful contact with the match, and he hails from Douala, Cameroon. He belongs to the Duala ethnic group which includes many sub-groups. His father is Abo and his mother is Abo and Ewodi. He also indicated the further he went back in his pedigree, the more he found roots to other Duala ethnic groups. He was gracious enough to provide me his family surnames, too.
    More About the Tribe(s)
    Tribe: Abo, Ewodi
    Ethnic Group: Duala
    Biogeography: Douala, Littoral region, Cameroon
    Related Groups: Bodiman, Pongo, BakoleBakweri (or Kwe), BambokoIsubu (Isuwu or Bimbians), Limba (or Malimba), MungoWovea [Wikipedia]

    Connection to Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade:
    "The Duala had long kept and traded slaves, who lived in separate settlements and performed menial tasks such as cultivation. Slave owners could only trade their slaves to other Duala, however, and owners were responsible for paying their slaves' debts and arranging their marriages. With the Europeans providing such a hungry market, however, these customs gave way. The main Duala villages soon grew into a prospering township named Douala for the people who lived there. The coastal Duala purchased goods and slaves from interior groups such as the Bakweri, Mungo, Bassa and Bakoko. In turn, they sold these items to the Europeans, typically aboard their ships (and later at mainland factories or stores). In exchange, the Europeans provided alcohol, gunpowder, guns, mirrors, shoes, textiles, and tools." [Wikipedia]
    I'm not sure if I'm Ewodi, Abo, or related tribes but I assume it's on my maternal side of the family. However I can affirm our shared DNA represents a common ancestor from the Duala ethnic group. It makes sense because they live on the coast and was involved in slave trading with the Portuguese followed by the British. By the mid-1700's the area where our common ancestor was likely taken from was known as Bight of Biafra and included 3 ports, BonnyElem Kalabari (or New Calabar) and Old Calabar, accounting over 90% of enslaved people from this area. There's also the possibility this ancestry could be from the early-18th century and theoretically an interior Duala tribe via the Wouri and Senega rivers whose progeny now identify as Abo and/or Ewodi today. 

    AFRICAN MATCH #2

    On 23andMe, I got a good African DNA match who shares with me 13cM's on one DNA segment as well as triangulates with my father and brother at the same chromosomal location further strengthening that our shared DNA is legit and on my paternal side of the family. The match also shares DNA with 16 other relatives who share ancestry on my father's maternal side:


    According to my match's 23andMe profile we are predicted to be possibly 5th cousins sharing 4th great-grandparents (most of mines would've been enslaved), and most tellingly my match listed the birthplace of all 4 four grandparents being born in Nigeria:

    I contacted my match and she told me that she was from the Igbo tribe of Enugu state in Nigeria. Her family lived in the area for generations although she learned that one of her grandparents may have been mixed. Judging by her 23andMe chromosome painting (below) she's about 99.8% African with the majority of that being similar to West African. The 0.4% Central & South African is ancient population structure: 

    Please note the small Native American and European is unstable (it disappears at higher confidence intervals), and shows on a variety of 23andMe's West African ancestry profiles.

    More About the Tribe(s)
    Tribe: Igbo
    Ethnic Group: Igbo
    Biogeography: Enugu State, Nigeria
    Related Groups: AniomaAgboAroEddaEkpeyeEtcheEzzaIkaIkwerreIkwo
    OrattaUbaniUkwuani [Wikipedia]

    Presence in Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade:
    "The Igbo in the Atlantic slave trade became one of the main ethnic groups enslaved in the era lasting between the 16th and late 19th century. Located near indigenous Igbo territory, the Bight of Biafra (also known as the Bight of Bonny), became the principal area in obtaining Igbo slaves.The Bight’s major slave trading ports were located in Bonny and Calabar; a large number of these slaves Igbo. Slaves, kidnapped or bought from fellow Igbos, were taken to Europe and the Americas by European slave traders. An estimated 14.6% of slaves were taken from the Bight of Biafra between 1650 and 1900, the third greatest percentage in the era of the transatlantic slave trade....The Igbo were dispersed to colonies such as Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Barbados, United States, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago among others...In the United States the Igbo were commonly found in the states of Maryland and Virginia." [Wikipedia]
    Most likely me and my match's enslaved Igbo ancestor were sold to Europeans by the powerful Aro Confederacy. The Aro kidnapped and purchased slaves from the Igbo hinterland. "Most Igbo slaves were not victims of slave-raiding wars or expeditions, but were sometimes debtors and people who committed what their communities considered to be abominations or crime," states Wikipedia. Accordingly one of our Igbo ancestors could have been captured from a village in the Enugu region for a variety of reasons and then ended up a prisoner of the Middle Passage leaving from one of three major ports on the Bight of Biafra and ending up in the Carolinas or Georgia where my father's maternal ancestors hail. This ancestor could have been first seasoned in the Caribbean noting I've several matches from Jamaica on my paternal side.

    MY AFRICAN MATCH #3

    My next strong African DNA match is on AncestryDNA. The match shares 9.8 cM's on one segment with me and triangulates with my father solidifying this as a legitimate match. My match's Ethnicity Estimate major regions show Ivory/Coast Ghana and next-door Benin/Togo with a trace of Cameroon/Congo. Otherwise the match is 100% African and has a public family tree listing surnames Mensah, Ewusi and Ama:

                     
    However what blew me away is the match shared a whopping 19.4 cMs on one segment with my dad, putting this ancestor's entry into the Middle Passage toward the end of slavery area as my father has no known recent African connections:

    As you can see below almost 75% of match's admixture is from Ivory Coast/Ghana @ 72%, with almost 26% similar to Benin/Togo and 2% to Cameroon/Congo. My match profile has no European or Asian admixture: 
     

    What makes this situation even better is that match reached out to my me. He first asked if my father was African because he shared such a nice chunk of DNA with my dad. Then he told me his family was from Accra and both parents were Fante from the Central region of Ghana, a significant center of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

    More about the tribe(s)
    Tribe: Fante
    Ethnic Group: Akan
    Biogeography: Cape Coast, Mankessim, Ghana; Ivory Coast
    Related Groups: Asante, Akuapem, Akwamu, and Akyem (together known as Twi), Agona, Kwahu, Wassa, Fante (Anomabo, Abura, Gomua) and Bono. Subgroups of the Bia-speaking groups include: Anyin, Baoulé, Chakosi (Anufo), Sefwi (Sehwi), Nzema, Ahanta and Jwira-Pepesa. (Wikipedia)

    Presence In Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade:
    "The Akan goldfields, according to Peter Bakewell, were the "highly auriferous area in forest country between the Komoe and Volta rivers. The Akan goldfield was one of three principal goldfields in the region, along with theThis wealth in gold attracted European traders. Initially, the Europeans were Portuguese, soon joined by the Dutch and British in their quest for Akan gold. Akan states waged wars on neighboring states in their geographic area to capture people and sell them as slaves to Europeans (Portuguese) who subsequently sold the enslaved people along with guns to Akan states in exchange for Akan gold. Akan gold was also used to purchase slaves from further up north via the Trans-Saharan route. The Akan purchased slaves in order to help clear the dense forests within Ashanti. About a third of the population of many Akan states were indentured servants (i.e. Non-Akan peoples)." [Wikipedia]
    The Fante have been dealing with European slave traders since the 15th century, starting with the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, British, Danish and Swedish. Notably Elmina, Ghana, just west of Cape Coast and Accra, was the first European settlement in Africa and became a famous slave-trading post by the 18th century. It is estimated that over 50% of enslaved Africans come from Ghana and it appears our common ancestor was one of them. It is possible our shared Fante ancestor was captured in interior Ghana and subsequently sold in one of Ghana's coastal slave markets. An interesting note in history is slave traders sought Igbo women to pair with Coromantee (Akan) men to "subdue the men because of the belief that the women were bound to their first-born sons’ birthplace." [Wikipedia] I'm sure at some point I had a Fante ancestor from the Mensah or Ewusi or Ama family who met an Igbo woman that may have wound up in the cotton fields of central Mississippi where my paternal ancestors lived. 

    MY AFRICAN MATCH #4

    My final strong African DNA match is from 23andMe. I found him around 2012 using 23andMe's fantastic (and now defunct) "Countries of Ancestry" tool which allowed you to see where your DNA relatives matched you on the chromosomes; other shared DNA matches at that location, and the country of origins for each grandparent. In this manner I could easily identify my African ancestors especially those from one region. Accordingly my match was from Guinea and we seemed to share another connection to a DNA match from Jamaica:

    What made this match ("M") solid is that he matches my 96-year-old 1st cousin 2x  removed ("C") at 15cMs and her son ("R") at 12cMs at the same location on chromosome 7 so I'm able to triangulate across two generations. Also M shares even more DNA with C than with me and R, further strengthening the likelihood of a real genetic match (identical by descent). Thus I can determine with confidence that the Guinea match is on my maternal grandfather's mother side of the family:
     
    I was able to make successful contact with the match and he comes from the Pullo-Fulani tribe of the Futa Jallon region of Guinea-Conakry. He provided his family surnames and told me the history of his tribe. I was intrigued by my match's admixture results because the Fulani are thought to have ancestry from North Africa. His 23andMe Ancestry Composition was unlike my other West African matches: 















     As you can see only 72.2% of his African admixture is from West Africa with 8.1% coming from East Africa (Horn region), and 1.9% North African; the latter two was absent in my other African matches. My match also had 5.8% European, a much higher amount than with my other African matches. Bryc et al elucidates, "...the very distinct Fulani are part of a nomadic pastoralist population that occupies a broad geographical range across Central and Western Africa. Analyses... indicate that they share ancestry with Niger-Kordofanian, North African, and Central African Nilo-Saharan populations, as well as low levels of European and/or Middle Eastern ancestry." My match also had a moderate level of Unassigned ancestry @ 4.6% which is likely due to a dearth in Fulani testers and reference samples in     

    More About the Tribe(s)  
    Tribe: Pullo-Fulani
    Ethnic Group: Fulani or Fulbe
    Biogeography: Futa Jallon region of Guinea-Conakry, but also Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Cameroon, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Sudan, Chad, Mauritania
    Related Groups: Hausa, Kanuri, Toucouleur (Wikipedia)

    Presence In Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade:
    "Many Fulbe were taken captive to the Americas from the 16th through the 19th century as part of the Atlantic slave trade. They were largely captured from Senegal and Guinea, with a significant percentage also taken from Mali and Cameroon. Some Fulbe of note abducted into slavery were Bilali Muhammad...Some of Bilali Muhammad's known descendants still live on Sapelo IslandGeorgia, United States, and he also left descendants in the Lucayan Archipelago. Abdul-Rahman and many others likewise have many descendants across the Americas both as a result of their own destinations and as a consequence of continued trading in human life after initial abductions from Africa." (Wikipedia)
    According to The Root, "Beginning in the 1720s they [the Fula] became involved in a series of wars and/or jihads that increased the slave trade dramatically. After 1760, Sierra Leone, in particular, was affected by the major jihad in Futa Jallon. The Fulbe did not win all the wars waged during the period, and many ended up being sold as slaves across the Atlantic (while in the years in which they won, they sold many slaves)." At the time the Futa Jallon region stretched all the way to the coast where the city of Conakry is located. Our shared Fulani ancestor likely was a victim of a major jihad and ended up in colonial Northeast US:
    "With the arrival of slaves from the Guinea Coast, the West India Company initiated sales to private citizens. That decision prompted an unexpected controversy that had international complications. In 1652 pirates arrived in New Amsterdam with forty-four slaves they had captured in from Juan Gallardo Ferrera, a Spanish merchant. After the Dutch West India Company permitted city merchants to trade in slaves as chattel, the number of enslaved Africans arriving in the city jumped sharply. Direct trade with Africa began on September 15, 1655, with arrival in New Amsterdam of three hundred enslaved blacks. the ship master auctioned them off and netted above 1200 florins for each slave. the following year three more vessels arrived after a stop in Curacao. By agreement, two-thirds of each slave cargo came to New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant and local merchants sold many slaves to Virginia and Maryland, two English colonies that converted to unfree labor. Despite Stuyvesant's difficulties with his vice-governor, New Amsterdam was by 1600 the most important slave port with the largest population of slaves in North America." [Root & Branch African-Americans in New York & East Jersey: 1613 -1863; Hodges, Graham R.]
    Slave owners in colonial New York and New Jersey were known to purchase Africans fresh from the Guinea coast as well as seasoned ones from Barbados and Curacao—for my family it meant an ancestor from the Upper Guinea coast (Senegambia region) disembarking in New Amsterdam (New York), Perth Amboy (New Jersey) or Camden (New Jersey):
    "It has been said by good authority that slavery in New Jersey is coeval with the advent of the Dutch," wrote the Somerset Unionist on Jan. 5, 1870, just five years after the close of the Civil War. "Nearly every family brought Negro servants with them, and most of these were fresh from Guinea..."
    and 
    "These people retained their native language and superstitions. Though unlettered they were endowed with remarkable cunning and sagacity. There are many negroes now living in the county, with families, where their parents were slaves from Guinea." [source: Warren NJ Slaves]

    Since the late 17th century families like the Van Horne's, Van Ness's, and Wyckoff's—surnames common in my family—settled the Dutch colony and enslaved or indentured people who were likely of Fulani descent. These families and their human chattel moved into Raritan Valley's hinterland reaching all the way to present-day Readington, Hunterdon County, where my African-American ancestors lived, as evidenced in this family obituary:

    My Fulani ancestor likely crossed paths with my ancestors from Madagascar [not covered; but see my blog] in a mutual attempt to be free:

    My earliest known direct ancestors in this branch of my family are my 4th-great-grandparents Francis Wyckoff (born abt 1790) and his wife Jane (born abt 1800), who were both free people of color appearing as early as the 1830 federal census:

    By researching my 4th-great-grandparents siblings and their families I was able to make a tantalizing discovery about my African ancestry.

    This is the 1880 US census for Princeton, New Jersey, showing my 4th-great-grandaunt Mary Jane Schenck (Wyckoff) and notice her father's birthplace:

    Here is another 1880 US Census showing another of my ancestors Eliza J. Wyckoff, and notice her father's birthplace:
     

    As you can see both Mary J. and Eliza J. Wyckoff's father birthplace is listed as Guinea! I suspect one of my 4th-great-grandfather's parents is of Fulani descent. Since my 4th-great-grandfather was born about 1790, this fits perfectly with a mid-to-late 1700's arrival of a potential Fulani ancestor from present-day Guinea in colonial New Jersey! It certainly proves Africans from Guinea were present in area. Therefore I conclude my Fulani cousin shares a common ancestor with my Wyckoff fore-parents dating to the mid-18th century.

    New Jersey was the last state in the Northeast US to fully abolish slavery in 1865. New Jersey banned the importation of slaves in 1788 and promised to gradually end the practice in 1804, but "it required children (born to slave mothers) to serve lengthy apprenticeships as a type of indentured servant until early adulthood for the masters of their slave mothers." [see History of Slavery in New Jersey]

    But I wanted to know more about why Africans from Guinea—including my forebears—were free well before slavery ended. I found the answer in an unsung African named Ari Van Guinea, who became the wealthiest Black man in New Jersey 50 years before the Revolutionary War! The following excerpt was taken from a namesake blog by one of Van Guinea's descendants. Enjoy:
    THE STORY OF ARI VAN GUINEA 
    "Ari van Guinea (Dutch - Harry from Guinea) is how the church initially recorded his name. His first name is found with many variations: Ari, Are, Arree, Arrey, Aree Aray, Arey,and A. Ray. Likewise his last name is found with many variations as well: van Guinea, van Genee, van Guinee, van Ginee, van Ge Nee.

    But when He signed his name, it was "Aree Van GeNee". There are other variations, I'm sure, and they all point to a true colonial pioneer in American History.

    There is no record of his birth or his death. He is described as a Negro, a Mulatto, a Moor (mixed race from northern Africa) and one source claims that he was possibly of Arab descent. He could read Dutch and sign his name as a young man when most people, regardless of their race, could neither read or write. At one point he is described as possibly the most promenent man of color in the state of New Jersey in the early 1700's. 
    Ari's third daughter, Maria was baptized in the Dutch Church in New York in June 1705. He had a son baptized in the same Church in October 1708. Within this three year span Ari had moved from Bostwick, New York (Brooklyn, New York) to the Raritan River Valley on the Millstone River in the area now known as Six Mile Run, Somerset County, New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, about 1711, Ari welcomed an influx of several Palatine German families to the area around his home in the Six Mile Run area.

    It is my hope that those families may discover the grandeur that one man established as a Mulatto family in the wilderness of the New Jersey frontier in the infancy of the 17th Century. I hope these "lost" families can re-discover and re-claim their heritage as one of the nations earliest FREE families of color as our race struggles to clarify the statement found in the Declaration of Independence that "...all men are created equal...". 
    Freedom was granted to Ari prior to 1705, he was a free man. He purchased 132 Acres of land from Benjamin Rounsavall on April 3rd or 4th 1730. There is an erroneous statement which claims that Aree Van Guinea purchased his land in 1714 and was not given a deed until 1730, presumably because of a law that slaves were not allowed to own land. This statement ironically is from a Zion article dated in 1939 for the 225th Anniversary of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church which states,

    "Once he received his legal deed, he donated two acres of land to the German Lutheran Church so they could erect a permanent church building." 
    The purchase of the land and the donation of the 2 acres to the Church happened within days or months of the purchase of the land in April 1730. Later in life, Aree gave another 50 acres of land to the church to use as a "glebe" in 1750. A glebe was intended to be used by the church for the support of the Pastor and a help in providing monetary support for the Church's obligations."
    I am Duala. I am Igbo. I am Fante. I am Fulani. I am the voices inside my head crying echoes of what you said...I am Africa's Black Panther.


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    5 comments:

    1. TL. This is just one awesome love letter to your ancestors. Well done. Many, many thanks for this. Kelly Wheaton

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    2. Thanks so much Kelly. I'm humbled. I love your response.

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    3. Ancestral Love letter?! A deep devotion and Love for our people advancing our place in Humanity; Instrumental as a research guide sheet with case scenarios and FAQ's that read like a checklist; Curiosity satiated, myths dispelled and the impossible empowered with glowing possibilities of testimonies shared by Brother TL Dixon. #RiteOn with Ancestral Applause from on high *re-reading it ovah and ovah*

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    4. Great article. Very helpful and important information. Thank you.

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    5. Your work is incredible, thorough and pretty easy to comprehend! I don't know how you do what you do, but you do do it phenomenally.

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