Fula, Wolof or Temne? Upper Guinean AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

This blog post will feature a summary of my Upper Guinean AncestryDNA survey findings. A fitting conclusion of my African AncestryDNA research as I am myself of Cape Verdean descent. And therefore this particular section was of paramount significance to understand my own African Roots! These results were obtained during 2013-2018 but I had not fully processed all the data up till now. Relatively few African customers of Ancestry are hailing from this particular area. Which is why it was difficult to gather a sufficient sample size. But eventually I did succeed. Also through the valuable help of several friends!1 Follow the link below for detailed analysis & screenshots:

Table 1 (click to enlarge)

Stats, SEN, n=34

“Senegal” is primary for most countries throughout the wider Upper Guinea area. Usually with “Mali” as secondary region. This goes even for the northern part of Sierra Leone. But this country shows greater variation. With “Ivory Coast/Ghana” also being a prominent component overall. An almost equal “Mali” group average (38-39%) was obtained for 6 samples from Mali when compared with 3 Gur/Senoufo speaking samples from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast & Ghana.

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Table 2 (click to enlarge)

Stats Fula

A clearly detectable Upper Guinean component is mirrored among the Fula from across Upper Guinea and the Hausa-Fulani. Indicating their shared Upper Guinean origins by way of eastwards moving Fula migrations. However due to their partial Nigerian Hausa lineage the Hausa-Fulani results can still be quite easily distinguished through their primary “Nigeria” scores.

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My final survey group now consists of 122 AncestryDNA results from Senegal, Gambia, Guiné Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mauritania. Although still limited this data-set already provides a rather robust basis. All the more given that my combined survey group (n=122) contains a number of people which is almost three times greater than Ancestry’s Upper Guinean Reference Panel at that time (n=44; 28 samples being used for “Senegal” + 16 samples for “Mali”).

And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for many of my survey participants. Enabling me to compile a separate Fula survey group (n=46) which is quite extra-ordinary as it includes Fula people from a wide range of countries (see Table 2). While usually in published studies only Fula samples from one particular area are being covered (often from the central/eastern Sahel and not from Upper Guinea).

To a lesser extent I also uncovered more specific ethnic backgrounds among my Sierra Leonean and Senegambian survey groups. Allowing for a finer detailed ethnic analysis of Upper Guinean genetics. Which is why I think these “old” results may still be useful and are not obsolete yet. Even when I did discontinue this survey after Ancestry’s update in September 2018. Because in my opinion Ancestry’s new version of their ethnicity estimates regrettably has been a downgrade in regards to their African breakdown, overall speaking (see also this blogseries).

Five main implications for Afro-Diasporans can be singled out. These are discussed in greater detail on the main page. In this blog post I will mostly elaborate on the question if it is possible to distinguish Upper Guinean DNA. Furthermore I will briefly touch upon 23andme’s new “Senegambian & Guinean” category and also how Ancestry might improve things in the near future. Especially in light of their upcoming update.

  1. “Senegal” + “Mali” combined is a solid indication of lineage across Upper Guinea (Senegambia, Guinea Bissau/Conakry, Sierra Leone, western Mali).
  2. “Mali” can also be predictive of DNA found in Burkina Faso, northern parts of Ivory Coast & Ghana.
  3. “Ivory Coast/Ghana” can also be predictive of Sierra Leonean DNA
  4. “Africa North” might also be inherited by way of Fula ancestors
  5. “South-Central Hunter-Gathers” can also be predictive of West African ancestors

In summary: Regional admixture DOES matter! Judge each case on its own merits. Combine insights from different fields to achieve complementarity!

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

COMPILUG

The two first results illustrate how AncestryDNA’s 2013-2018 version was able to clearly distinguish between Fula & Wolof lineage (for Africans themselves!). The additional “Africa North” and “Middle East” scores making the difference. To a lesser degree also within Sierra Leone some ethnic differentiation (going by group averages) could be observed. Obviously there was greater individual variation though. And in no way was either “Senegal” or “Mali” an exclusive marker for any given ethnic group! For Afro-Diasporans follow-up research is therefore required (DNA matches, historical plausibility, genetic genealogy etc.).

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Is it possible to distinguish a genetic Upper Guinean component?

Table 3 (click to enlarge)

Stats, UG component

“Senegal” and “Mali” scores have been added together to arrive at an approximation of a Upper Guinean component. Obviously within the context of AncestryDNA’s limited regional format.

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When I talk about an “Upper Guinean genetic component” this is strictly speaking from a macro-regional perspective. Relating to generic DNA to be found in higher frequency within the wider Upper Guinea area. And therefore not unique to any given ethnic group or country! However this approach will allow for a distinction to be made with the remaining part of West Africa (Ghana-Nigeria etc.), Central & Southeast Africa as well as North & East Africa. Such a perspective can be very valuable even when it lacks finer resolution (it is still sub-continental though!). Especially when combined with other insights.

To get straight to the point: my answer to the question posed above would be a qualified yes for Africans themselves. And also for Afro-descendants actually! Provided that unrealistic expectations about “100%” accuracy make way for a pragmatic approach. I discuss this in greater detail on the main page if you scroll down to section 5. Where I also include references which show that a distinctive Upper Guinean genetic component has been identified by major scientific papers as well.

According to many pundits only continental admixture is to be taken seriously in DNA testing. Sub-continental, a.k.a. ethnicity estimates, a.k.a. regional admixture only being fit for entertainment purposes.2 I myself have never taken this stance. Preferring to judge each case on its own merits. Attempting to maximize informational value despite imperfections and avoiding source snobbery. Which is why I have conducted my AncestryDNA surveys among both Africans and Afro-descendants in the past. Applying an additional macro-regional framework for extra insight (Upper GuineaLower GuineaCentral/Southeast Africa).

Basically combining interrelated & neighbouring genetic regions in order to allow certain regional patterns to show up more clearly. This turned out to be particularly helpful when wanting to explore any rough correlation between aggregated AncestryDNA results for Afro-Diasporans and slave trade patterns. Which I indeed established for the most part. For more detailed discussion see also:

Also for Africans themselves such an approach can be useful. As illustrated by table 3 my West African survey has demonstrated that:

  • when combining scores for “Senegal” & “Mali” a prevalent “Upper Guinean” genetic component can indeed be observed. As expected it is (nearly) predominant for all my survey groups from the wider Upper Guinea area. Additional double-digit scores for “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Africa North” to be explained by geography and/or distinctive ethnogenesis.
  • Because of a higher predictive accuracy and greater consistency the “Senegal” region has proven to be the most useful indicator of Upper Guinean lineage in Ancestry’s 2013-2018 version. Actually “Senegal” turned out to be one of the most reliable regions. When judged by its group average of 75% among 34 actual Senegambians. Within my African survey only “Cameroon/Congo” reached a higher predictive accuracy of >80%  among my Cameroonian & Congolese survey participants (see this blog post).
  • Given geographical proximity some (inevitable) genetic overlap with especially “Ivory Coast/Ghana” did occur as well. So this Upper Guinean genetic component is obviously only intended as an approximation! Then again to a great extent Central African DNA & Upper Guinean DNA were mutually exclusive, during my survey. As measured especially by “Senegal” scores being either absent or at minimal trace level for my Central African survey participants (see this table). And also vice versa for “Cameroon/Congo” scores among my Upper Guinean survey participants (see table 2.1). Which only occurred in significant amounts for Krio Sierra Leoneans because of plausible historical reasons.

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Map 1 (click to enlarge)

Atlantic

The Atlantic language group includes mainly Senegambian languages but also languages spoken in Guinea and Sierra Leone (such as Temne). Intriguingly its distribution is largely corresponding with my survey findings for “Senegal” extending into northern Sierra Leone. As well as following the eastward bound migrations of the Fula into and beyond northern Nigeria (see also table 2).

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Just to clarify I am not advocating that a reliable distinction can be made between any random set of ethnic groups within Upper Guinea. This is a much more complex research question than many people may realize or (unrealistically) hope for.3 At least generally speaking. Then again within my survey a clear ethnic distinction did occur for the Fula and also the Sierra Leonean Krio (see table 1). Also the Gambian findings by Jallow et al. (2009) described on the main page (section 5) do seem promising! Indicative of a certain degree of differentiation between Jola, Wolof, Fula and Mandenka samples (see this chart).

But all in all I do not think it is currently possible to obtain a “100% accurate” ethnic specification of one’s Upper Guinean ancestry. At least not by relying solely on admixture analysis, such as performed by AncestryDNA and other commercial DNA testing companies. And actually also not by testing your direct maternal or paternal line (see this article). However by conducting careful follow-up research (DNA matches, historical plausibility, genetic genealogy etc.) I do think you can increase the chances of learning more about the likely ethnic backgrounds of your Upper Guinean ancestors. A generic Upper Guinean genetic component as reported by Ancestry can provide a valuable stepping stone in these efforts. With some perseverance and good luck you might then also actually identify lineage with a high probability of being either Fula, Wolof or Temne!

23andme better equipped now to distinguish Upper Guinean lineage?

Map 2 (click to enlarge)

23andme vs Ancestry

The map on the left shows the distribution of “Senegambian & Guinean” scores among my African 23andme survey participants. The map on the right shows the group averages for “Senegal” on Ancestry. Both regions appear to be quite similar in scope. The predictive accuracy being somewhat greater on 23andme though and also extending into Guinea Conakry.

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Ancestry’s West African regional framework (2013-2018) was pioneering and could be very useful. Given correct interpretation. However sadly after Ancestry’s update in 2018 it lost most of its informational value. Currently you are more likely to get a realistic estimate of your West African lineage on 23andme. Even if of course not 100% accurate 😉 Still going by actual West African 23andme results the predictive accuracy of their 3 new West African regions (“Senegambian & Guinean”, “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” and “Nigerian”) is quite impressive.4

I have started a new survey based on the newly updated African breakdown on 23andme among not only Africans but also various parts of the Afro-Diaspora. It is ongoing but you can see a preliminary overview by following the links below:

The number of my West African survey participants on 23andme is still minimal. However it is already quite telling how generally speaking a greater predictive accuracy can be observed. In fact an even more solid case of a distinctive Upper Guinean component can be made. Judging from the group average of “Senegambian & Guinean” among my currently 15 Senegambian survey participants being around 80%. And for my 6 Guinean survey participants it is even around 88%! While for my nearly 100 Cape Verdean survey participants it is around 72%.

Even when actually the difference is not always that big when compared with Ancestry’s 2013-2018 version (see table 3). But especially for Guineans (Bissau & Conakry) it has been a great improvement.  The “Mali” region on Ancestry however does not (yet) have an equivalent on 23andme. Which seems to complicate the predictions for Malians themselves but also actually for a few Gambian & Hausa-Fulani 23andme results I have seen. Although ambivalent “Mali” (2013-2018) could still be of added value when interpreted correctly. Then again through its “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” region 23andme can now provide a much better coverage of Sierra Leonean DNA.

It should be noted also that ancestral categories on different DNA tests will not be perfect equivalents or measuring the exact same thing. Even when similarly labeled. The additional Sierra Leonean samples on 23andme for example are clearly causing a shift westwards in the “Ghanaian, Liberian & Sierra Leonean” category. At the expense of full coverage of Ghanaian DNA it seems. While there may also be some algorithm differences. Furthermore the current lack of similar categories on 23andme for “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” does impact its ability to attain the same level of often meaningful resolution on Ancestry’s 2013-2018 version. But regrettably Ancestry’s last update has only made things worse. The generally inflated “Mali” and sharply decreased “Senegal” and “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores epitomizing the loss of focus in AncestryDNA’s updated African breakdown (2018/2019).

Focus on historical plausibility

Table 4 (click to enlarge)

TAST, Diaspora comp.

Source: TAST Database (2019). Follow this link for underlying numbers. Keep in mind that Inter-Colonial slave voyages are NOT included. The data is based on documented Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade voyages. Amazonia is referring to northern Brazil; Hispaniola is referring to the Dominican Republic; Spanish Circum-Caribbean is referring mainly to Colombia & Mexico; Saint-Domingue is referring to Haiti.

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In order to find out more details about your broader Upper Guinean lineage (as indicated especially by “Senegal” and “Mali”) I firmly believe that it is necessary to perform careful follow-up research and resist the temptation to jump to conclusions! One of the first things to take into consideration is historical plausibility. Ask your self the following questions:

  1. What is the relevant historical context?
  2. Are your earliest ancestral locations within the Americas associated with high levels of slave trade with either the Senegambian coastline (incl. Guiné Bissau & Cape Verde) or the Sierra Leone coastline (which also covers Guinea Conakry!)? (see also this map)
  3. What do the records say about most frequent ethnic groups being brought over from those locations?

As an approximate starting point (not meant to be conclusive in any way!) I have included above in table 4 an overview taken from the Slave Voyages Database. It is showing the relative importance of slave voyages originating from either Senegambia or Sierra Leone. And also the Windward Coast actually (Liberia/Ivory Coast) as this area is often also included in the widest definitions of Upper Guinea.5

From historical sources we know that there was actually quite some overlap in the ethnic origins of the captives being exported by either one of these coastlines. Especially Fula people and Mandé speakers may have been shipped by way of both Senegambian or Sierra Leonean slave ports. However other ethnic groups were much more likely to hail from the hinterland of just one specific coastline. For example the Wolof mainly being shipped from (northern) Senegambian slave ports and the Temne from within modernday Sierra Leone.

As can be seen the proportional shares vary a lot for each particular destination within the Americas. But for most destinations Upper Guinean slave trade by way of Senegambia would have been prevalent. And amazingly for some Latin American destinations this is even the biggest provenance zone out of their entire African slave trade (going by documented slave voyages). There are however some notable exceptions. Jamaica and South Carolina clearly show a higher proportion of slave trade with Sierra Leone and also the Windward Coast. 

As usual several complicating factors do need to be taken into account. Especially inter-colonial slave trade and domestic slave trade. For example early slave trade to Latin America (1500’s) was often routed by way of Cape Verde. However the Upper Guinean captives which were transferred on Cape Verde actually hailed from various parts of Upper Guinea, incl. also Sierra Leone (see this map). Therefore Sierra Leonean captives transferred by way of Cape Verde may have been quite numerous. Especially in the late 1500’s when they were often referred to as “Sape” or “Zape”. An umbrella term but often assumed to include mostly Temne people!

For a full overview of disclaimers and more discussion follow the links below. In order to zoom into more historical plausibility clues aligning with your particular background choose the relevant subsection (African Americans, Anglo Caribbeans, Brazilians, Cape Verdeans, Haitians, Hispanic Americans, etc.)

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Table 5 (click to enlarge)

Stats Upper Guinea (diasp)

This table features an approximation of an Upper Guinean component by combining “Senegal” and “Mali” group averages. The ranking among Afro-Diasporans is more or less in line with historical sources. Illustrating how a Upper Guinean founding effect among Hispanic Americans may have been very significant!

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From my AncestryDNA survey findings (2013-2018) it can be established that the predictive accuracy of  “Senegal” was quite solid. And it was being reinforced by somewhat weaker defined “Mali” to describe a genetic Upper Guinean component. The existence of which has been corroborated by both published scientific studies as well as the most recent update on 23andme (see previous section). In short: “Senegal” + “Mali” scores DID correlate quite strongly with actual Upper Guinean lineage. As shown also by my Afro-Diasporan findings (table 5) which correspond more or less with historically documented slave trade patterns shown in table 4.

From table 5 it can be seen that “Senegal” + “Mali” is clearly culminating for Senegambians, Guineans, Malians and Cape Verdeans, as it should! But also otherwise the ranking is in line with expectations. At least when going by the latest insights and not relying on a perhaps overly USA-centric perspective.6 In regards to the (Trans-Atlantic) Afro-Diaspora we can observe how “Senegal” + “Mali” is most prevalent among Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. Seemingly reflecting a major Upper Guinean founding effect among Hispanic Americans. I have blogged about this topic many times already (starting in 2014). And I intend to do so again eventually as my updated 23andme surveyfindings are also in support of this remarkable phenomenon! See also:

In respect to my African American findings it seems that additional “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores are needed to do justice to the complete Upper Guinean inheritance for African Americans. As this region was after all very prevalent among Liberians as well as Sierra Leoneans. And to a minor degree even to be found in double digit amounts among Guineans and Malians (see part 1 and table 1). Obviously the actual correlation between genetic inheritance and known slave trade patterns is far more complex and might also involve other variables! Therefore tables 4 & 5 do not need to correspond per se. Then again exploring the discrepancies may lead to more insight.

As I have already speculated in 2015 & 2016 it seems that strictly Senegambian origins for African Americans might have been overestimated by many people. Naturally genuine Senegambian lineage (from either Senegal or Gambia) does exist among African Americans. However not to the expected higher degree when going by perhaps somewhat misguided historians. The group average of “Senegal” being around 8% among my 350 African American survey participants. And “Mali” attaining a slightly higher group average of 9%.

A striking outcome of my African American survey in 2015 was a greater frequency of primary “Mali” scores when compared with primary “Senegal” scores (20/350 versus 5/350, see this chart). Possibly implying that the Upper Guinean roots of African Americans are more so to be found to the east and south of Senegambia proper.7 That is Guinea Conakry, western Mali and Sierra Leone. In line with principal slave trade ports for the USA being located in Gambia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry. Mostly receiving captives from their hinterland which of course was not bounded by modernday borders.

On the one hand it seems likely that “Senegal” and “Mali” scores might also have been partially inherited by way of (northern) Sierra Leonean and Guinean (Conakry) ancestors. But we can also be practically sure that the genetic contributions by way of Sierra Leone will be more differentiated. And similar to the Windward Coast it will also reflect in so-called “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores for African Americans. Especially for those with strong South Carolina connections. See also:

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When reviewing table 4 & 5 again many questions may still remain. How can we find out for example if the striking 32% combined “Senegal + “Mali” component for 161 Dominicans is suggestive of either Fula, Wolof or Temne lineage? Let alone any other ethnic lineage from the wider Upper Guinean area? And in which approximate proportions? Would any of these lineages be predominant? Can we perhaps rule out any less likely lineage? These are all very pertinent questions. But alas no easy answers! From my experience you do attain more insight though if you take into account that:

  • “Senegal” nor “Mali” are exclusive markers for any given ethnic group or (colonially derived) nationality!
  • Your “Senegal” and “Mali” amounts are likely to be traced back to numerous family lines and not a single one (unless you happen to have relatively recent West African ancestry). Just as an example: a 25% “Senegal” score for a typical Cape Verdean might be due to the genetic contributions of at least 250 different ancestors born throughout Upper Guinea! On average the DNA contribution of an ancestor living in the mid 1600’s could be a mere 0.1%. (leaving aside pedigree collapse). And in fact for Cape Verdeans and also many Latin Americans it might even be that much of their Upper Guinean ancestry traces back further even. Into the 1500’s! See also:
  • Realize that therefore your “Senegal” and “Mali” amounts could include Upper Guinean ancestors from various ethnic groups, all at the same time. For example a 25% “Mali” score for a typical African American might be traced back to 10 ancestors from Guinea Conakry, 5 ancestors from Mali, 5 ancestors from Sierra Leone, 3 ancestors from eastern Senegambia and 2 ancestors from northern Ghana. Just to mention one possible combination out of many others depending on your individual family history.

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Find your Upper Guinean matches

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Table 6 (click to enlarge)

DNA matches

This is the first page of an African DNA Matches Report I made for an African American who also tested his father who has partial SC roots. Showcasing the potential of how your African DNA matching patterns may enable further ethnic specification of your Upper Guinean lineage. Interestingly this person himself had 17% “Senegal” (prior to 2018 update). Which is clearly above average going by my AA survey findings. The number of Fula matches is quite striking. And his possibly eastern Fellatah (from Sudan?) and Hausa-Fulani matches are quite likely also due to a Upper Guinean connection. For more details see my African DNA Matches Service.

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African DNA matches (autosomal) provide one of the most reliable avenues to Trace African Roots. Even more so when combined with well-interpreted admixture analysis. Fortunately an ever increasing number of West Africans, or better yet West African migrants and their children, are taking DNA tests. All of them potential DNA matches for Afro-descendants to get in touch with and learn more about your specific Upper Guinean lineage by finding your Upper Guinean DNA cousins! See also my tutorial below as well as my recently started service which will provide you with a African DNA Matches Report.

Despite the great potential to learn more I would still advocate a cautious approach though! Make a careful assessment of your Upper Guinean DNA matches, if you happen to have them. Taking into account shared segment size and the possibility of population matches (IBP) and false positives, so that only genuine IBD matches are left over. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have any Upper Guinean matches?
  2. How many of them are likely to be Fula, Wolof or Temne etc.?
  3. Is any ethnic background predominant among them?
  4. Is the shared amount of DNA big (>10cM) or small (<7cM)?
  5. Are these matches also shared with your close family members?
  6. How do these matches fit in your overall African DNA matching patterns?
  7. How do your Upper Guinean matches correspond with your admixture results indicating Upper Guinean lineage?

Read the blog post below for much more details on how I performed such an analysis for 50 Cape Verdeans and their 437 African matches. I intend to do similar blog posts for other parts of the Afro-Diaspora eventually. And also among Upper Guineans themselves to establish which parts of the Afro-Diaspora appear to be most genetically linked to them, going by DNA matches.

Do keep in mind that Fula matches might be over-represented due to a skewed customer database. From my Cape Verdean survey findings it turned out that DNA testing has become especially popular among Fula people, compared to other West Africans. Stacking the odds of being matched with them. However this may not per se be in line with their overall proportional contribution to your DNA. Also remember that the Fula people did not only intermingle with Hausa people in Nigeria.

Also throughout Upper Guinea they have mixed with other ethnic groups. Such as the Wolof, Sereer, Mandinga, Bambara etc.. Usually by way of their maternal line. Despite some degree of endogamy among more traditional and still nomadic subgroups this is especially true for sedentary subgroups such as the Halpulaar or Toucouleur from Senegal and the Fulakunda or Fula Preto from Guiné Bissau. In this way receiving a Fula match does not automatically imply that your common ancestor was also Fula! Also Mandinga, Wolof or Sereer etc. MRCA’s can very well be possible. Which may also account for how “matchy” Fula people tend to be with the Afro-Diapora. Then again plentiful documented evidence does exist of Fula captives being present across the Diaspora. See also:

Also when receiving a Sierra Leonean match you will still have to be very careful and check whether they do not have any partial Krio ancestry. Because in that case the ancestral connection might actually be reversed! And your MRCA could even be African American! Both Liberia, Sierra Leone having received freed ex-slaves from the US and the West Indies as settlers. Some of whom later on also migrated to other countries such as Gambia and Nigeria! In fact as testified by my own African survey group inter-ethnic unions are quite frequent across West Africa and not only among the Fula or in Sierra Leone!

 

Connecting Upper Guinea with the Afro-Diaspora and vice versa

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Jollof-Rice

Source: Jollof Rice Competition: How Gambia Beat Ghana And Nigeria in Major Contest. But naturally the Jolof wars continue 😉 I have actually tried and also loved all three versions haha. The origins of this hugely popular West African dish are not yet known with 100% certainty. Many theories abound (see this book). But what I personally find very fascinating is how the word “Jollof” has been used by the Portuguese as a  reference to the Wolof empire as early as the 1400’s/1500’s. Around the same time Cape Verde was settled! And in fact “Jolof” or “Jalof” stands out as one of the earliest and most frequently used ethnonyms for enslaved Upper Guineans (see esp. Valencia data on this page).

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I have a broad interest generally speaking. But as I am myself of Cape Verdean descent I am naturally always extra intrigued by Upper Guinean genetics 😉 . Based on geography, history as well as my own DNA results I am pretty sure that I have ancestral connections to Senegambia, Guiné Bissau and most likely also Sierra Leone. I have one Gambian DNA match (most likely Mandinga); “Senegal” + “Mali” are predominant in my African breakdown on Ancestry (as is “Senegambian & Guinean” on 23andme) and my maternal haplogroup L3e4 is widely spread in Upper Guinea.

My AncestryDNA survey among Upper Guineans, Cape Verdeans and Afro-Diasporans has however definitely provided a deeper understanding of my own personal African origins as a Cape Verdean descendant. And in addition it has also clarified many of the questions which came up during my research. Helping me to see the origins of not only the Afro-Diaspora but also Africans themselves in much sharper focus.

Below is just a small overview of hopefully useful or inspiring resources to increase the odds of connecting with your Upper Guinean heritage.

Suggestions for improvement

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Create new regions centered around these historically relevant samples. Whenever possible and provided that the current coherency of the African regional framework as a whole is not compromised.

  • Atlantic samples from either Senegambia (Wolof, Sereer etc.) or Guiné Bissau (Balanta, Papel etc.) may be used to solidify the current “Senegal” region (hundreds of Gambian samples from various ethnic groups are possibly to be obtained via the MalariaGEN database!). Helping to pinpoint such lineage while also creating a sharper delineation for the “Senegal” region. Given sufficient genetic differentiation and appropriate sampling I suppose a very helpful distinction between northern Senegambian versus southern Senegambian/Guinean origins may also be enabled.
  • Mande samples from either Guinea or Mali may be used to solidify the current “Mali” region. Helping to pinpoint such lineage while also hopefully enabling a sharper delineation with the “Senegal” region.
  • Southwestern Mande samples from either Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast or Guinea might be used to create a separate region. Helping to pinpoint such lineage while also hopefully contributing to a sharper delineation of both the “Mali” and “Ivory Coast/Ghana” regions.

Gur samples from Burkina Faso might be used to create a greatly needed intermediate region to cover the genetic legacy of people nowadays found in northern areas of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Benin and Togo as well as Burkina Faso itself. It may also result in a sharper delineation of especially the “Mali” region which will become more strictly suggestive of Upper Guinean roots”.

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The quotes above are taken from my previous blog post from June 2018:

Unfortunately hardly any of these suggestions were taken up by Ancestry when they did their last update in September 2018… However it seems that a new update may be upcoming already (see this link). And from what I have seen in preview this will also affect the African breakdown. Either way Ancestry has announced they aim to expand their African Reference Panel (see this blog post). So I might as well give it another shot 😉 I still stand by my statements quoted above.

In particular I believe that the addition of Malian samples after the 2018 update needs to be reevaluated for internal coherency.  As described in this blog post Ancestry most likely added 153 new Malian samples from its Sorenson database. In itself this is of course a great improvement! It certainly helped to increase the predictive accuracy of “Mali” for actual Malians. However otherwise it sadly lead to a great inflation of “Mali” scores for people across West Africa (see this overview). Perhaps due to a faulty sampling strategy (possibly Fula samples were included as well?) or perhaps also in combination with Ancestry’s changed algorithm. Either way it resulted in a dramatic decrease of “Senegal” scores and overall informational value.

Obviously AncestryDNA’s regional breakdown (2013-2018) was rather basic and had several flaws. Caused by misleading labeling and inadequate sampling among other things. Still through comparison with other results, bench marking if you like, you were able to determine your relative position. Which combined with additional context can potentially be highly informational and in accordance with documented history and/or genealogy. Even when ancestral categories/clusters and their labeling will usually tend to be fuzzy indeed.

I like to underline though that my West African AncestryDNA survey (2013-2018) did produce several potentially insightful findings. Not only for improving the interpretation of the results of Afro-Diasporans. But also for West Africans themselves it may lead to better understanding of the understudied migration history within the African continent. Both relatively recent (last 500 years or so) and more ancient. I have had many stimulating discussions with West Africans who did a DNA test over the years. Unlike what some people might assume many Africans themselves also take a great interest in these matters. I personally consider the following findings to have been most evocative:

  1. Confirmation of predominant Upper Guinean lineage among Cape Verdeans.
  2. Identification of Upper Guinean genetic component among both western Fula and Hausa-Fulani from further east.
  3. Genetic differentiation among Sierra Leonean groups. Most convincingly for the Krio. But possibly also to a more subtle degree between Temne and Mende.
  4. Revealing Upper Guinean founding effect among Hispanic Americans.
  5. Suggesting the need for reevaluation of Upper Guinean/Senegambian lineage among African Americans.

Then again my intention is not only to look backwards but also forwards! In particular I believe that my survey findings (see table 1) may provide a helpful baseline to compare with 23andme’s newly updated African breakdown (see this overview). As well as functioning as a benchmark for Ancestry’s upcoming update, which hopefully this time will lead to improvement!

Over all I would say that my West African survey findings are pretty much reinforcing the main message I have been trying to get across from day 1: the labeling of ancestral categories in DNA testing is often not be taken too literally. However this does not mean you cannot derive a great deal of informational value from your socalled ethnicity estimates! Proper interpretation is a precondition. And it has been my experience that being aware of the DNA results of native West Africans certainly helps in this regard. If only to know what to expect more or less. And also in order to make a proper inference of how you yourself fit in the scheme given any other ancestral clues you might have. Even more so when also taking into account your African DNA matches, relevant historical context, (advanced) genetic genealogy and other means of follow-up research.

 

Disclaimer:

I am aware that ethnicity can be a sensitive topic for West Africans. Aside from wanting to learn more about my own West African roots my motivation to research these so-called Ethnicity Estimates is purely scholarly. It stems from a deep fascination with West Africa’s ancient population migrations, its many connections with the Afro-Diaspora as well as a profound love for its vibrant & diverse culture. I do not condone the misuse of my research for identity politics! I am in full support of democratizing knowledge. However when parts of my work are being copied I do expect that a proper referral to my blog and the additional context it provides will be made.

Please also keep in mind that DNA testing can be very educational and may have many positive effects. However in some cases it may also be abused by people with bad intentions.

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Notes

1) I like to express my sincere gratitude to all the persons who made my research possible! Many results used in my survey were shared with me directly by invitation by the DNA testers themselves. Furthermore I received tremendous help of several friends who shared the results of their Upper Guinean DNA matches with me. Also my survey of African DNA matches being reported for Cape Verdeans provided me with many Upper Guinean results (by way of Ancestry’s Compare Ethnicity tool, see this link for an overview).

In particular the greater part of my Fula results was obtained by the very gracious help of a friend of mine who happens to be Fula himself. Analyzing his closest DNA matches by way of surname and other relevant profile details we were able to single out persons with a very high plausibility of being of Fula descent. Ancestry’s Compare Ethnicity tool (available since 2018) enabled me to have access to the complete ethnicity estimates of these matches.

2) The belief that especially subcontinental predictions in admixture analysis are bound to be very inaccurate has been repeated almost like a mantra by some people. Even when from my AncestryDNA findings it may be deduced that great informational value can be obtained (given correct interpretation). For an overview of blog articles discussing the usefulness of admixture analysis, see heading “Blog Posts” in this ISOGG entry: Admixture Analysis. To be sure each particular DNA testing company (and also any update of their results) will indeed have its own flaws and strengths. Also the perceived accuracy of ethnicity results may vary according to a person’s own main background. As well as their expectations of what admixture analysis should deliver.

Without wanting to be divisive I do find it noteworthy how the ethnic backgrounds of  bloggers within the genetic genealogy “world” seem to often determine their outlook on admixture analysis. Perhaps not that surprising given that their evaluation will be based mostly on how their own DNA is being described. Nothing wrong with personal reviews. But I do think that people of African descent should realize that Afro-Diasporan predicaments are not the same as those of bloggers of fully European descent. Still because these bloggers tend to have a great following their stance is often also copied by African Americans or other Afro-descendants.

White Americans/Canadians and Europeans who take DNA tests tend to have well researched family trees and detailed knowledge of their recent ethnic origins. This allows them to be “picky” about their ethnicity estimates. As after all they will have the luxury to verify their results. Which often tends to make them obsess on details such as the labeling of ancestral categories rather than trying to grasp the overall added value it may have for other people.

For example they might insist on seeing their Irish ancestry clearly distinguished from their Scottish one. And will get upset when this is not accomplished. Even when naturally Irish & Scottish DNA will be very tricky to separate due to a great degree of genetic overlap. But with an overly dismissive stance you risk loosing out on valuable insights to be obtained! For example when taking a macro-regional approach you might still want to appreciate the ability of DNA testing companies such as Ancestry & 23andme to distinguish quite reliably between Northwest European DNA and East European DNA. Or to quite reliably indicate Jewish lineage.

I find it interesting to contrast this with the more constructive attitude among bloggers of mixed or non-European descent. Often seeking ways to already use admixture analysis pragmatically despite obvious shortcomings. See for example:

Generally speaking I suspect some degree of ethno-centric bias is quite likely to influence how people will judge the usefulness of admixture analysis. Again not trying to be accusatory or anything. Because I believe I could very well be guilty of such bias myself as well! I am of both Cape Verdean and Dutch descent. My blogging interests are more wideranging. After all I am focused on covering the entire Afro-Diaspora and also regularly discuss African topics. Still my own specific background may (consciously or unconsciously) direct me in certain ways. I guess what I’m trying to say is when deciding on the usefulness of admixture analysis don’t let other people, social media, genetic genealogists or even bloggers (myself included 😉 ) dictate your choices! Do inform yourself properly but make up your own mind based on facts relevant to your own situation rather than on sometimes subjective opinions.

3) Understandably many people desire to have the most specific degree of resolution when searching for their African roots. They want to be able to pinpoint their exact ethnic origins and preferably also know the exact location of their ancestral village. In a way following in the footsteps of the still very influential ROOTS author Alex Haley. Unfortunately these are rather unrealistic expectations to have in regards to DNA testing (at least in regards to admixture analysis.). Not only given current scientific possibilities. But also because such expectations rest on widely spread misconceptions about ethnicity, genetics, genealogy as well as Afro-Diasporan history.

Too often people ignore how the melting pot concept is really nothing new but has always existed! Also in Africa where inter-ethnic mixing has usually been frequent! Throughout (pre) history and maybe even more so in the last 50 years or so. Generally speaking ethnicity is a fluid concept which is constantly being redefined across time and place.

Too often people fail to take into consideration how due to genetic recombination our DNA will never be a perfect reflection of our family tree but might actually also at times suggest very ancient migrations.

Too often people underestimate the actual number of relocated African-born ancestors they might have (dozens or even hundreds!). As well as the inevitable ethnic blending which must have taken place across the generations.

Too often people are still not informing themselves properly about Africa itself and the documented origins of the Afro-Diaspora. Many specific details may have been lost forever but there is a wealth of solid and unbiased sources available which can help you see both the greater picture as well as zoom in more closely to your own relevant context. See also:

4) To be fair Ancestry’s African breakdown during 2013-2018 was far better in my opinion than 23andme’s African breakdown during that same period (before their update in 2019). Unlike any of its commercial competitors AncestryDNA was able to distinguish no less than 5 different West African regions. In addition it also did a reasonable job at separating West African DNA from Central/Southern African DNA (“Cameroon/Congo” and “Southeastern Bantu”). Which is essential for getting a full scope perspective on the origins of the Afro-Diaspora. See also:

5) Both Liberia and the Ivory Coast can be said to be intermediate between Upper & Lower Guinea, because of their ethno-linguistic composition also including Atlantic and Mandé speakers. However these countries also have large numbers of Kru, Akan and Gur/Senoufo speakers which are mostly missing in Upper Guinea (see this page). Also during my survey it turned out that both countries are genetically speaking mostly characterized by “Ivory Coast/Ghana” (2013-2018). And in that sense they largely  fall outside of the Upper Guinean genetic component described in table 3 & 5.

6) As a recent example of what might perhaps also be considered continued USA-centric bias see for example:

Intriguingly those probably earliest Africans to set foot on currentday USA soil might very well have been Upper Guineans! As it is said the 1526 expedition departed from Santo Domingo (DR). And the Upper Guinean origins of the Dominicans from the 1500’s are quite well documented! See also this blogpost.

In 2016 I already blogged the following:

assumed prominence of Senegambian ancestry among African Americans is up for reconsideration. Upper Guinea is often proposed as one of the biggest “homelands” for African Americans based on historical documentation. And to be sure African American AncestryDNA results do indeed confirm the widespread existence of these lineages. Still judging from the average amounts being reported for “Mali” and especially “Senegal”, Upper Guinean origins on average do appear to be more diluted and subdued than expected. This also includes results from Louisiana for whom the Inter-Colonial and Domestic Slave Trade is often underestimated when considering their roots within Africa.

The exact degree of Senegambian origins and any possible reasons for its relative greater dilution among African Americans are yet to be determined. But at any rate the often made assertion that African Americans would have the greatest proportional share of Upper Guinean ancestry within the Americas may no longer be tenable. It might very well have to be rephrased into African Americans have a greater share of Senegambian ancestry only when compared to the English speaking West Indies and Haiti but not so when compared with the Hispanic Caribbean and Mexico/Central America. The persistent Upper Guinean genetic imprint among many Hispanics, often dating already from the 1500’s/1600’s can no longer be ignored.

This research outcome might imply that text books will need to be rewritten in regards to this aspect as statements such as below seem to be unfounded,or atleast only partially justified:

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“ The Senegambians were much more prominent in North America than in South America and the Caribbean. “ (source: In Motion, The African-American Migration Experience)

” In the United States, African mothers were reasonably likely to be Igbo or Wolof: a thesis that can eventually be tested through DNA studies” (Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Hall, p.142, 2005).

7) Obviously more research is needed to gain greater insight in the approximate origins of African Americans within the wider Upper Guinea area. Something which I myself also intend to perform in the near future. Based on DNA matching patterns. However if eventually it indeed turns out that the Upper Guinean roots of African Americans are more so to be found to the east and south of Senegambia proper. Then the term “Greater Senegambia” is probably in need of reevaluation. This term has become quite popular in the last decade or so among historians of the Afro-Diaspora when referring to the wider Upper Guinea. Often also including Liberia in fact! However this term might be misleading in the sense that a false idea might be conveyed that the focus is still on Senegal & Gambia proper. When in fact it will be the surrounding countries/areas which might be of greater importance to understand the ancestral lineage of African Americans hailing from this wider area.

52 thoughts on “Fula, Wolof or Temne? Upper Guinean AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

  1. Fonte,

    As usual you have done excellent work. This is an outstanding breakdown of the AncestryDNA results. From what I have been reading online it appears that AncestryDNA is going to be releasing another update later this year.

    I wanted to comment on your statement about 23andme having greater predictive accuracy. As you pointed out they have very few samples less than 2,000 (actually 1,980 according to their website) for the entire populations south of the Sahara; and only a paltry 717 samples for all of West Africa. On top of that in West Africa they only got samples from a very small number of ethnic groups like the Yoruba, Esan, Mandeka, Temne, Mende and Limba; while other samples were just lumped under a generic Country names like Nigeria, Ivorian, Ghanian, etc. The stunning part to me while looking at the samples was that I noticed that other large groups appear to be missing, like the Hausa, Igbo, Ewe, Bamileke, Ga and Akan. It is not clear if those groups are represented in the generic catchall Country names like Nigerian, Ivorian or Ghanian or if those groups were just not tested at all. In any event it appears that 23andme may be just be grouping certain diaspora groups like African Americans under one large umbrella like Nigeria, even though slave trading records at that time do not support that finding as it appeared that Upper Guinea and Upper Volta would have been the major regions for the trade; which is in line with the Benin/Togo labels of AncestryDNA. I realize that the Togo/Benin descriptor on AncestryDNA is confusing, but it clearly represents the massive Upper Volta ancestry that the slaving records support for a diaspora group like African Americans. On top of that AncestryDNA claims to one of the largest sample sets, so assuming that they do have more samples then 23andme; then AncestryDNA should be much more accurate than 23andme.

    So maybe my confusion lies in Nigeria being too broad of a term for 23andme results, which is similar to what AncestryDNA does with Benin/Togo and Cameroon/Congo. The confusion over 23andme results are even more confusing now because they recently did another update shifting even more diaspora results for African Americans into Nigeria, but they never state that Nigeria includes Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Benin, etc. Nor do they even state that they tested any people from there. So how accurate can 23andme really be if they didn’t test ethnic groups in surrounding regions nor give clear regional line descriptors? That is the exact same problem that currently exists on AncestryDNA.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot for the appreciation and the comment! I intend to do a more detailed comparison between 23andme’s updated African breakdown and Ancestry eventually. But that will only be after Ancestry has rolled out their upcoming update.

      My main basis for asserting that 23andme right now has a greater predictive accuracy is based on the results being reported for African DNA testers. As these results are after all most easily verifiable. See also this previous blog post:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/2019/02/25/23andmes-new-african-breakdown-put-to-the-test/

      I do agree that “Nigeria” on 23andme might be overstated at this time. For most people who also tested on Ancestry I suppose it will include their former “Benin/Togo” (2013-2018) scores. Plus there will indeed also be some minor overlap with Ghana & Cameroon. But on the other hand we do not have full certainty about how exactly the documented slave trade records for the Afro-Diaspora correlate with their genetic inheritance. In particular due to the impact of inter-colonial as well as domestic slave trade. Aside from also disproportional founding effects or gender imbalance causing greater reproduction among selected groups. As I have discussed elsewhere I feel that the regional origins of Virginia might very well be most representative for African Americans as a whole. See these comments for example:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/ancestrydna/african-american-results/comment-page-1/#comment-2096 (point 4)
      https://tracingafricanroots.com/ancestrydna/african-american-results/comment-page-1/#comment-2185

      AncestryDNA claims to one of the largest sample sets, so assuming that they do have more samples then 23andme; then AncestryDNA should be much more accurate than 23andme

      Ancestry did indeed greatly increase their total number of samples with their 2018 update. But these were for the most part European & Asian samples! Actually right now 23andme has a greater number of African samples: 1980 vs. 1395 on Ancestry. I have discussed Ancestry’s current Reference Panel in this blog post:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/2018/09/30/did-ancestry-kill-their-african-breakdown-part-2/

      My main argument in that post was actually that more is not always better! It is rather the internal coherency of the reference samples as well as the overall sampling strategy to select the proper reference populations which make the difference! In combination also with an appropriate algorithm. On both counts Ancestry’s update in 2018 was a failed one IMO. Complete coverage of Africa’s ethnic diversity is preferred of course but that would not be a precondition actually for producing useful estimates. After all Ancestry’s 2013-2018 version was also already quite informational (given correct interpretation).

      As you can see in the screenshots below it is only for “Benin/Togo” and “Mali” where Ancestry has an edge over 23andme (right now, things may change obviously with Ancestry’s upcoming update). However currently Ancestry only has 31 samples for Senegal while 23andme has 158 for Senegambian & Guinean! Also the number of samples for Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone is 280 on 23andme versus 124 for Ivory Coast / Ghana on Ancestry. Also in Central and Southeast Africa as well as Northeast Africa 23andme has Ancestry beat going by sheer numbers. But probably also by greater internal coherency.

      Also do notice that the number of Nigerian samples is more than twice as high on 23andme than on Ancestry (279 versus 111). 23andme indeed does not include Hausa samples for “Nigeria”. But actually I prefer it that way because northern Nigerian DNA is quite distinctive. And for most Afro-Diasporans having a indication of their southern Nigerian DNA will be much more informational. I do agree that inclusion of Igbo samples would be preferable. But actually 23andme could very well be including Igbo customer samples, shown under “Nigerian”.

      Again I do not think it’s strictly about the numbers or full coverage of ethnic diversity but overall 23andme’s Refernce populations are clearly much more balanced in proportions and most importantly they also produce much more fitting estimates for Africans themselves!

      23andme Reference Samples (as of Oct. 2019)

      Ancestry Reference Panel (2018/2019)

      as it appeared that Upper Guinea and Upper Volta would have been the major regions for the trade

      it clearly represents the massive Upper Volta ancestry that the slaving records support for a diaspora group like African Americans

      Could you please elaborate? I’m assuming that by Upper Volta you mean the northern areas of present day Ghana, Togo, Benin as well as Burkina Faso?

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      • Indeed! Like i said it is very likely that 23andme is using Igbo samples who tested as customers. They are however not specified as such, aside from their state origins. Such as Anambra and Imo which are both located in Igboland. Either way 23andme does an impressive job when describing actual Igbo testers. In my survey right now the group average for 8 Igbo results is 91% “Nigeria”. Often also with recent ancestral location specified.

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  2. Excellent reply.

    Yes by Upper Volta I am referring to Bukina Faso, Northern Ghana, Togo and Benin. Historically that should be a major slave trading area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thxs! I actually mention the possibility of having such lineage on the main page! I refer to it as “Gur/Senoufo” speaking. I am guessing in particular “Mali” (2013-2018) might have been an indicator (aside from also denoting Upper Guinean lineage). Probably for Jamaicans and West Indians the odds of such an ancestral scenario being the greatest. Going by the historically documented presence of so-called Chamba captives. For American Americans I would assume that actual Malian lineage or from surrounding countries in Upper Guinea would be more relevant, generally speaking. Going by lower recorded Trans-Atlantic slave trade with the Gold Coast for the USA (around 15%) when compared with the West Indies. The Gold Coast presumably being the coastline where most such Upper Volta captives would be shipped from. Aside from also Bight of Benin, but this coastline is quite minimal for the USA going again by the TAST estimates (< 3%, see map below).

      Hopefully one day Ancestry or another DNA testing company will pick up my suggestion to also include Gur speaking samples. As this could greatly clarify things!

      See also section ““Mali” also predictive of DNA found in Burkina Faso and northern parts of Ivory Coast & Ghana” and note 17 on this page:

      https://tracingafricanroots.com/west-african-results-ii-2013-2018/

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  3. maybe “nigerian” should be labeled “yam belt” and anything east of the volta river marked off as such. while anything west would be “rice coast” cameroon would be a transitional zone

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that! In the first part of my West African AncestryDNA survey as well as on the Nigerian AncestryDNA page I already discussed the Yam Belt and how it may correlate with ancient migrations and language families (Kwa, Volta-Niger). And therefore also explain wider patterns of genetic similarity.

      I was meaning to contrast it with the more significant role of rice cultivation across Upper Guinea. The Rice Coast indeed being a well known concept by now. Especially in relation with South Carolina. However actually it seems that the earliest rice cultivation took place in Mali in the Inner Niger Delta. From there it spread to southern Senegambia and onwards to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia (see this paper). Most likely greatly correlating with the spread of both Atlantic and Mande languages. I didn’t get to it now but I might delve into this topic on the main page of African AncestryDNA results (2013-2018) eventually.

      In this post I half-jokingly mention the Jollof rice theme but I find it quite evocative! Definitely tastes like more 😉 I would love to read more research about how this rice dish, seemingly more typical of Upper Guinea, spread into Ghana & Nigeria. Where originally Yams might have been the main staple. Of course the last 500 years or so have caused many changes. In particular due to the so-called Colombian exchange. Which also accounts for cassave, maize and tomatoes being so prevalent in West African cuisine nowadays. The role of the Portuguese in spreading these crops across the West African coastline may still be somewhat unknown among the general public.

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  4. As a Capevertian im always happy to learn more about my African roots .
    Thank you and congratulations for this great work .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fonte,

    Looks like AncestryDNA is rolling out its new update. It’s not yet reached me, but from the “Ethnicity” comparison tool on match pages, I can tell they’ve shrank “Ghana/Ivory Coast” to just cover “Ghana.” I can’t really tell, but it looks like “Mali” now includes Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Ivory Coast. “Cameroon/Congo” looks to have been pared down, too, to only taking in Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe and part of Mozambique, instead of extending all the way down to the bottom of the continent.

    Maybe when it gets to me, I’ll be able to see more exactly what the new regions are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Senegal now looks to include Senegambia, Guinea Bissau + northern Guinea, and Mauritania. Nigeria also looks to have been corrected; it no longer extends into Cameroon or east into Benin/Togo as much. Benin/Togo has been pared down, but it still completely overlaps with Ghana, it appears.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it looks like any day now, perhaps this weekend or coming Monday. But perhaps they will only release gradually. I will myself be going by the results of actual Africans to judge if any improvement has been realized. From what I’ve seen sofar it looks mostly like restoring things back to how they were in the 2013-2018 version. Plus also the introduction of new categories for Northeast Africa. But who knows maybe Ancestry still has some surprises in store as well 😉

      According to this article Ancestry will also be rolling out new genetic communities on Monday, October 21. They mention Scandinavia & Portugal in particular, as well as Cape Verde. So I am really hoping they are picking up my suggestion for improvement and finally rename “Portuguese Islanders” into “Cape Verdeans”!

      https://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2019/10/17/check-your-ancestrydna-results-next-week-were-adding-new-portuguese-and-scandinavian-communities-empowering-you-to-discover-even-more-about-your-family-history-through-dna/?

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    • That new Ancestry update sounds like good stuff. The grouping of those cluster of countries is getting closer to identifying specific ethnic groups. Hopefully we will get a more accurate results for Nigeria, because I still think that 23andme grossly overestimates Nigerian results.

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  6. Looks like Ancestry just updated. Nigeria seems to have been corrected for the most part. Benin/Togo, is drastically reduced, now only covering Benin, Togo, and parts of Nigeria and Ghana, which seems accurate. Mali seems to be the same though, while Senegal seems to include a much larger area than before, now including Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, as well as Mauritania (Ancestry says it includes Chad, but I don’t see it on the map). Not quite sure how to make sense of it now, but one thing that caught my eye was that is that the percentages for Ivory Coast/Ghana are drastically reduced (Ancestry now just calls it Ghana). I only have 1%, before I had 6-7%. My father, whose previous results (the one before the 2018 update) had Ivory Coast/Ghana as his biggest region at 32%. He now has none. Such a enormous drop seems suspicious to me, but I could be wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes indeed I also got my update. Highest “Senegal” I have ever received: 20%! My first impressions are pretty much the same as yours. “Senegal” & “Nigeria” have been restored or have even improved in predictive accuracy. But “Ghana” (no longer “Ivory Coast/Ghana” !) has taken a turn for the worse it seems. Just guessing but it appears Ancestry is no longer using their Ivorian samples, or at least not the non-Akan ones. This is also reflected in the name change. “Mali” is still strong in Mali itself and countries to the south & east of it, also incl. Sierra Leone and Liberia. “Benin/Togo” is much more restricted now, which is a great relief haha! Also “Cameroon, Congo,& South Bantu” is much less intrusive among Nigerian results I have seen sofar. And therefore becoming more predictive. Otherwise also in East Africa new categories which is cool but not really relevant for Trans-Atlantic Afro-Diasporans.

      I intend to do a quick but comprehensive survey among African DNA testers from all over the continent to establish a more solid basis for judgement. You can already see the new number of samples being used via this link:

      https://www.ancestry.com/cs/dna-help/ethnicity/estimates

      Most African regions now have a greater number of samples, but not so “Ghana”.

      Below the new maps made by Ancestry, obviously only meant to be indicative. As my previous 2013-2018 survey has demonstrated that actually many African regions were more widespread than mentioned (or known) by Ancestry itself.

      “Senegal”

      “Mali”

      “Ghana” (no longer “Ivory Coast/Ghana”!)

      “Benin/Togo”

      “Nigeria”

      “Cameroon, Congo, & Southern Bantu Peoples”

      “Southern & Eastern Africa Hunter-Gatherers” (no longer South-Central!)

      “Eastern Bantu Peoples” (renamed from “Eastern Africa” it seems)

      “Ethiopia & Eritrea” (new!)

      “Somalia” (new!)

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      • So now most of Ivory Coast is included under Mali ? 😕 I don’t know why they ain’t creating a Sierra Leone/Liberia/IVC section, call it Windward or Rice coast I don’t know, but at least it will decrease the confusion instead to put them all under Mali

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah “Mali” scores are bound to still create a lot of confusion. Also because many people jump on the chance to associate it with the prestigious Mali empire. Even when that was a multi-ethnic state and firstmost a political formation. Obviously it did have a very widespread and lasting culltural heritage. But it remains to be seen how much also a corresponding genetic legacy has been left behind throughout their former territory.

          I would argue that the spread of Mandé languages into the southwest and towards the coast was accompanied with a lot of absorption and intermingling of previous inhabitants. As well as just language replacement by originally either Atlantic or Kru speakers. The current division of the greater Mande language family is also speaking volumes about this greater internal differentiation.

          p.s. i’ve been meaning to ask you! I recently came across the surname “Dongo” and it appears to be especially current in the Ivory Coast. Would you know any particular ethnic group which uses this name especially?

          Like

          • The name Dongo is popular in Bondoukou, since it doesn’t sound Malinke , i think it is either Brong or Kulango (a gur speaking group), i lean towards Brong more because it is often combined with other Akan names.

            Ancestry is doing some progress, I have seen a few results from my Ghanaian Ewe matches and they have done well in clarifying the confusion they had with the Nigeria and Benin/Togo area, depending on what is higher , it gives good insight on if you have ancestry related to the Gbe groups from Eastern GH/TG/Benin or if you lean more toward Nigeria…however, the problem with the windward coast still remains; SL, Liberia, and western IVC are closely related with the south Mande and Kru populations they have in common, however like you said they are distinct from the mandingue populations, some of the southern Mande groups migrated south before the great Ghana and Mali empires and yes intermingling has happened to the way that they should be now considered distinct to the northern Mande populations. I can understand how the Kru and southern Mande can be put under the same umbrella, they have been intermixing and borrowing from each other cultures from quite very long, but putting them under Mali is misleading. About the Krus, I have a hard time finding their place of origin, but I have yet to hear Mali as a suggestion. It should not be that complicated to find genetical differences between the Krus and the northern Mandes no?

            Liked by 1 person

            • J.,
              According to historians in Sierra Leone and researchers like Walter Rodney and other writers and researchers there is a belief that many of the Southern Mande, like the Mende, were part of the Mane Invasion into Sierra Leone in the 1500s; which was actually an invasionary force of Northern Mandingos from the Empire of Mali.

              Rodney points to Portuguese writers of that era that indicated that Mandingos from Mali had launched their attacks from modern day Ghana and ended up in Cape Mount, Liberia. From there they invaded Sierra Leone, where their advance was only stopped by the Susu who were another Mande people that had invaded Guinea and Northern Sierra Leone. The Mandingos that invaded from the South were supposedly led by a female general named Macaricio. She supposedly fled Mali with her family and followers after she had insulted the Mansa. Other researchers pointed to the likely decline of Mali and the rise of Songhay and resulting blockage of Mandingo trade routes by Songhay as being the true reason that Northern Mandingos invaded lands in the South.

              In any event researchers have noted that the Mende did not have chieftancies in Sierra Leone before the later part of the 1500s, which supports the proposition that that they are new to Sierra Leone. Moreover some research indicates that the Mende are likely a mixed descendant group of the Northern Mandingos and the coastal Bullom people and towards that end they have two systems of inheritance, with one being paternally like the Mandingos and one being maternally in a fashion similar to the Bullom. That is not to say that all Southern Mande were part of the Empire of Mali, but there is more than ample evidence to show that the Mende and possibly a few other Southern Mande groups were from the Empire of Mali.

              Liked by 1 person

              • @J.M.

                The origins of the Mende people are fascinating indeed. But there is still quite some uncertainty as it has been topic of debate for several decades already. If you scroll down to section 3 you will find an overview of links to several articles, incl. Rodney (which is rather old from 1967) but also some more recent ones. Also in section 4 under Sierra Leonean results I discuss this topic some more. As after all one of the main research findings during my Upper Guinean survey has been that:

                “relative balance of “Senegal” versus “Ivory Coast/Ghana” may possibly be seen as a rough indicator of either northern (incl. Temne) or southern (incl. Mende) background (for Sierra Leoneans themselves!).”

                “Ivory Coast/Ghana” most notable for Sierra Leoneans

                “Rodney points to Portuguese writers of that era that indicated that Mandingos from Mali had launched their attacks from modern day Ghana and ended up in Cape Mount, Liberia. From there they invaded Sierra Leone”

                There are indeed some really intriguing contemporary historical accounts about these events. In fact at least three of these authors were actually born in Cape Verde or operating from Cape Verde! I have myself read their work which is highly recommended for deeper understanding (do make an effort to leave aside modern day moralizing in order to grasp the informational value).

                “Tratado breve dos rios de Guiné do Cabo Verde”, André Alvares d’Almada (1594) (Available online, English translation).
                “Descrição da Serra Leoa e dos rios de Guiné do Cabo Verde”, André Donelha (1625).
                “Description of the Coast of Guinea”, Francisco de Lemos Coelho (1684).

                Moreover some research indicates that the Mende are likely a mixed descendant group of the Northern Mandingos and the coastal Bullom people and towards that end they have two systems of inheritance, with one being paternally like the Mandingos and one being maternally in a fashion similar to the Bullom. That is not to say that all Southern Mande were part of the Empire of Mali, but there is more than ample evidence to show that the Mende and possibly a few other Southern Mande groups were from the Empire of Mali.

                Do you have any references? I would love to read more about it! As i have said earlier I personally believe that the actual genetic legacy of the Mali empire thoughout its territory (and beyond) is yet to be established. As I suspect its legacy has actually been mostly cultural (also by way of language replacement). DNA research has only been very rudimentary of course. However I would like to think that the considerable level of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores (around 50% in 2013-2018 version) among my Mende survey participants and only subdued “Mali” scores (around 11%) is indicative indeed of mostly retention of localized lineage, but still also some minor northern Mande influence as well.

                This would go along with a theory of conquest by an invading elite. But actual geneflow being restricted as they were small in numbers. Similar to Romanization in Europe or Turkification in Central Asia & Turkey. Or even more recently the formation of mostly Mestizo populations in Latin America. With the most densely populated countries still retaining a greater Amerindian imprint.

                Interestingly it has been historically documented actually that the Mane leaders were accompanied by large troops of conquested populations, so-called “Sumba”. These “inland” troops joined as the Mane were moving through Liberia. They might have been a mixed bunch, incl. also Kru speakers. But most intriguingly they could also have been southwest Mande speakers! As argued by one of the most recent researchers into this topic of Mende origins:

                Proto Central Southwestern Mande recruited by the Mane elite to form the inland Mane army. This army then attacked westward and advanced to the coast stopping roughly where there descendants are now located

                “Mende oral histories imply that after the Mane invasions the current Mende-speaking area was unoccupied and was resettled by peoples of different linguistic backgrounds. It is not clear whether this territory had been depopulated by the hinterland invasion or simply one of low population. In any event, these histories describe a situation in need of a lingua franca. Thus, given this linguistic and historical evidence we propose that Mende developed as a lingua franca based on Dogo, the hypothesized language of the inland Mane army and the ancestral language of Mende and Loko. “

                “Although the language of the Mane had little structural influence on the SWM languages, the Mane invasions of Sierra Leone did cause the emergence of the Loko and Mende languages. The Loko are the descendants of the inland Mane army recruited from among the Central SWM speakers (Dogo?) in northeastern Liberia. Since its separation, Loko has undergone remarkably few linguistic changes (no more than what would be expected from normal language change over a period of three hundred years) and could even today be considered a dialect of Bandi. Mende, on the other hand developed as a lingua franca based on Dogo in the (re-) settlement of its present-day area in the wake of the inland Mane invasion.”

                See pages 23/24 of:
                The “Mende Problem” (D. Dwyer, 2005)

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                • Fonte,

                  I don’t know if you had this research paper from from David Dwyer of Michigan State University entitled the “Mende Problem.” It seems to build on the writings of earlier researchers.

                  https://msu.edu/~dwyer/MendeProblem.pdf

                  I will try to locate the paper on the dual system of parental inheritance that was observed among the Mende.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Thanks! I’d appreciate that! I did already know about the Dwyer paper. The quotes in my previous comment were taken from his study.

                    Like

                • Fonte,

                  I am attaching a few reference state the same thing about the Mende. The reference states of the Mende history in Sierra Leone: “…This history receives support from the facts that their population consists of two different racial types, and their language and culture show signs of a layering of two different forms: they have both matrilineal and patrilineal inheritance, for instance… .”

                  That observation of the Mende came from a book written by a book entitled “A View of Sierra Leone” which was written in 1926. The citation that was used that I found was for an author named Little, pp 25, 28. He cites F.W.H Midgeod, A View of Sierra Leone, (1926) on the Mende racial mixture.

                  http://www.educaid.org.uk/what-we-do/sierra-leone/
                  http://www.come2sierraleone.com/mane-invasions-16th-century/

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Thanks J.M.! Much appreciated! It looks like this discussion has been going on for quite a while now 🙂 Hopefully future genetic studies will bring more clarification.

                    Like

              • This is great info to know on the Mende, thanks for sharing. Effectively some Southern Mande groups migrated south from the Mali empire, but others migrated from the Sahel regions to the south way before the formation of the Mali empire, and this is what I am talking about, I am not denying their old ties to the Mandingue populations. If you take the Kpelle/Guerze and the Dan/GIO both from Guinea, LIB, and IVC, as well as the Gouro, Gagou, N’Gban, and Wan populations in CIV for example, they have an older presence in the south. The Guro and Gagou for example migrated South prior the 11th century, they have been intermingling with populations on these areas (including the Krus) for centuries, and although they once shared common lineage with the Mandingue, they are no longer the same. The Mali region in AncestryDNA is taking into account Mandingue, Gur and related populations, but with the new map covering the whole LIB and almost 2/3 of IVC (including Kru areas) I don’t see how this can be right. They need to further breakdown this area. I am waiting to see more Kru results to see how it really goes.

                Liked by 1 person

            • Merci beaucoup J.!!!

              I can understand how the Kru and southern Mande can be put under the same umbrella, they have been intermixing and borrowing from each other cultures from quite very long, but putting them under Mali is misleading. About the Krus, I have a hard time finding their place of origin, but I have yet to hear Mali as a suggestion. It should not be that complicated to find genetical differences between the Krus and the northern Mandes no?

              Totally agreed, in the 2013-2018 version it was pretty clear-cut actually as “Ivory Coast/Ghana” was then peaking around 80-90% among the Kru (similar to the Akan). The (gradual) differentiation with northern Liberians (non-Kru) reflected in higher but usually still quite subdued “Senegal” and “Mali” scores for the latter. For actual Malians this “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region could still also be quite considerable (group average around 14%). But still only secondary, especially when combining “Mali” and “Senegal”. Regrettably my Malian surveygroup was rather small but I also suspect that this especially goes for Bambara and central Mandé speakers. However for one Soninke person in my survey (which is the most northern Mande group around I guess) “Ivory Coast/Ghana” was minimal (4%) while actually “Senegal” turned out to be primary!

              “a Sierra Leone/Liberia/IVC section, call it Windward or Rice coast “

              Yeah, remember we had earlier discussion about how Ancestry should split up “Ivory Coast/Ghana” into 3 subregions based on reference samples from the Kru, southwest Mande and Akan? It was actually one of my suggestions for improvement haha. Not sure if they decided to follow up on this … But having separated the Ghana samples from the Ivorian ones might be the first step! They will obviously have to do further updates then though.

              I have only seen a few updated Ghanaian results myself sofar. But I can already tell that the predictive accuracy has plummeted when compared to 2013-2018. Also for Akan Ghanaians! I have also been looking into a few Jamaican profiles which have been shared with me. And the ones which showed a predominant “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score in the 2013-2018 version all seem to have been “robbed” of their Ghana connection.. Often only “Ghana” scores of below 10% being left over. While “Nigeria” and to a lesser degree also “Mali” have been gaining alot. Although this update might be beneficial in some aspects I am not happy with these outcomes and frankly i highly suspect that the 2013-2018 version will turn out to still have been the best, over all speaking. But i’ll reserve my final verdict for later on 😉

              Like

              • Quick question: I know that the update is gradual, and like you said, you’ve only seen a few Ghanaian results, but do you think that the “Mali” region could have taken a chunk out of Ghanaians’ results? I saw a Ghanaian match of my father’s whose (updated) results had almost 20% “Mali”, while “Nigeria” was almost at 30%

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                • Yes that seems to be the case indeed. I have seen several Ghanaian results by now and also a few Jamaican results which used to show a predominant “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score in the 2013-2018 version. But their “Ghana” have now decreased by 20-50%. Quite drastic!

                  I do not think this is related to any presumed Mande genetic similarity btw. As I suspect that Ancestry uses several ethnic groups from Mali as reference population. Not only Bambara but also Dogon. Both groups most likely already included in the 2013-2018 version. And the Dogon then already causing genetic overlap with DNA found among Gur speaking populations in Burkina Faso and northern parts of Ghana and Ivory Coast. But in addition I think Ancestry has been using Malian Fula samples since the 2018 update and possibly now even more ethnic groups from Mali have been added. The total right now is 413, which is amazing in itself! For “Ghana” however Ancestry only uses 109 samples. This imbalance in combination with Ancestry’s algorithm probably also accounts to some degree for how “Mali” is still being reported in inflated amounts.

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        • I wouldn’t put TOO much worry into the extact contours of the map. Most telling is the populations used. I doubt the Mali region covers most of Ivory Coast, and I bet Ghana is really measuring Akan populations in both. What Mali is probably covering in Ivory Coast, now, Mande populations.

          BTW, my results STILL haven’t been updated, nor have those for my father and grandmother. I wonder why that is? I’m in the U.S.; is it that they updated results outside of the country?

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          • Ancestry is rolling out this update gradually. Not sure based on which criteria. But many USA customers have also been updated already. I guess I am lucky to have been among the first batch, haha!

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  7. I look forward to your update. I too agree that this is an improvement and more predictive in nature. I think the Ivory Coast/Ghana cluster may have been somewhat redistributed within the “Mali” cluster. Akan oral traditions are consistent in that the bulk of their ancestors settled in the rain forest as a result of the jihadist pressures in Old Ghana followed by the Islamization of Mali.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Since I have strong Virginia African American ties, would a Wolof or Mandinka heritage be likely?

    I have about 3 Senegambian matches(haven’t found more due to Ancestry’s intermittent service issue)
    One is a confirmed mandinka from Senegal.

    The other is un contacted but, hence her last name, I’m guessing she is from Gambia

    The third is possibly a Fulani with 5% North Africa and 1% Middle East

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    • I’d say both are possibilities. But over all probably higher odds of Mandinka heritage. Still could also be a combination like I mention in this article. Depending on your actual amount of Upper Guinean DNA it might be traced back to several ancestors after all.

      People tend to talk about SC having a greater Upper Guinean imprint. Which is true of course however the 18.1% share of slave trade between Senegambia and VA (see table 4) still was far from being insignificant either! If you do a search in the slave voyages database focusing on the actual slave ports you will find that the direct imports of Senegambian captives to VA were overwhelmingly routed by way of Gambia. With only a few hundreds from either Goree or Saint Louis (both located in presentday Senegal). The latter being the places where the odds of Wolof captives might be greatest as they are located within Wolof territory. But most of the captives shipped from Gambia were likely hailing from eastern Senegambia and western Mali as well as northern Guinea. Less odds of Wolof lineage by way of this route I would imagine. A clear majority being Mande speakers. Probably overwhelmingly so although also Fula and other smaller groups of Atlantic speakers (such as Jola etc.) were included.

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  9. Update result for a Grebo Liberian match:

    Grebo (Liberian): 52% Mali, 30% Ghana, 12% Benin/Togo, 6% Nigeria.

    She might be a bit mixed relatively recently given the history of Nigeria and particularly the Grebo people. But What I can tell is that the Mali region is definitely stretching down into Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea like the new map of the region shows. And as you’d expect, it’s likely Liberians will show stronger secondary Ghana, than their neighbors up the coast to the northwest. It makes me curious if groups from Sierra Leone will show the heaviest “Mali” of the coastal peoples in that region, and what Guinean results will show (more Senegal, maybe?).

    Still a mistake not to give them their own region.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I finally got my results, Ancestrydna, hope you are checking Fonte’s Blog for suggestions. Your latest update is not an improvement for the Sierra Leone/Liberia/CIV region. Mali is now primarily located in CIV/Liberia/Sierra Leone. So unless you are really from the East side (Anyi, NZema, or maybe Brong), you will likely show Mali as primary region even if you are Ivorian of Akan background.
    As far as I know, I am mostly Akan but this is my new results:

    Mali: 47%
    Ghana: 33%
    Benin: 20%

    Funny thing is in the 2 latest versions, my bro used to have very high Mali compared to mine (version 2: 21% vs. 3%, version 3: 30% vs. 17%) but now his Mali is below mine and his Ghana above at 43% and 37%, respectively.

    Another IVC woman who is related to my dad, is in my matches,she claims fully southern Akan but these are her new results:
    Mali: 60%
    Ghana: 34%
    Benin: 6%

    Last but not least, these are the updated results of an Ivorian Kru in my match list:
    Mali: 67%
    Ghana: 16%
    Benin:14%
    Nigeria: 3%

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pretty good proof that AncestryNDA seem to have divided out Ivory Coast Akans from Ghanaian Akans, which seems unwise and doesn’t make any sense from me. Why they’d divided out a cohesive people and reinforce the artifical border is weird. Ivory Coast/Ghana was obviously a more accurate region than enlarging Mali to include both Ivory Coast and then also Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

      Why they can’t seem to get the west part of West Africa right is beyond me. It seems pretty simple knowing the history and current geographical locations of the various groups.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ancestrydna, hope you are checking Fonte’s Blog for suggestions.

      Lol not sure if it’s only me but this time i didn’t get an option to give any feedback about the update…

      Like

  11. AncestryDNA new version for:

    Ivorians

    Senufo (Gur)
    Mali: 80%
    Benin: 10%
    Ghana: 7%
    Nigeria: 3%

    Anyi (Akan) (used to have 97% IVC/Ghana and 3% Mali in version 2 ) Anyi are located in the eastern side of IVC
    Ghana: 46%
    Mali: 43%
    Benin: 10%
    Nigeria: 1%

    Malians

    Bambara
    Mali: 56%
    Senegal: 41%
    North Africa: 2%
    Ghana: 1%

    Malinke
    Mali: 92%
    Senegal: 6%
    Nigeria: 2%

    Ghanaians

    Ashanti (Akan) (used to have 100% IVC/Ghana in Ancestry version 2)
    Ghana: 59%
    Benin: 21%
    Mali: 16%
    Nigeria: 4%

    Akan
    Ghana: 42%
    Benin: 29%
    Mali: 17%
    Nigeria: 12%

    Akan
    Ghana: 45%
    Benin: 22%
    Mali: 21%
    Nigeria: 12%

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Just got my AncestryDNA update as well. My results are:

    42% Nigeria
    28% Cameroon, Congo and Southeastern Bantu people
    8% Mali
    4% Benin/Togo
    3% Ghana
    2% Senegal

    Like everyone else I question how these regions are composed, because Ivory Coast and Ghana should have been kept together. My standing objection as always is that AncestyDNA and 23andme may eventually need to separate Nigeria, Cameroon and Congo into their own individual regions, because it is clear that the slave trade in the the Bight of Biafra was not only Nigeria, but also Cameroon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “it is clear that the slave trade in the the Bight of Biafra was not only Nigeria, but also Cameroon.”

      Agreed. Although likely to be predominantly southeast Nigeria, going by historical clues (see this blog post). Still it will be very interesting to see to what extent it was also involving the hinterland of Cameroon. I have a feeling that admixture analysis will not provide more substantial indications though in the near future. As it might be very tricky to clearly delineate two separate genetic clusters when really neighbouring populations from southeast Nigeria and western Cameroon will be overlapping in genetics.

      African DNA matching patterns might provide more solid clues. This is something I aim to investigate for Jamaicans, who probably (along with Virginia AA’s) might have some of the highest degrees of genuine Cameroon connections.

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    • I’m confused by your comment, J.M.. Nigeria is already in its own category, and the newest version of the reason seems to be incredily predictative of Nigerian dna for the Nigerian matches I’ve seen, often hitting 100%. This is the first time that I’m aware of that the region has been so tightly and accurately drawn.

      You can go to the recent posts specifically on Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa to see the results I’ve posted of my Nigerian matches.

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      • Damon,

        I think your confusion about my comment is that I am not doubting the accuracy of the Nigerian results for ethnic groups in Nigeria and neighboring Benin. My comment is in regards to Cameroon ethnic groups in the hinterlands of Cameroon who live opposite the mountains ranges east of Nigeria.

        Those ethnic groups in Cameroon that I am referring to are the Tikar, Bamileke, Bamum/Bamoun, etc. The groups were also enslaved and shipped to the Americas in very large numbers and they are clearly a significant group that African Americans descend from. AncestryDNA and 23andme seemingly accounts for those group of Cameroonians as Nigerians, rather than as Cameroonians. AncestryDNA seem to infer that their Cameroon results are for the Bantu people in the Central and South of Cameroon and they group them with the Congo region. However the Tikar, Bamileke and Bamum/Bamoun in the Northern and Western regions are not Bantu. I am not sure that 23andme accounts for Cameroon at all.

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        • shipped to the Americas in very large numbers and they are clearly a significant group that African Americans descend from.”

          Just curious but are there any specific sources you are basing this statement on?

          As I said in my previous comment I do not doubt that Cameroonian lineage exists among African Americans. However I do think that the approximate degree is still very much under research. In the blog post I referred to earlier it is stated that based on historical data the estimated share of Cameroon in total Bight of Biafra trade is around 5% only. And of course the Bight of Biafra slave trade is again only a subset of the entire Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. Taking the most favourable estimates of around 40% Bight of Biafra slave trade to Virginia this would imply a share of 2% for Cameroon. Going by overall slave trade and taking into account only slave ports located in modernday Cameroon the share would even be as small as 0.26% (see this map).

          Then again the true share might be somewhat obscured due to the fact that mainly slave ports nowadays located in eastern Nigeria were being used (such as Calabar). Rather than slave ports located on the Cameroonian coast (such as Bimbia) which was the least frequented part of the Bight of Biafra together with Gabon. And of course slave trade routes did not respect modernday borders. Still even for (old) Calabar which is closest to the Cameroon border it is assumed that Igbo captives made up a clear majority and not people of modernday Cameroonian origin.

          Like

          • Fonte,

            I am under the impression that Bimbia played a larger role in the slave trade than generally known. As of 2014 there had been 166 known slave voyages from Bimbia. Dr. Lisa Aubrey of Arizona State University has been doing research on that topic. I guess we should keep in mind that there were likely no more than 400,000 – 600,000 people brought to the USA. The people in Cameroon we are discussing are the grassland people, rather than the Bantu people to their South.

            I am actually unclear as to whether you are stating that the grasslanders taken from Cameroon were insignificant in numbers as compared to the Igbo taken from Nigeria or whether you were stating that Cameroon was not a major area of slaving. My understanding Cameroon was a major area and many of slaves resulted form Fulani jihads in that area and also wars launched by Douala Kings.

            https://cameroontourismlink.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/the-remains-of-slave-trade-found-in-cameroon/
            https://www.camerounweb.com/CameroonHomePage/NewsArchive/Bimbia-Slave-trade-village-The-door-of-no-return-324579
            https://www.camerounweb.com/CameroonHomePage/features/Study-reveals-records-of-166-slave-ship-voyages-from-CMR-310976
            https://exposingbimbia.blogspot.com/

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for the links! Just to clarify whenever I discuss slave trade in its relative proportions or use terms like “insignificant” or “minor” naturally I do not mean to downplay any of the suffering involved for individuals! The actual ancestors behind single-digit regional percentages or even less than 1% are not of minor importance themselves! They might still evoke some personal interest or deep emotion for anyone who receives the results. I naturally respect this.

              Still I also think it is prudent to at least acknowledge the predominant ancestral components you are made up of. As the people associated with these greater parts of your ancestry will have contributed the most to who you are, at least genetically speaking. So in order to avoid any misleading identification of main African lineage I find it important to stick to the facts as much as possible.

              As of 2014 there had been 166 known slave voyages from Bimbia. Dr. Lisa Aubrey of Arizona State University has been doing research on that topic.”

              Yes, I was already aware of the impressive research done by Dr. Lisa Aubrey. I have actually referred to her work in previous blog posts. The 166 slave voyages she has identified have in the meanwhile been included into the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST) Database, ak.a. Slave Voyages Database. Which is widely used by scholars all over the world and which accepts new entries all the time. They recently launched a new website but if I am not mistaken the voyages she listed in this paper of hers (see this link) were already included in the database in 2016/2017 when I published this blog post of mine:

              “Cameroon/Congo” = moreso Angola/Congo for Diasporans?

              I have performed a new search in the TAST database which you can do yourself as well when you use the same search parameters as I did. It is based on 190 slave voyages departing from the Cameroon coastal line. So it seems even more voyages have now been added. Most of them from unspecified ports as was also the case in Dr. Lisa Aubrey’s overview which mentions 15 voyages from specifically Bimbia (see page 11 of her paper).

              As you can see the greater majority of Cameroonian captives were brought over to the Caribbean. If you choose “specific regions of disembarkation” you get to see more details. And it appears that Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados received the largest numbers. Proportionally speaking, probably most significant for the two former islands. In addition the overview also includes the data for 18 slave voyages with destination Africa, which were actually intercepted and derouted to Sierra Leone by the British after they abolished slave trade in 1808. These same voyages have also been listed by Dr. Lisa Aubrey.

              I guess we should keep in mind that there were likely no more than 400,000 – 600,000 people brought to the USA.”

              Indeed, looking into the data specific to the USA only, it appears that only 3 documented slave voyages have been identified sofar. Total disembarked captives being 496 and destinations Virginia (2x) and South Carolina. So the share of captives coming directly from Cameroonian coastal line is still less than 1% for the USA. As I mentioned already earlier. Again these 3 voyages were also identified by Dr. Lisa Aubrey (see page 14 of her paper). And as far as I know she has not come across any additional ones yet.

              Of course research is ongoing and several other voyages may yet be uncovered. Again also the slave port of Old Calabar is known to have included Cameroonian captives to some degree. And also inter-colonial slave voyages between the USA and the Caribbean might very well have included Cameroonian captives at times. Then again undocumented slave voyages from other parts of Africa are also very well yet to be uncovered. So the proportional share is not likely to change drastically beyond the estimates I already mentioned. Also given other historical testimonies ( registered ethnicities of slaves on plantations; contemporary travelling accounts etc.)

              “The people in Cameroon we are discussing are the grassland people, rather than the Bantu people to their South.”

              The ethnic origins of Cameroonian captives are fascinating indeed. The proportions may very well have changed though according to time period. For the USA I suppose the early to mid 1700’s would be most relevant given what we know about the slave trade from Bight of Biafra to principally Virginia (see this chart). At this time the Fulani Jihad had not really started yet in Cameroon itself. The Adamawa Emirate dating from the early 1800’s when slave trade to the USA would have been in sharp decline already.

              Still some illegal slave voyages might also have occurred I suppose. And we do possess valuable information for that later time period. Very insightful research has been done based on the recorded names and identities of so-called Recaptives who were settled in Sierra Leone in the 1800’s. Recommended reading:

              Characteristics of Captives Leaving the Cameroons for the Americas, 1822-37 (G. Ugo Nwokeji and David Eltis, 2002)

              I will discuss this paper in greater detail eventually. As I have been intending to do so for a while now. I think it contains very relevant information. As I have stated before I think it is quite conceivable that the genetic importance of Cameroon in DNA testing for Diasporans has been overstated because of a relative abundance of Cameroonian samples to be matched with (both uniparentally and in autosomal testing such as AncestryDNA). While other samples from especially non-Igbo groups within southeastern Nigeria but also from the Congo and Angola are relatively lacking.

              In that light I find it intriguing to learn that Dr. Lisa Aubrey’s research seems to have been inspired especially by the relatively large share of African Americans who receive Cameroonian results (esp. Tikar and Bamileke) on either the matriclan or particlan tests performed by African Ancestry Inc. This company has received much criticism over the years for a lack of transparency, overprizing but also due to their outdated methodology based on very low resolution analysis. See for example this assessment by a well respected African American genetic genealogist:

              Just Say No: African Ancestry’s DNA Tests

              I have myself never tested with African Ancestry Inc. and I also have never done any thorough study of its methodology. I do still credit them for being true pioneers back in the day. I do also believe in maximizing informational value from whichever source you can utilize. Even if it has some inherent flaws.

              Then again I have always felt that in order to truly honour your many dozens or even hundreds of African born forefathers and fore-mothers taking a critical stance regarding the claims of DNA testing (no matter which company) is a must! Naively taking your results at face value and just going for quick and easy answers could very well lead to gravely misidentifying the main lineages of your African ancestry, which would be tragic indeed inspite of all good intentions.

              As always I find that looking into the test results of actual Africans is often very telling. I think this video by a confirmed Igbo person is very illustrative of the risks of mistaking actual Igbo lineage for supposedly Cameroonian when only going by haplogroups (which are almost always widespread across many countries and not unique to any given ethnic group!, see this article)

              Like

              • Fonte,

                I want to make it clear that I am not trying to defend any claims that African Ancestry makes, but I will point out that they have stated on multiple occasions that their matrilineal and patrilineal results will at times come back to multiple ethnic groups. For example I have seen matriclan results that came back to not only the Fulani, but also to the Mandingos and Mende. So I am inclined to believe that a person’s results coming back to multiple ethnic groups in a region is fairly normal.

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        • “AncestryDNA seem to infer that their Cameroon results are for the Bantu people in the Central and South of Cameroon ”

          I think that perhaps you’re reading more into the map and description than is given in either. That the Tikar, Bamileke and others aren’t showing up primarily “Cameroon, Congo, and South Bantu People” makes sense given that they aren’t Bantu people. The only other region that makes sense, then, is Nigerian, since these peoples – the Semi-Bantu – are supposed to have orginated from the Nigerian/Cameroon border region.

          They are small enough groups that I’m not sure if it makes sense to create yet another region in between “Nigeria” and “Cameroon, Congo, and South Bantu People.” This is really what Fonte has always meant about not taking the regions too literally.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Damon,

            This is not about taking the regions literally. This is about a potentially unaccounted for group in that region which may be an actual mislabeling. If you will recall AncestryDNAs first iteration of the Cameroon/Congo region they specifically mentioned the grassland people in their analysis for Cameroon, so clearly that was a large substantial group (fwiw there maybe over 6 million Bamileke in Cameroon that is without even addressing the size of the Tikar and Bamum/Bamoun populations).

            Now in all the subsequent updates AncestryDNA no longer mentions the grasslanders. So my question and standing objection is what happened to that group? How are they accounted for, because Cameroon is now clearly Bantu people. The grasslanders are not Bantu.

            Like

            • I seriously doubt they’ve removed grasslanders from their samples, or removed ANY samples for that matter. Yes, I do think you are taking the descriptions and maps too literally.

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            • J.M., yes it’s true that the regional descriptions are no longer specifically mentioning the grassland people as they used to. However the regional descriptions have generally become very minimal and frankly uninformative after the 2019 update. It’s really a shame that Ancestry does not provide such essential information to improve better interpretations of their customers results.

              Have you read my review of the 2019 update already? I found it a bit odd that the number of samples for “Cameroon, Congo, Southern Bantu” has actually decreased somewhat (-/-44). However it still has the largest number of all African regions (535). I suppose as mentioned by Ancestry in their white paper they have been pruning their samples again for reasons of quality control. And possibly they found closely interrelated samples or otherwise some outliers which they took out of the Reference Panel.

              But I do still believe that the vast majority of these samples are from Cameroon. As I describe in this previous blog post (section two), given the extensive sampling by the former Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation (SMGF) (which is now owned by Ancestry) this seems the most plausible scenario. Even when not confirmed by Ancestry itself.

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  13. Since there has been no indication of how the grasslanders are being accounted for then I continue my objection. You are entitled to your opinion and I am entitled to mine.

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