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|
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...