Nigerian Results

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Screenshots of Nigerian AncestryDNA results (2013-2018)
  3. Summary of Findings
  4. Observations
    • “Nigeria” region does not cover the full extent of Nigerian DNA
    • “Benin/Togo” most significant secondary component for southern Nigerians
    • “Cameroon/Congo” marker of Southeast Nigerian ancestry?
    • “Senegal” scores indicative of Fulani lineage among northern Nigerians
    • “Ivory Coast/Ghana” merely reflecting shared ancient DNA or also recent migrations?
  5. Can Nigerian ethnic groups be genetically distinguished?

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UPDATE 16-08-2019: this page was first published on 22 September 2016 when I had only 15 Nigerian AncestryDNA results available for my analysis (see this overview). As my survey has been ongoing I have managed to collect a sample group which is now five times greater. Consisting of no less than 87 AncestryDNA results of Nigerian persons! Additional screenshots and new group averages have been added therefore. Also a few textual changes have been made (see this link for original version).

For a short recap of my final survey findings follow this link:

Please also keep in mind that AncestryDNA’s ethnicity estimates have been updated several times now! On this page I am dealing exclusively with AncestryDNA version 2 which was current between September 2013 and September 2018. All matters being discussed on this page are therefore not pertaining to updated results (Sept. 2018 up till now). In my opinion this new version 3 regrettably has been a downgrade rather than providing meaningful improvement, overall speaking. Which is why I have discontinued my AncestryDNA survey.

In particular Ancestry’s update in 2018 has been disastrous for obtaining reasonable Nigerian DNA results. Generally speaking former “Nigeria” scores have sharply decreased and were replaced by inflated “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon, Congo, Southern Bantu” scores.1

To repeat myself this page is NOT dealing with those updated and usually rather misleading results! Instead read this blogseries:

Updated results for a Nigerian (Bini, Itsekiri, Urhobo & Isoko)

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NAIJA updatea

For many Nigerians as well as other people of  (southern) Nigerian descent Ancestry’s update in 2018 has lead to a drastic decrease of “Nigeria” amounts. Replaced by hugely inflated “Benin/Togo” as well as “Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples” scores. Undoing the imperfect yet still reasonably predictive accuracy of the “Nigeria” region in the version current between 2013-2018.

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1) Introduction

On this page I will be posting the AncestryDNA results for Nigerians with confirmed ethnic background(s) within Nigeria. Unlike for Afro-descendants in the Americas or elsewhere these results can therefore be verified with known genealogy. This should be insightful on how reliable/predictive the various African AncestryDNA regions can be and also how they might be interpreted. For other African AncestryDNA results see this pages:

Nigerian AncestryDNA results 2013-2018

Figure 1 (click to enlarge)

Compil NG 2x3

Merely a selection of individual results among my 87 Nigerian survey participants. Naturally variation will be greater as shown in section 2 & 3 and also in this spreadsheet.

 

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In my personal estimation AncestryDNA can report valuable information about your ancestral origins as long as you correctly interpret the data and are aware of the relevant context and inherent limitations. Still these results might appear to be “off” at first look for those not accustomed to how AncestryDNA or DNA testing in general works. Therefore please keep in mind the following disclaimers (for a more detailed discussion see the AncestryDNA and AncestryDNA Regions pages):

  • Don’t take the country name labeling of the regions too literallyThe regional percentages firstmost signal close genetic similarity to samples taken from the countries after which the regions get named. Actual origins from neighbouring countries should not be ruled out.
  • Almost all African countries have been colonial creations with borders cutting right through the homelands of ethnic groups. Closely related ethnic groups can often be found on both sides of the border. This is also the case for Nigeria, which is arguably the most ethnically diverse country in Africa. With close genetic ties to populations nowadays living in Benin and Cameroon.
  • Most DNA is common in many populations, just at different frequencies. Due to either migrations or shared origins dating back from hundreds or even thousands of years. In particular the Gbe migrations, originating in southern Nigeria and spreading westwards across Benin into Togo, Ghana and even beyond are of great importance. As well as the outgoing Bantu migrations across Central & Southern Africa, but originating in the eastern Nigerian/Cameroonian borderland. For northern Nigeria especially the relatively recent incoming migrations of Fula people from originally Upper Guinea have been very significant.
  • Ethnicity is a construct which evolves across time due to ethnogenesis. Generally speaking therefore ethnic groups do not possess unique DNA markers. Especially in comparison with neighbouring ethnic groups or from within the same wider region. The most common scenario being a genetic gradient which causes ancestral components to gradually fan out. As can be verified from table 1.
  • However by closely studying the regional combinations being reported for Nigerians we can still learn a great deal. Inspite of individual variation group averages do tend to provide more solid ground to make meaningful inferences when specifying someone’s ancestral origins. Also finding out where a specific region is most prominent or rather most subdued holds valuable lessons.

Table 1 (click to enlarge) 

stats (n=87)

Although not a perfect measure of Nigerian lineage the “Nigeria” region did usually reach a predominant (>50%) level among my Nigerian survey participants. Especially for Igbos. In order to give more context on the main secondary regions I have also included the group averages for my Beninese, Cameroonian and Fula (mainly from Senegal & Guinea) survey results. In the latter case we are indeed dealing with a relatively recent ancestral connection for the Hausa-Fulani. As indicated by the shared “Senegal”, “Africa North” and “West Asian” regional components. Which are nearly absent among southern Nigerians. However not so when it comes to the so-called “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” regional scores! Primarily suggestive of ancient shared DNA which is most likely originating from within southern Nigeria. And not (as often assumed at first) the result of foreign lineage for my Nigerian survey participants.

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The overview above is based on a limited but still already quite solid sample size (n=87). It is actually higher than Ancestry’s own Nigerian sample size (n=67) during this period (see this page). And also crucially I have managed to gather plausible ethnic details for almost all of my Nigerian survey participants! Which should contribute to a more robust dataset when compared with my initial findings in 2016 (n=15, see this overview). Naturally a greater degree of genetic diversity and individual variation might be expected across Nigeria and also for the listed ethnic groups. As really only for the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani I was able to collect a fair number of results. But of course Nigeria harbours a multitude of other ethnic groups. According to some estimates more than 200! Although many of these ethnic groups are actually closely related, genetically speaking. Continued discussions in sections 3 and onwards where I will attempt to provide some preliminary analysis on a group level.

I will first post the screenshots of the Nigerian AncestryDNA results I managed to collect. The ethnic backgrounds behind these Nigerian test results were verified by me in the best way I was able to. Mostly by statements made by the persons taking the tests but in a few cases I also distilled a likely ethnic background by way of other clues (usually family names and family locations). In these latter cases I have added a question mark in the header. Therefore a 100% accurate depiction of ethnic self-identification is not intended. I like to thank all these Nigerians for having tested on AncestryDNA and sharing their results online so that it may benefit other people as well! 2

You can also see the breakdown of the Nigerian results shown below in my spreadsheet via this link:

Disclaimer:

I am aware that ethnicity can be a sensitive topic. My motivation to research these so-called Ethnicity Estimates is purely scholarly. It stems from a deep fascination with Nigerian history as well as its many connections with the Afro-Diaspora. 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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2) Nigerian Results

As far as I was able to verify all of these screenshots below are from persons with two Nigerian-born parents. This section is intended to illustrate the individual variation among Nigerians firstmost. The ethnic headers are meant to provide additional perspective. Even if at times only approximate info was available to me. Naturally I respect everyone’s right to self-identify as they please. My accompanying comments should be taken as informed speculation on my part they are not meant to exclude other possibilities or simplify complex family histories.

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IGBO

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IGBO8

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This breakdown features the second highest amount of “Nigeria” I have observed. The highest being 88%. The 4 outliers of >75% “Nigeria” results in my survey all belong to Igbo persons. Except for one who’s possibly from River state. To some it might be surprising that a “100% Nigerian” outcome is not obtained. However these results still make sense if you realize that genetics does not respect manmade borders and neighbouring people will always have shared DNA in common because of ancient migrations and/or recent inter-ethnic unions. Genetics are complex and your DNA won’t always exactly fit in any neat boxes. Now this might get in the way of how you initially expect things to work out in DNA testing but that’s just how things are.

In the following screenshots a decreasing amount of “Nigeria” can be observed. Even when it is still being reported as the predominant or biggest region for almost all, except for 14 persons (out of 87). In addition it turns out that in particular the regions  “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” are needed to describe the heterogeneous genetic make-up of southern Nigerians. Basically because of a high degree of genetic diversity in Nigeria, shared origins across borders and probably also due to the limited reference populations being available to AncestryDNA. Individual variation among Nigerians is to be expected therefore and might very well correspond with ethnic identity as well as deep ancestry (going beyond ethnicity and dating back many centuries). More detailed discussion in section 4 & 5.

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IGBO

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IGBO1

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This guy also made a very funny yet still also very insightful Youtube video:

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IGBO

IGBO2

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IGBO

igbo8

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IGBO

IGBO12b

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Highest “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score among my Igbo survey participants. Quite remarkable at first sight. Especially given that this person has confirmed to me that both her parents are Igbo. But actually quite a common occurrence for this region to show up above trace level. But usually not in double digit amounts and also not higher than “Benin/Togo”. If not due to some recent connection with either Ghana, Liberia or Sierra Leone (which this person might not be aware of) this might also just be a reflection of very ancient genetic similarity between southern Nigerians and people to the west of Togo. See section 4 for more discussion.

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IGBO (?)

IGBO4

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The screenshot above and the one below are very similar in their top 3 breakdown as well as proportion-wise. The trio of “Nigeria”, “Benin/Togo” and Cameroon/Congo” are consistent as main regions. With the Trace regions being minimal.

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IGBO

IGBO3

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IGBO

 

IGBO9

Source: African Royale DNA Project

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The DNA results for this person as well as several other results in my survey have been enabled by the commendable “African Royale DNA Project”. When it comes to my Igbo survey group I am very much indebted to this pioneering and powerful project! For more details see this website:

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IGBO

 

Igbo (Anambra)

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Again very similar results directly above and below. Intriguingly “Cameroon/Congo” is showing up more pronounced  than “Benin/Togo” for both. And in addition also “Ivory Coast/Ghana” is being reported above trace level! Highlighting the close genetic ties across Lower Guinea into Cameroon. As far as i know these persons, both of confirmed Igbo descent, do not have any recent family connections with any of these neighbouring countries. This outcome is rather to be explained by people originally living in Nigeria migrating in both westward and easterly directions. These population movements taking place in a both prehistorical age (Bantu speakers) and more recent time periods (Kwa speakers). More details in section 4.

 

IGBO

 

igbo6

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IGBO

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 50%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 34%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 8%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 7%

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A well spoken video which features similar results as the two results directly above. Except that the socalled “Cameroon/Congo” region is showing up even more pronounced. While the socalled “Benin/Togo” region is rather subdued especially when compared with “Ivory Coast/Ghana“.  As also explained in greater detail in the next section the socalled “Cameroon/Congo” region should not be taken too literally as actually implying ancestral origins from Cameroon. Rather it would suggest crossborder ancestral ties as a result  of (ancient) migration flows historically starting within southeast Nigeria rather than the other way around.

Also the “only” 50% socalled “Nigeria” score should not be interpreted as diminishing anyone’s Nigerian status. It’s just a preliminary measure of how you compare genetically with the (by default limited) sample dataset utilized by AncestryDNA. Ancestry used to  have 67 Nigerian samples in their reference panel (2013-2018). Had these 67 samples been selected from close family members or people from within your ancestral village undoubtedly your Nigerian score would have been been much higher!  As I always say your DNA results are only as good as the next update 😉

More details by way of her blog:

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IGBO

IGBO10

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IGBO

IGBO12

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Although generally speaking “Benin/Togo” is a substantial component among my Igbo survey participants this is the only time it appeared in first place.  At least for a person of confirmed Igbo self-identification. See also the text below for another person of possibly Igbo background who received a similar primary score for “Benin/Togo”. Something which otherwise usually only happened among my Yoruba survey participants (7/18).

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IGBO?

IGBO7

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I have no certainty about the ethnic background of this person. Although there is valid reason to assume at least a partial Igbo background. The breakdown on display is atypical compared with what i have seen for Nigerians and especially for Igbo’s. “Nigeria” is being trumped by both “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo”! Although the composition is actually pretty much balanced in between these 3 overlapping regions. I suppose this might be suggestive of this person having a multi-ethnic background. Inter-ethnic unions possibly involving ethnic groups surrounding Igboland such as the Ijaw, Efik, Edo etc. (see ethnolinguistical maps of Nigeria in section 5). This ethnic mixing might have taken place just 1 or a few generations ago but it could also be dating from further back in time, beyond family recollection even. Naturally all of this is just speculation on my part 😉 For all i know this person selfidentifies as fully Igbo and so would her parents, grandparents etc.  Perhaps it’s also more representative for certain Igbo subgroups.

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YORUBA & IGBO

YORIGBO

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Eventhough this person above is half Igbo his breakdown seems to pull him more to his Yoruba side. That is judging by the results available in my survey. Especially “Cameroon/Congo” only appearing at trace level seems to be more typical for a Yoruba composition. Compare with fully Yoruba results posted below.

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YORUBA

Yoruba

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This person’s “Nigerian” % is close to what a “typical native” from Nigeria would score according to the samples from Ancestry.com (69%). Also in line with expectations and previous results the “Benin/Togo” % is quite pronounced. Everything else is at minor Trace Region level and therefore could as well be simply “noise” or just generic DNA that AncestryDNA finds difficult to classify. Still interesting that “Cameroon/Congo” is mentioned only with a very reduced amount. The “Cameroon/Congo” region could be a tell-tale sign I suppose to distinguish the “average” Yoruba from the “average” Igbo. However it is important to keep stressing that even within ethnic groups, especially large ones like the Igbo and Yoruba, you will find MUCH individual variation as everyone has unique family trees and different levels of deep ancestry dating from a proto-ethnic era. Continued discussion in section 4 & 5.

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YORUBA

YOR11

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YORUBA

YOR8

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YORUBA

YOR12

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YORUBA

YOR5

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Highest “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score among my Yoruba survey participants. Quite remarkable at first sight. But actually quite a common occurrence for this region to show up above trace level. A bit more so among Yoruba than among Igbo. Although group averages are quite comparable, around 5-6%.  If not due to some recent connection with either Ghana, Liberia or Sierra Leone (which this person might not be aware of) this might also just be a reflection of very ancient genetic similarity between southern Nigerians and people to the west of Togo. See section 4 for more discussion.

YORUBA

YOR12b

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YORUBA

YOR3

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YORUBA

YOR4

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YORUBA

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 44%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 37%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 15%

Trace Regions

  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 2%
  • “Mali”: 1%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%

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This video features the results of UK-born singer Alex Boyé, who is however of fully Nigerian descent. Because of his childhood he was initially not interested at all in his Nigerian roots. But having started a family of his own he became more curious. Nowadays he actually sings some of his songs in Yoruba. See also his website:

This breakdown seems to fit in nicely in the Yoruba results I have seen during my survey. Especially the near equal combo of “Nigeria” and “Benin/Togo”. Only the 15% socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana” stands out a bit. It might be genuinely signaling a recent Ghanaian family line. But on the other hand it could also be a mere reflection of shared ancient ancestry between southern Nigeria and its bordering countries to the west. Perhaps dating back hundreds of years or possibly even thousands! For more discussion see also section 4.

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YORUBA

Yoruba2a

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Yet again a clear “Benin/Togo” shift is being shown for this person of Nigerian nationality and fully Yoruba ethnic background. However this time “Benin/Togo” is bigger than his socalled “Nigeria” score and makes up about half of his total breakdown! This occurred quite often among my Yoruba survey participants: 7 times out of 18 persons. See also following screenshots. At first rather confusing. But actually quite logical given geography and close genetic similarity across borders.

A convincing confirmation that  socalled “Benin/Togo” ancestral markers seen among Afro-Diasporans might just as well have been inherited by way of a southern Nigerian ancestor. And in fact also by way of Ghanaian ancestors. This is a topic I have blogged about extensively during my survey. Further discussion see section 4. Or also this page:

Another interesting thing to note is how this breakdown only shows 1 single Trace Region while Afro-Diasporans usually tend to show a handful of Trace Regions. The “Senegal”  score mentioned in this breakdown might only have been reported at trace level. But given that this region has a robust prediction accuracy it could still be genuine and possibly be suggestive of a single distant Fula lineage. The Nigerian Fulani having migrated to northern Nigeria in recent times, coming from the west and originally located in the Senegambia area.

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YORUBA

YOR10

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Aside from the primary “Benin/Togo” score also quite notable “Cameroon/Congo” score. Not really sure what to make of it. At first I thought such scores might signal partial and distant ancestral connections with southeastern Nigeria. However it might also merely be a fluke of Ancestry’s algorithm I suppose. Not able to assign decisively to “Nigeria” due to an absence of fitting Nigerian samples in their Reference Panel. “Benin/Togo” as well as “Cameroon/Congo” then, out of necessity, acting as second-best proxies. Compare also with following results and the one directly above.

YORUBA 

YOR9

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YORUBA 

YOR7

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EDO & YORUBA

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Benin/Togo”: 55%
  • “Nigeria”: 35%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 1%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 1%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%

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Highly fascinating video and corresponding results. This woman received one of the highest amounts of “Benin/Togo” I have seen among Nigerians, a whopping 55%! It is a perfect illustration of how the country name labeling by AncestryDNA can be potentially confusing. Because in fact she is not at all from either Benin or Togo. Ancestry.com does actually provide decent background information on how to interpret their results. Unfortunately it seems to be often skipped by those who don’t like to read the small print ;-). But not so by this Nigerian woman who explains very clearly how Benin is literally right next to Yorubaland and in fact many Yoruba’s also live within Benin itself! The mixed ethnic background of this woman underlines that the frequency of inter-ethnic unions among Africans should not be underestimated. It is well worth the time to watch the entire video as traditional Nigerian (Yoruba) views on genealogy are also being discussed in a very lucid manner. For historical links between the Edo and the Yoruba see also this great BBC documentary:

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EDO & YORUBA

YOREDO2

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EDO (?)

EDO3

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I do not have full certainty about the ethnic background of all my Edo/Bini results. However going by their distinctive surnames at least a paternal Edo/Bini connection seems very likely. The Edo/Bini people have a highly interesting history as they are the direct descendants of the famous Benin empire. In fact this kingdom has had widespread impact also on neighbouring peoples across southern Nigeria and even into the modernday country of Benin. This country borders Nigeria on the west and borrowed its name from the southern Nigerian kingdom whose capital is still called Benin City. Ironically or perhaps fittingly “Benin/Togo” is a significant component for my 4 Edo/Bini survey participants. Group average (38.5%) being higher even than among 18 Yorubas (36.3%). Although of course the sample size (n=4) is quite limited (see chart 2).

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EDO 

EDO1

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EDO (?)

EDO4

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EDO

EDO2

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Very interesting to see results of persons with a Edo (a.k.a. Bini) background. Most people in the West are only aware of a few Nigerian ethnic groups. While actually more than 200 distinct ethnic groups are said to live in Nigeria! The Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani being most well known because of their greater numbers and notable presence among both recent migrants and the Trans Atlantic Diaspora. The Edo are located in southern Nigeria and are descendants of the people who founded the famous Benin Empire, not to be confused with the moderday country of Benin (known as Dahomey in colonial times).

This empire is rightfully celebrated for its arts and city planning. Less well known might be that the military expansion of the former Edo (Benin) kingdom across southern Nigeria caused a great deal of population movements. With people originally living in southern Nigeria ending up all the way in Ghana (incl. Gbe speaking people such as the Ewe). Quite likely an important factor behind the seemingly “mixed” AncestryDNA results of Nigerians and their close genetic ties with neighbouring countries to the west. The regional breakdown for my 4 Edo survey participants is actually not that drastically different from the previous Igbo & Yoruba results except that the amount of “Benin/Togo” is somewhat more significant while “Cameroon/Congo” seems intermediate (see chart 2).

A  worthwhile quote from the person behind the result featured directly above:

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My mom was really dismissive when I showed her the results. I could tell she felt that the test was implying that she’s not really Edo (which it’s not) and that she’s not what she think she is so she dismissed it as false. She’s like “my mother is Bini, her mother is Bini, and her mother is Bini. This is all lie lie”. Yeah ok but do you know past that? What about our ancestors 200 years ago or 500 years ago? She must think that Edo people existed since the beginning of time and never migrated to or from somewhere for 1000’s of years lol. She’s really old fashioned so I don’t blame her.”

Sourcehttp://thatnigeriankid.tumblr.com/

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 URHOBO (3/4) & Itsekiri (1/4)

URHOBO1

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The Urhobo people, located to the west of the Niger delta, are probably not very well known outside of Nigeria. But they are apparently closely related to the Edo/Bini people, once forming part of the Benin empire. The Itsekiri people are known to be closely related to the Yoruba as well as the Edo/Bini people. Highlighting the gradient of ethnic similarities rather than any sharp delineation. For more details see also:

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YORUBA & URHOBO

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yorur

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A very nice reaction video in which a profound statement is made that “you don’t have to be [racially] mixed to take a DNA test”. The Ethnicity Estimates obtained from AncestryDNA can be rewarding for anyone who takes interest in their ancestral origins! The “Nigeria” amount (72%) for this person is among the highest I have observed.  It is basically only “Benin/Togo” which shows up in addition. Remarkably no “Cameroon/Congo” is being reported. Being absent even among the trace regions. Although not really surprising given her Yoruba/Urhobo background. This mixed combination is yet again testimony of inter-ethnic unions being pretty common among Nigerians.

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EFIK

EFIK1

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Very useful to see non-Igbo results from southeastern Nigeria. Such as this one with an Efik background as well as the following ones. I wish I could have added more such results into my survey. Bight of Biafra origins for Afro-Diasporans are often simply equated with Igbo origins even when several other ethnic groups are known to have been involved/victimized, incl. also from Cameroon. The socalled Moco and Calabari are frequently named as ethnonyms for enslaved Africans in the Americas (see the section for slave ethnicity data for the Anglo-Caribbean and the Hispanic Americas). Several historians have argued that especially Efik people may have been referred to by these terms (although not exclusively). See also :

Generally speaking for southeastern Nigerians it seems that higher “Cameroon/Congo” scores show up quite frequently. It can reach higher levels than in this particular breakdown as shown in the following results. But still 18% is also a considerable double digit amount. Another striking aspect is the 4% “South-Central Hunter Gatherer” score. Reported above trace level even when the amount itself is not spectacular. Still this region mostly only appeared among southeastern Nigerians in my survey (incl. also Igbos). Possibly suggesting the ancient absorption of local populations living in rain forested zones? Who may have been genetically similar to current Pygmy populations in Central Africa. Similar in this way to my findings for Liberians and Sierra Leoneans. See also:

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EFIK, YORUBA & 1/4 SIERRA LEONEAN

EFIKYORLIB

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This person is not fully Nigerian and also ethnically mixed with Yoruba lineage. Still it seems not far-fetched to assume that the primary score of “Cameroon/Congo” is correlated with this persons partial Efik background. Possibly quirky recombination resulting in a more pronounced outcome. Either way this is the only result in my Nigerian survey which showed “Cameroon/Congo” in first place! And it is also the highest amount in my survey. Although a few other persons (all from southeastern Nigeria) also scored higher than 30%.

Just to be sure his results are not actually included in my survey statistics (n=87) because he does not have 4 Nigerian-born grandparents. The genetical inheritance of his 1 Sierra Leonean (or possibly also Liberian) grandparent is presumably being reflected first most by the 13% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” combined with the 9% “Mali”. Although actually also among fully Nigerians such scores might be seen.

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IJAW (3/4) & KRIO (1/4)

IJAW1a

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This person is actually not of 100% Nigerian descent because one of his grandparents is a Krio from Sierra Leone who migrated to Nigeria where they are also known as Saro (see this wikipedia article for more details). Similar to the results featured directly above his results are therefore not actually included in my survey statistics (n=87). I am still showcasing their breakdowns on this page because I find them very insightful! Judging from the Sierra Leonean results I have seen (see African AncestryDNA results) the 24% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” might very well reflect his quarter Krio background. Afterall Sierra Leone does not have a region of its own on AncestryDNA. It could be that some of his Trace Regions are also inherited from his Krio side. But i imagine that’s impossible to tell right now. Which leaves a breakdown which is almost evenly divided between “Nigeria” and “Cameroon/Congo” to describe his Ijaw background. Regrettably I could not include any fully Ijaw results in my survey. But I find this outcome very useful as it seems to suggest that the Ijaw might have a greater genetic affinity with the Cameroonian samples used by AncestryDNA than the Igbo results in my survey. Which would make sense given both geography and linguistics.

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IDOMA/YALA (Cross River State)

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 43%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 35%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 13%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 2%

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Very nice video showing yet again how these results might be confusing when you take the country name labeling too literally. However when taking into the account the background of this person as well as the disclaimers I have already mentioned this breakdown actually makes a lot of sense. The socalled “Nigeria” amount is indeed a bit low, but still close to the average I have found for the Nigerians in my survey.  However the socalled “Cameroon/Congo” amount of 35% is clearly above average and in fact one of the highest such scores I have observed!

This is not surprising at all given that this person’s family is from Cross River State, which is located right at the border with Cameroon. Of course genetics doesn’t care about manmade borders dating back from only a hundred years or so when your DNA is reflecting ancestral connections which can go back many centuries or even millennia 😉 . As this very useful video illustrates any socalled “Cameroon/Congo” amount reported for Afro-Diasporans could also have been inherited by way of southeastern Nigerians.

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IDOMA/YALA (Cross River State)

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 39%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 35%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 14%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 3%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%
  • “Hunter-Gatherers”: 1%

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This video features the results of the mother of the person above. The breakdown is practically identical safe for a slightly lower “Nigeria” amount. The same comments apply as I made above. This time however the mother did specify her ethnic background, which interestingly is Yala, a subgroup of the Idoma people. Intriguingly these people are originally located a bit more inland (Benue state), again highlighting the importance of migrations. See also these links:

Well worth watching the entire video as the mother makes a couple of very fascinating comments about familylore involving intermarriage with a European man 3 or 4 generations ago. Although this family history is not confirmed by the 100% African breakdown. Furthermore she mentions being in contact with several DNA cousins from the Maryland area. Which seems very appropriate as this state together with Virginia received the greatest proportion of Bight of Biafra captives during the Slave Trade period (see this blogpage). At the very end the mother makes a truly inspiring statement about how DNA testing can be used to realize how interconnected we all might be.

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HAUSA/FULANI

HAUSFULA1

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The Hausa/Fulani are often mentioned combined as being the biggest ethnic group in northern Nigeria. It is therefore very illuminating to compare the following northern Nigerian results with the southern Nigerian results posted above. Most striking difference seems to be the (near) absence of “Cameroon/Congo” and “Benin/Togo” regions. And instead the noticeable presence of especially “Senegal” and also “Africa North” and “Middle East”.

To hark back at the theme of frequent inter-ethnic unions within Nigeria. The Hausa/Fulani themselves are an excellent illustration of this phenomenon as they represent a fairly recent fusion of two distinct ethnic groups. Aside from widespread intermarriage also characterized by language adoption (Hausa becoming the preferred first language) and cultural amalgamation. Even when apparently despite much common ground many Hausa and Fulani do choose to maintain separate identities as well or at least are aware of their previous lineage. This person for example has a Tuareg great-grandfather from neighbouring Niger. For more background information see also:

The predominantly Hausa background for this person seems to be confirmed by the rather high 73% score for the “Nigeria” region. Which is among the highest Nigerian percentages I have seen in my survey! But also closely matched by the results featured directly below. Despite their Chadic language suggesting ultimate origins further east, the Hausa are known to have a long history within Nigeria borders (at least since 500-700 AD according to this overview). While the Fulani settled in Nigeria relatively recently (probably mostly during 1600’s-1800’s) having migrated from their original homelands in Senegambia and Guinea (see this website for an overview).

Amazingly the partial Fulani background is very clearly captured by the 16% “Senegal”. Unmistakably confirming that Senegambia is indeed the original homeland of the Fula people. Even when also the minor North African and Middle Eastern scores can be correlated with Fulani origins. Naturally in addition to the genetic contribution from the Tuareg great-grandfather for this person. Given its tracelevel (<1%) reporting the socalled “Iberian Peninsula” score can safely be assumed to be just a misreading of North African DNA. In fact actual North Africans also usually score substantial South European scores. Merely due to genetic overlap! Insightful to compare with results for persons of fully Fula & North African background posted on these pages:

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HAUSA/FULANI

HAUSAFULA3

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HAUSA/FULANI

HAUSAFULA4

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HAUSA/FULANI (Kaduna)

hausfula2

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This Hausa-Fulani breakdown looks more balanced than the previous ones. Suggestive of the wide range of actual Hausa and Fulani ancestral shares among Hausa-Fulani. Proportionally speaking it seems safe to state that this individual has a higher degree of Fulani origins, than the first two Hausa-Fulani results posted above (with “Nigeria” >70%). Judging also from the elevated level of both “Senegal” and “Africa North”. Again the “Mali” region does not seem to be especially useful as an indicator of Fulani ancestry, only showing up at 1%.

A striking standout feature would be the 10% socalled “Southeastern Bantu”. Despite the labeling it seems more logical to assume this ancestral element is actually suggestive of Chadic or Nilo-Saharan origins from neighbouring Chad and Sudan. These populations are after all not yet represented within AncestryDNA’s Reference Panel. Also it is known that the Hausa have linguistic and ancestral ties to these countries to the east. It will be very interesting to see if this component is common among other Hausa-Fulani as well or just reflecting this person’s particular family tree.

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HAUSA/FULANI (Jalingo)

HAUSAFULA5

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This person’s 28% primary “Senegal” score is among the highest I have observed in my Nigerian survey. The maximum score obtained being 35% (also for most likely a Hausa-Fulani). Ironically among the much greater number of African American AncestryDNA results I have seen (more than 1000) a similar amount of 29% is the maximum score instead (see this page). Suggesting that northern Nigerians might have a greater chance of scoring high amounts of Senegambian DNA than African Americans who are often touted as having the highest degree of Senegambian origins among the Afro-Diaspora!

This person’s results are remarkable for a number of reasons. His breakdown is looking extraordinarily divers. With no less than 6 main regions >10%! Quite rare for Nigerians. But his main Fulani origins are very well known to him. And also clearly validated by his results. Amazingly “Senegal” is showing up as biggest region within the African breakdown and also “Africa North” is at an elevated level. Interestingly also his “Mali” score is quite pronounced. While his 10% “Nigeria” score is the second lowest in my survey!

The 13% so-called “Southeastern Bantu” score is very noteworthy too. And as explained for the previous result most likely connected to Chadic or Nilo-Saharan ancestry (by way of Kanuri proxy?). Another standout aspect is the 13% “Cameroon/Congo” score. Quite atypical among my other Hausa-Fulani survey participants. But very likely to be explained by this person’s origins from Jalingo, close to the border with Cameroon. And in fact he mentions having actual Cameroonian relatives as well. The Fulani people also having a significant presence in northern Cameroon (Adamawa Emirate). Something which he explains also in these excellent videos below.

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YORUBA & TABOM & FULANI?

NAIJA - Yoruba descendant in Ghana

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These results above reflect a personal history of multiple migrations across West Africa and even Trans Atlantic migrations from Brazil back to West Africa. Just to summarize: this person seems to be descended mostly from a prominent Yoruba family who migrated from Nigeria to Ghana during the 1800’s. Apparently these migrations started as early as 1813! It goes to show that the intermingling of ethnic groups within Africa due to migration and intermarriage should never be underestimated.  Even so it’s striking that the main regions shown in this breakdown are still “Nigeria” and “Benin/Togo” as was to be expected judging from the other Yoruba results posted above. The specifics are described in greater detail on these webpages written by the man who took the test:

Aside from Yoruba ancestry this person also has an ancestral tie to the Tabom people from Ghana. They are somewhat similar to the Krio people of Sierra Leone and Liberia, as in that they descend from formerly enslaved Afro-Diasporans who returned to West Africa during the 1800’s. The Tabom however left from Brazil and not the USA or Jamaica. The amount of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” was less than expected by the person who took the test himself. However he also mentions that many of the Tabom people were actually Muslim and might have hailed originally from northern Nigeria before being taken to Brazil and then settling in Ghana. An incredible odyssey! Follow these links if you want to learn more about these fascinating people:

Intriguingly yet another migrating Nigerian connection is present in this person’s family tree. Involving “hired warriors” from Sokoto in northern Nigeria who headed south. Going back more generations however this side of the family might ultimately have migrated from Mali, which goes in line with the history of the Sokoto Caliphate, which was founded by the Fula (or Fulani as the Nigerians say), who arrived in Nigeria coming from the West. It is amazing therefore that his “Mali” score is among the highest I have seen in my Nigerian survey. Which would be confirming family lore. Zooming into ethnic details could prove to be more trickier at this stage. However it might be insightful to compare with the next following two results who also have above average “Mali” scores.

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UNKNOWN

UNKNOWN

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I do not know the ethnic background(s) for this Nigerian person. However she herself expressed to be surprised about the relatively high 13% “Mali” score. As Mali is not a neighbouring country for Nigeria. But this socalled “Mali” region might actually also signal ancestral connections with Burkina Faso and northern parts of Benin/Togo/Ghana in addition to the Upper Guinea area. For more details see also the “Mali” entry on this page:

Even when the number of Nigerian results I have collected is limited this “Mali” score does stand out sofar as being among the highest I have observed and it’s also atypical for being above trace level.  Additional context is needed to make more sense of it though. It could be something rather ancient which was inherited through both parents and also generally present within the genepool of the ethnic group this person belongs to. Similar to the “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” scores among Yoruba and Igbo but possibly more indicative of northern Nigerian or Middle Belt origins. On the other hand it might also be more recent and hailing from just one particular family line with possible origins from outside of Nigeria’s borders.

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UNKNOWN (Yoruba Muslim?)

UNKNOWN3

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No confirmation for this person’s background. However judging from his name and family locations he might be a Yoruba Muslim. Which would fit with the primary “Benin/Togo” score. While also possibly explaining the slight shift towards “Mali”.

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UNKNOWN (possibly Urhobo?)

UNKNOWN2

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UNKNOWN

UNKNOWN5

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UNKNOWN (River State?)

UNKNOWN4

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No confirmed ethnic details on this final breakdown unfortunately. Although going by the surname a River State background might be possible. Perhaps also of (partial) Igbo descent. Although not per se as this state is multi-ethnic, especially its capital Port Harcourt. It features the highest “Nigeria” score in my survey. Although actually shared by another person of confirmed Igbo descent.

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Youtube Videos

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NIGERIA (Igbo)

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NIGERIA (Yoruba, Aguda/Saro)

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NIGERIA (Fulani, Kanuri & Tuareg)

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NIGERIA (northern: Babur/Bura) (updated results)

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1/2 NIGERIA (Yoruba) & 1/2 Burundi (updated results)

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3) Summary of Findings

  1. As expected “Nigeria” is reported as the primary region for almost all. But it is plain to see that the region labeled “Nigeria” by AncestryDNA does not cover the full extent of Nigerian DNA.
  2. “Benin/Togo” is the most significant secondary ancestral component for the group as a whole and even the top region for 12 out of 87. It is however practically absent among my 16 Hausa-Fulani results.
  3. “Cameroon/Congo” appears especially elevated among my survey participants from Southeast Nigeria. And might therefore also be a marker of such ancestry.
  4. “Senegal” scores among northern Nigerians seem to be highly indicative of Fulani descent. Especially when combined with minor amounts of “Africa North” and “Middle East”.
  5. “Ivory Coast/Ghana” merely reflecting shared ancient DNA or also recent migrations? Ancestral connections with Sierra Leone by way of the Saro/Krio may be possible in some instances. Although otherwise this region might just be a misreading of actual Nigerian DNA.

Disclaimers:

Keep in mind the sample size of my survey is restricted in number. Even more so when going by ethnic background! Obviously no fictional population averages are intended for either the whole of Nigeria or the ethnic groups being mentioned. Also the representativeness of the samples cannot be fully judged. After all Nigeria is home to practically 200 million people! Even so, I believe the group averages I calculated based on 87 Nigerian results hold very valuable information in themselves already. Robust enough to at least indicate a basic regional framework as defined by AncestryDNA. And most likely also valid in broad lines for many other Nigerians.

I am aware that ethnicity can be a sensitive topic for Nigerians. My motivation to research these socalled Ethnicity Estimates is purely scholarly. It stems from a deep fascination with Nigeria’s eminent place within West Africa’s ancient population migrations, as well as its many connections with the Afro-Diaspora. 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.

Chart 3.1 (click to enlarge)

#1 regions piechart

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This first chart shows how many times the socalled “Nigeria” region was reported with the highest amount by AncestryDNA. Which was the case for a clear majority: 84% of my survey participants (73/87). However for 12 out of 87 Nigerians in my survey “Benin/Togo” showed up as biggest region. A wake-up call for people who take the country name labeling of ancestral categories as gospel 😉 And an essential finding to correctly interpret the results of Afro-Diasporans.

Very useful also to see that for 2 of my Hausa-Fulani survey participants “Senegal” was reported as primary region. In this case the labeling is indeed accurately pinpointing a relatively recent ancestral connection with Senegambia & Guinea by way of westwards migrating Fula ancestors of the Hausa-Fulani. See also:

 

Chart 3.2 (click to enlarge)

stats+ (n=87)

Insightful to see my survey results further specified according to ethnic background. Even when especially my Edo/Bini survey group has a minimal sample size. “Benin/Togo” is the main secondary region for Igbos, Edos/Binis and Yorubas. However not so for Hausa-Fulani. Whose main secondary regional component is “Senegal”. Take note also how for 7 out of 18 Yoruba results “Benin/Togo” showed up as biggest region. See this chart for a previous version (n=15). As well as my online spreadsheet for original entries (incl. also “Middle East” scores).

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While reviewing the statistics I calculated above based on 87 Nigerian AncestryDNA results, it is good to be aware that averages tend to hide underlying variation. That’s why it’s always advisable to also take into account other measures such as the median and especially the minimum & maximum values to get a sense of the range of the scores. Naturally also the sample size (mentioned in the row labeled “Number”) is essential to place this data in its proper context 😉

Nigerians compared with Afro-Diaspora

 

Chart 3.3 (click to enlarge)

regdiv

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Within my spreadsheet I have created a column D named “∑ Top 2” which features the sum of the two biggest African regional scores for each individual result (leaving aside any non-African admixture). Combining the shares of the two main regions provides a rough measure of how homogeneous or rather heterogeneous a person’s African breakdown might be. The chart above shows the averages of these combined top 2 regional shares per nationality. According to Ancestry.com their Nigerian samples were among the most admixed in Ancestry’s African reference panel. This is indeed also showing up when comparing with my survey groups from other parts of Africa. The predictive accuracy of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” and “Southeastern Bantu” for the listed nationalities being greater than “Nigeria” has been for Nigerians. See also this sheet for a more extensive comparison of African AncestryDNA results.

However my Nigerian sample group is relatively more homogenous when compared with the Afro-Diaspora. Which should be as expected as after all Afro-descendants in the Americas have wide ranging African origins from across West, Central and Southeast Africa. In most cases the top 2 regions for my Nigerian samples consisted out of a combination of “Nigeria”  and “Benin/Togo”, genetically closely related regions. Although for the Hausa-Fulani it was rather “Senegal”. While for several Igbos and also other southeastern Nigerians “Cameroon/Congo” came in second place, behind “Nigeria”.

Chart 3.4 (click to enlarge)

Diasp comparison

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This last chart shows how the average African breakdown for my Nigerian sample group compares with various other nationalities. It suggests a great deal of overlap and shared regional ancestry between Nigerians and the Afro-Diaspora. Not only for the socalled “Nigeria” region but in fact also the “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” regions. Even though the underlying ethnic origins are unfortunately more obscure and uncertain for Afro-descendants at this stage. Exploring your African DNA matches provides one of the best avenues to zoom in more closely.

For more in depth discussion see also:

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4) Observations

Let me first re-emphasize that my survey is based on individual results reflecting unique family trees. In my analysis below I will however be focusing on the group averages to get a better grip on the underlying patterns. It is important though to underline the individual variation we should expect for Nigerian results. Even if persons belong to the same ethnic group. Which is only natural when you realize that Nigeria is the most diverse and populous country of Africa with a very long (pre)history of significant migrations across its territory.

I did eventually manage to get a decent sample size for Nigeria’s three main ethnic groups, especially the Igbo (n=29). Still obviously some parts of the country are not well represented. I find it especially regrettable that I did not have more results from the socalled Middle Belt to analyze as well as more non-Igbo results from southeastern Nigeria and also more non-Hausa-Fulani results from the north (such as Kanuri). It is of course inevitable that additional and different regional patterns might then have shown up. I will now proceed with discussing the main patterns I am able to pick up from the current data. Of course merely expressing my personal opinions & thoughts and not meant to be conclusive in any way.

 “Nigeria” region does not cover the full extent of Nigerian DNA

Chart 4.1 (click to enlarge)

Nigeria2

Source: Ancestry.com

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All the persons within my survey are of fully Nigerian descent as far as I was able to verify. Yet no one was described as 100% “Nigeria” by AncestryDNA. Instead the highest “Nigeria” score I observed was 88% and the lowest score was 6%. While the average I calculated for 87 Nigerians was barely 52% (see chart 3.2). Even when an overwhelming majority (73/87=84%) of my sample group did have “Nigeria” as their top region. This still was not the case for 14 Nigerian testers who instead had either “Benin/Togo” (12/87) or “Senegal” (2/87) as their biggest region (see chart 3.1).

For some people this might give ground to an overhasty dismissal of these results. Most likely based on an incomplete understanding of how DNA testing works and unrealistic expectations. This would however deprive them of a great deal of informational value to be gained. On the very top of this page I have already briefly explained how this outcome should be interpreted. Basically a high degree of genetic diversity is inevitable because Nigeria has such a huge and heterogeneous population. Too much diversity to be described by just one ancestral category. Named after a country whose borders are barely 100 years old. But this finding is actually also very well explained on the website of Ancestry.com itself, as can be seen in chart 4.1 above. Helpful additional information is also being provided when you take the time to carefully browse through your Ethnicity Estimates. See also:

It should be clear therefore that for logical reasons the genetic origins of actual Nigerians are not fully covered by just only the region “Nigeria”. Additional regions are needed to describe their DNA. In particular “Benin/Togo”, “Cameroon/Congo”. Ancestry mentions that the “typical native” would be 69% “Nigerian”. Based on the median score for their 67 Nigerian samples in their Reference Panel. See also chart 4.1. However I obtained a lower “Nigeria” average as well as median (both 52%) for my own survey group (n=87). Even when my Nigerian survey participants were more numerous than Ancestry’s Nigerian reference samples (n=67)!

And my survey group is probably also more balanced between the main ethnic groups of Nigeria. Ancestry does not specify the ethnic origins of their reference populations. But I suspect they were mostly Igbo given that my Igbo survey group obtained the highest “Nigeria” median (56%), nearest to Ancestry’s 69% therefore. Also the highest “Nigeria” outliers (>75%) were reported for Igbos among my survey group. My Igbo survey group (29/87) might be slightly over-represented, but not drastically so. Overall speaking also the southern Nigerian proportion is still a bit too prevalent (67/87). But still nicely counter balanced by at least 17 northern Nigerian results (incl. also 1 Fulani/Kanuri).

Either way this outcome might be of consequence for the way we should interpret the AncestryDNA results of African Americans and other Afro-Diasporans. Afterall it might very well be that similarly also for Afro-Diasporans the “Nigeria” region may not be reporting the full extent of their genuine Nigerian origins. But rather their “Nigeria” scores will tend to underestimate their Nigerian ancestry, generally speaking. And the reported “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” amounts for especially African Americans and West Indians might in part actually have been inherited by way of southern Nigerian ancestors who already carried these DNA markers in their own genome.

Benin/Togo” most significant secondary component 

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Benin&Togo

Source: Ancestry.com

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Map 4.1 (click to enlarge)

Yorubaland_Map

Map of Yorubaland extending into Benin and even parts of Togo.

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Map 4.2 (click to enlarge)

ulukumi-c-1580

This map is showing various states around the Bight of Benin, circa 1580. Notice how the Bini/Edo empire is extending all the way west beyond Lagos into modernday Benin! Source: Henry B. Lovejoy and Olatunji Ojo, “‘Lucumí’ and ‘Terranova’ and the Origins of the Yoruba Nation,” Journal of African History 56, 3: 355 and 363. Courtesy of Henry B. Lovejoy, African Diaspora Maps Ltd.

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Map 4.3 (click to enlarge)

img-5

In this linguistical map the socalled Kwa language group is extending from southern Nigeria into Benin and beyond Ghana. The Yoruba and Igbo were  formerly classified as eastern Kwa. But nowaydays these languages are often considered to be a separate grouping of Benue-Congo or Volta-Niger (which does also include Gbe languages from Benin (see this page).

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One of the perhaps most insightful findings of my survey of Nigerian AncestryDNA results are the prominent socalled “Benin/Togo” scores. For 12 out of 87 people this neighbouring region to Nigeria was reported with the highest amount in their breakdown (see chart 3.1). The maximum “Benin/Togo” score in my survey was 66%! But also otherwise most of my southern Nigerian samples received substantial “Benin/Togo” scores. Their backgrounds not only being Yoruba but also Edo, Urhobo and Igbo! “Benin/Togo” usually ended up as second biggest region behind “Nigeria” and above tracelevel. On average it reached almost 23%, so clearly a significant part of the ancestral make-up of my Nigerian sample group as a whole (see chart 3.2).

This outcome highlights my earlier disclaimer that the country name labeling of ancestral components should not be taken at face value. Due to inevitable regional overlap and border-crossing ancestral connections, both recent and ancient ones. This might be seen as somewhat misleading but the truth of the matter is that the labeling of ancestral categories in DNA testing is bound to be a complex affair and might never be 100% satisfactory.

Keeping in mind Nigeria’s huge ethnic diversity it is actually reaffirming that my (partial) Yoruba samples showed a clear tendency to high and at times even predominant (>50%) “Benin/Togo” scores. By far the greatest number of my Nigerian survey participants who showed “Benin/Togo” as primary region were Yoruba (7/18). Yorubaland is right next to the border of Benin and also extending across central Benin into Togo! As can be seen in map 4.1 above. In fact Benin itself is home to a significant Yoruba minority, estimated to be about 12% of the population. Showcasing the close ethnic and therefore genetic ties across borders.

However these DNA similarities might also reflect other types of ancestral connections, not per se tied to Yoruba identity. After all also my 29 Igbo samples usually showed significant amounts of “Benin/Togo”. Although they are actually located in southeastern Nigeria! Still as expected to a decreasing degree (on average about 20% versus 36% for my Yoruba survey group).  While for my 4 Edo/Bini samples a similar level of “Benin/Togo” (38%) was reported as for my Yoruba samples. For northern Nigerians this component was however practically absent (see chart 3.2).

It is tempting to correlate this finding with the commonly held belief that the Gbe speakers (Fon, Ewe etc.) of Benin/Togo and eastern Ghana were originally migrants from somewhere in southern Nigeria around the same time (1200’s-1400’s) that the expansion took place of the famous Bini/Edo empire. Confusingly also called Benin, but centered in southern Nigeria! The exact extent of this empire is not known but I have read accounts that it stretched all the way west beyond Lagos into modernday Benin and it may also have caused population displacement in the east across the Niger delta into Igboland. See also map 4.2. or read this online book:

All this movement of peoples might possibly be the reason why my Igbo survey participants are shown to have DNA markers in common with people from Benin/Togo and even Ghana. It would in fact imply that the so-called “Benin/Togo” component represents shared DNA that originated during ancient times within southern Nigeria but nowadays is more frequently seen among Gbe/Kwa speakers in Benin/Togo. Basically because of historical migrations, similar source populations and founding effects. In this light it is also noteworthy perhaps that formerly the Igbo as well as Yoruba and Edo languages were classified as “Eastern Kwa” because of close linguistical similarity with the Kwa languages spoken in Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast. But nowadays these three southern Nigerian languages are considered to be distinct enough to be placed in a separate subgroup called West Benue-Congo or Volta-Niger (but also still incl. Gbe languages!) See also map 4.3 and this page.

 

“Cameroon/Congo” marker of southeast Nigerian ancestry?

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Map 4.4 (click to enlarge)

Igboland

Igboland is located in southeast Nigeria. To the south it is connected to the Bight of Biafra. To the east it is nearby Cameroon.

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Map 4.5 (click to enlarge)

img_1194

Besides the Igbo several other ethnic groups live in the socalled Bight of Biafra hinterland (= southeast Nigeria). Most notably the Ijaw and the Efik/Ibibio. The Edo (a.k.a. Bini) are located in between the Igbo and the Yoruba in southern Nigeria.

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Map 4.6 (click to enlarge)

bantumigration

The Bantu speaking migrations into Central- and Southern Africa are said to originate in the borderarea of southeast Nigeria and Cameroon.

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The “Cameroon/Congo” region is rather broadly based and open for multiple interpretation. However the frequent appearance of this region among my southern Nigerian survey participants seems quite clear-cut. With an average of 9% “Cameroon/Congo” represents the third biggest genetic component for my Nigerian sample group. And interestingly it is more pronounced among Igbo results (12.8%, n=29) than among Yoruba results (5,7%, n=18). While also higher outliers of >30% “Cameroon/Congo” only occurred for Igbos (as well as other southeastern Nigerians) (see chart 3.2). This particular outcome makes sense if you keep in mind the following:

  1. the geographical proximity between Cameroon and Igboland (see map 4.4 above or also scroll down for Nigeria & Cameroon maps on this page)
  2. the Bantu Expansion which is supposed to have started somewhere near the border area of Cameroon/Nigeria. Spreading genetic similarity in easterly and southern directions. Similar to the population migrations to the west by Kwa speakers.

Although my survey findings are of course by no means conclusive. I still strongly suspect that the “Cameroon/Congo” amounts might be a tell-tale sign to distinguish the “average” Yoruba from the “average” Igbo. Not only that, but actually it is perhaps even more striking how “Cameroon/Congo” was also practically absent for my Hausa-Fulani survey group (1.4% on average; one notable exception of 13% having actual Cameroonian relatives). Regrettably my survey only included a few non-Igbo results from southeastern Nigeria (Efik, Ijaw, Idoma). However going by their results it seems quite likely that they will show even higher levels of “Cameroon/Congo”. In this way acting as some sort of marker of southeastern Nigerian lineage. At least within the context of my Nigerian survey!

Then again it is important to keep stressing that even within ethnic groups, especially large ones like the Igbo and Yoruba, you will find a HIGH degree of individual variation as everyone has unique family trees and different levels of deep ancestry dating from a proto-ethnic era. Still such reasoning might also add more perspective to the “Cameroon/Congo” scores of Afro-Diasporans. As (partial) Igbo or otherwise southeastern Nigerian ancestry might also be hinted at. Especially for African Americans and Anglo-Caribbeans whose historical links to the Bight of Biafra are well documented. 

“Senegal” scores among Nigerians indicative of Fulani origins

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Map 4.7 (click to enlarge)

Fula spread

 The Fulfulde/Pulaar language is closely related to the Wolof and Sereer languages spoken in Senegal. Historically it is known that the Fulani originated from Futa Toro along the Senegal river valley.

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FULA (SEN)

These results belong to a person of confirmed Senegalese of Fula descent. The “Senegal” score is quite predictive. But notice also the additional “Africa North” score. Actually within his low confidence regions there was also a 2% “Middle East” score. See this spreadsheet for more Fula results from Senegambia, Guinea and elsewhere.

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Chart 4.2 (click to enlarge)

stats (n=87) (incl. Fula)

Comparison of my Nigerian survey findings with those of my Fula survey participants from various countries (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guiné Bissau, Sierra Leone). Notice how the prominent “Senegal” and “Africa North” components for the Fula are only mirrored among the Hausa-Fulani. For southern Nigerians these regions are practically absent. For a full overview (incl. also West Asian scores) for both Fula and Hausa-Fulani results see this sheet.

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Another very significant finding of my Nigerian survey (2013-2018) is shown above in chart 4.2. which clearly shows how “Senegal” is one of the main regions for both western Fula (55%) and Hausa-Fulani (24%). This stands in sharp contrast with the absence or only trace level reporting of “Senegal” among southern Nigerian results. Despite a great deal of overlap between my northern and southern Nigerian survey groups (as indicated by a solid level of “Nigeria”) still some striking differences can be seen as well. Aside from the “Senegal” region also exemplified by additional “Africa North” and “Middle East” scores among Hausa-Fulani. Which are again practically absent among southern Nigerians.

The Hausa-Fulani are a fairly recent fusion of two distinct ethnic groups, the Hausa and the Fula, a.k.a. Fulani (Hausa term). And the outcome described above is perfectly understandable therefore as a reflection of the (partial) Fula origins of my Hausa-Fulani survey group. Highlighting that regional admixture DOES matter! Correct interpretation might not always be easy. But in this case it is actually quite straightforward.

The amazing thing is that despite centuries of nomadic migration all across the Sahel the ultimately Senegambian origins of persons of Fulani descent are clearly detected by the “Senegal” region! The original homeland of the Fula according to most historians would be the Senegal river valley and the above breakdown seems to confirm this theory very nicely judging from the clear majority of “Senegal” within their African breakdown. In fact also the “Africa North” and “Middle East” regions could very well be indicative of Fulani lineage for Nigerians who do a AncestryDNA test. Even when other ancestral options (such as Tuareg, Shuwa etc.) also remain a possibility. In fact a few of my Hausa-Fulani survey participants explicitly mentioned having a distant Tuareg ancestor. For more discussion about Fula genetics see also:

The “Mali” region does also appear with a significant group average for Fula people (16.8%). And correspondingly the “Mali” group average for my Hausa-Fulani survey group is also quite noticeable (6.2%). However because this so-called “Mali” region is more ambiguous an even wider range of possible ancestral options may apply.  I imagine in particular for Nigerians of western or Middle Belt origins. Perhaps suggestive of genetic similarity across borders with northern Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. But tellingly it is also appearing in some cases for my southern Nigerian survey participants (around 2% group average, see chart 4.2).

I should note that despite high plausibility I did not actually receive confirmation of Hausa-Fulani self- identification for all my survey participants, see also footnote 2. And while their “Senegal” scores are pretty consistent (min. 15% – max. 35%) their “Nigeria” scores (min. 10% – max. 73%) are quite wideranging (see chart 3.2). It would have been illuminating to also have included results of a Hausa person without any Fulani lineage. Presumably such a breakdown would show high amounts of “Nigeria”. Possibly also with some additional “Southeastern Bantu”, as an indication of Chadic genetic affiliations. The group average of 5.3% “Southeastern Bantu” among Hausa-Fulani actually also being quite distinctive. I have no idea how widespread Hausa & Fulani intermarriage has been. But from what I have read it may mostly be an urban phenomenon. See also:

I would like to underline that when I say “indicative of Fulani origins” I am not ruling out that other ancestral scenario’s might also still be valid! I am not advocating sweeping generalizations that any amount of “Senegal” will automatically be correlated with Fulani origins. After all there are many other ethnic groups from Upper Guinea and Mali whose DNA would be described as “Senegal” by AncestryDNA. And some individuals belonging to these ethnic groups might have migrated to Nigeria along with the Fulani in the past centuries. Although personally I am not aware of this happening in any noteworthy numbers. The Fulani presence in Nigeria on the other hand is very well documented, especially for the 1700’s/1800’s. See also:

“Ivory Coast/Ghana” merely reflecting shared ancient DNA or also recent migrations?  

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Map 4.8 (click to enlarge)

147_-38-46-fig1

This map shows where one of Nigeria’s most import food crops, the yam, is being cultivated. It might possibly correspond with ancient population migrations (thousands of years ago) associated with the spread of Yam cultivation across West Africa. (Source)

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Generally speaking only geographically adjacent main regions tend to be reported for my southern Nigerian survey participants (in contrast with northern Nigerians, see above). That is aside from “Nigeria” also “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo”. Not surprising given geographical proximity, genetic overlap and (pre-) historical migrations. Also already discussed above. However intriguingly in some cases also “Ivory Coast/Ghana” appeared above trace level. And even in double digit amounts a few times. The group averages (5-6%) as well as maximum scores (24-26%)  among my Igbo and Yoruba survey group being quite similar (see chart 3.2). Which might seem counter-intuitive given geography.

Very interestingly among my survey group (not included in group statistics though) there were at least two people with a confirmed grandparent from either Sierra Leone or Liberia. And from their results it may be deduced that the so-called “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region can denote Krio/Saro connections with Sierra Leone. The Krio people are also often termed  Saro people  in Nigeria. And they are mainly located in Lagos but also Port Harbour and other coastal cities. I personally have no idea about their intermarriage rates. But I suppose generally speaking any degree of Saro lineage will not be too distant nor overly diluted. Therefore it should be likely to appear above trace level and reported as main region. Although as a complicating factor the Saro/Krio are likely to be of multi-ethnic origins themselves (incl. also Yoruba and Igbo!) and therefore not likely to show up as 100% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” 😉

Naturally also a genuine and even more recent connection with Ghana could be implied when the “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region is showing up in double digits for Nigerians. Infamously many thousands of  Ghanaian migrants were expelled from Nigeria in 1983. However they had been residing in Nigeria already since at least the early seventies and many might have had offspring in this period. As described in the article below where a Ghanaian woman still carries Yoruba tribal marks after having married a Yoruba man in Lagos.

In other cases when the amount of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” being reported is more subdued I suppose other explanations might also apply for Nigerians who have no known family connection with Ghana or Sierra Leone. Aside from a simple misreading because of trace level reporting it could still also be indicative of something genuine but dating back from many centuries ago. Similar to the ancient connections caused by pre-historical migration with neighbouring Benin and Cameroon. This is mere speculation on my part but an  ancient ancestral connection between the Kwa speaking people in the west and southern Nigerians might be hinted at as well. Perhaps because of the expansion of the Benin empire taking place within the historical era. But possibly also dating from much further back and related to population migrations originating within Nigeria and the spread of agriculture, throughout the socalled yam belt. As shown in map 4.8 above.

The spread of agriculture across West Africa and its possible linkage with population migrations is not properly understood in all its details yet. However it seems not far-fetched to assume that Nigeria and perhaps especially the socalled Nok culture played a pivotal role in this process. Although a gene flow in reversed direction should also not be ruled out. It is a shame that West African (pre) history too often is forcibly linked to other faraway regions simply for prestige reasons or ideology. While so much insight is to be gained when you consider West Africa to be a regional unit within its own right and on its own terms. With its own independent historical driving forces centered mostly in Mali and Nigeria along the Niger river valley, the true bearer of civilization for West Africa in so many aspects.

Unfortunately Ancestry has not always been able to make  the distinction between historical geneflow and genetic similarity due to (very) ancient shared origins. However for any Nigerian wishing to perform follow-up research on their (above average) “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores it might be worthwhile to also do a 23andme test. Ever since 23andme’s update in 2018/2019 a pretty robust distinction between Nigerian and Sierra Leonean/Liberian lineage has been established. Even when there is still some considerable overlap between Ghanaian and Nigerian DNA. See also:

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5) Can Nigerian ethnic groups be genetically distinguished?

Map 5.1 (click to enlarge)

Nigeria_ethnic_v3

Nigeria is said to have more than 200 ethnic groups so obviously it is very much ethnically diverse! However the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani are clearly the main groups. See also this page for more maps (incl. very detailed historical ones for the Oyo and Sokoto empires as well as the Bight of Biafra hinterland in the 1800’s).

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Map 5.2 (click to enlarge)

west-b-c-disperion

This map is based on comparative linguistics research. Obviously somewhat speculative and rough in outline. But still indicating a common point of origin for most southern Nigerians somewhere in Central Nigeria, at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers. In fact not only relevant for the Igbo, Edo and Yoruba. But also for Nupe, Oko and Idoma speakers (NOI in the map). All of them currently classified as Volta-Niger speakers. Will be highly fascinating to learn how this relates to the Nok civilization and also how the earliest ancestors of the Hausa and other northern Nigerians might be involved. Source and recommended reading: Igbo Language Roots and (Pre)-History

***

Obviously Nigeria is incredibly diverse and home to a great number of ethnic groups. According to a recent listing no less than 371 groups! But still it seems significant that at least within the AncestryDNA format Nigerians from various backgrounds do share a great degree of genetic origins as described by the so-called “Nigeria” region. There is at least one important lesson we may take away from the Nigerian AncestryDNA results featured on this page. It seems inevitable that most ethnic groups within Nigeria will display close genetic affinity as a testimony of a great degree of shared origins. Sometimes due to relatively recent intermarriage but ultimately mostly to be traced back to ancient prehistory. Intriguingly possibly even to the Nok civilization which may have been of decisive influence in the population formation for both southern and northern Nigerians. See map 5.2 above and also these links for further reading:

I suppose knowing about these cross-ethnic connections and also having shared ancestry in common with people across borders could be an antidote for an overly “tribalistic” mindset. Judging from the results I have collected actually also within ethnic groups you are bound to see a great deal of individual variation correlated with geography, distinct subgroups and deep ancestry predating ethnogenesis. By no means it seems will there be any unique genetic “blueprint” for any given ethnic group. At least not when applying admixture analysis. After all as fellow human beings we all ultimately share the same origins. Taking it one step further we can say this connectivity also goes for all life forms on this planet earth! Again I like to recall my earlier disclaimer that I do not condone the misuse of my research for divisive identity politics!

 

Nigerian AncestryDNA results (2013-2018)

Figure 5.1 (click to enlarge)

Compil NG 3x

All three results show a predominant “Nigeria” amount. Indicative of a high degree of shared origins for Nigerians, regardless of ethnic background. Then again there is a major distinction between the Hausa-Fulani and southern Nigerian results because of in particular the additional “Senegal” score and absence of “Benin/Togo” & “Cameroon/Congo”. Overlap between Yoruba and Igbo results is much greater. However going by proportional shares for in particular “Cameroon/Congo” some minor differentiation can still be detected.

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Table 5.1 (click to enlarge)

naija comparison

For all three ethnic groups “Nigeria” is the primary regional basis. However more differentiation is detectable when zooming into secondary regions. In particular “Senegal” for the Hausa-Fulani clearly stands out when compared with the rest. Less clear-cut distinction between the Igbo & Yoruba. However when taking into account relative proportional shares for “Benin/Togo and “Cameroon/Congo” it is still also present.

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My sample size has increased more than five times compared to my initial findings (n=15) from 2016. Of course still not perfectly representative. However I do feel more confident now that I have acquired a sufficiently robust data-set. Especially given that this time I am also able to compare with a fair number of Hausa-Fulani results. Returning to the main question I originally asked four years ago: Can Nigerian ethnic groups be genetically distinguished? I would actually answer this now with a cautious yes. Albeit with several disclaimers and given certain preconditions 😉

The three ethnic groups I have selected for this research question (Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo) are fairly distinctive. Because they are not neighbouring people but rather located in separate parts of the country (north, southwest and southeast), characterized by different (ancient) migration histories. Smaller ethnic groups from the same approximate region are likely to be greatly overlapping in genetics and hence much more difficult to distinguish (if at all).

As can be seen from table 5.1 above the main regional component for all three ethnic survey groups is “Nigeria”. There is some slight variation in the group averages. With my Igbo survey group standing out somewhat. However going by the actual range (min. & max.) within each group there is a great deal of overlap actually. Suggestive of much genetic similarity. However it turns out that often the secondary and/or additional regions do reveal useful clues about Nigerian ethnicity. Most apparent when contrasting my Hausa-Fulani survey group with my Igbo and Yoruba survey groups. When wanting to detect differentiation between the Igbo & Yoruba things are less clear-cut. Because their additional regions are not unique to either (unlike the Hausa-Fulani). However by looking closely at the relative contributions one may still be able to find some finer distinctions.

Keep in mind that this following overview is not intended to be conclusive but rather indicative. Obviously these are generalizing tendencies based on my survey groups. Which are limited in sample size. As always individual variation is not to be denied and I am mostly going by group averages. All to be verified from figure 5.1 and table 5.1 above as well as chart 3.2.

  • Hausa-Fulani can clearly be distinguished from both Igbo & Yoruba because of their considerable “Senegal” scores (min. 15% – max. 35%). Which are practically unique to them (in this 3-way comparison). And in fact the same goes also for their “Africa North”,  “Middle East” and “Southeastern Bantu” scores. To be explained by historically documented Fula migrations from Upper Guinea in the first place. But also more ancient ancestral connections with Chadic/Nilo-Saharan speakers to the east.
  • The Igbo and Yoruba, combined being southern Nigerians, can clearly be distinguished from the Hausa-Fulani because of their additional regions “Benin/Togo” and to a lesser degree “Cameroon/Congo”. Which are practically absent or negligible for my Hausa-Fulani survey group (on average). Merely speculating but perhaps to be explained by an ancient split-of between northern and southern Nigerians. Only afterwards giving rise to outgoing migrations, departing from southern Nigeria into Benin and beyond by the early ancestors of Gbe/Kwa speakers. And eastwards to Central & Southern Africa by Bantu speakers. Resulting in genetic similarity being picked up for southern Nigerians by way of so-called “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” proxies but not so for northern Nigerians.
  • The Igbo can be distinguished from the Yoruba when going by more pronounced “Cameroon/Congo” scores and relatively less significant “Benin/Togo” scores. Even when in fact for both groups “Benin/Togo” is their main secondary component. But the Igbo have greater maximum scores for “Cameroon/Congo” (34%) while also the difference in median scores is statistically significant (12% vs. 3% for Yoruba). On the other hand among Yoruba it was much more frequently seen that “Benin/Togo” ended up in first place (7/18). And again the difference in group averages is quite big (36% versus 20% for Igbo). Presumably to be explained by geography in the first place. The Igbo being closer to Cameroon. While Yorubaland is bordering and even extending into Benin! But probably also an indication of different paths of ethnogenesis taken after leaving their assumed common place of origin somewhere around the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers (see map 5.2).

Studies based on autosomal DNA analysis

Actually in several scientific DNA papers it has already been established that ethnic groups within Africa can quite reliably be distinguished from each other. As long as they are not neighbouring groups but rather geographically apart and preferably also belonging to different language families. It is important to stress that the basis for this distinction is not in some unique ethnic DNA markers which can only be found among one particular ethnicity but rather because of a distinctive proportional mix of ancestral components which results in distinguishable clustering patterns. In fact this is also the foundation for Ancestry’s socalled Ethnicity Estimates. When limited to only 2 possible options it enables AncestryDNA to reliably predict – within a reasonable margin of error – if someone is Akan rather than Bakongo or make an accurate distinction between a person of Wolof descent versus a person of Igbo descent. See also:

Very briefly these are the references to be found in major scientific papers suggesting genetic differentiation between various ethnic groups in Nigeria. Not meant to be exhaustive. All of these studies based on autosomal admixture analysis. Therefore comparable to my AncestryDNA findings. Some of these studies have been reviewed on this blog already in the past. While the more recent ones might eventually get reviewed in greater detail in the near future. See this section of my blog for an overview:

 

Tishkoff et al., 2009 

Admixture analysis (K=14) performed on Nigerian Fulani, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba samples. Fulani samples proving to be the most distinctive, showing a separate Fulani “ancestral cluster”. Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba sharing a predominant “Niger-Kordofanian” cluster of around 70%. However additionally the Hausa samples do also show a slight increase in their minor additional component “Chadic-Saharan”. While “western Bantu” is somewhat more pronounced for the Yoruba samples. See supplement Tables S8 & S9. Or also this screenshot.

Bryc et al., 2010

Again using Fulani, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba samples to establish the following:

“the Fulani appear to be genetically distinct from all other West African populations we sampled (average pairwise FST = 3.91%). […] , whereas the non-Bantu Niger-Kordofanian populations of the Igbo […] and Yoruba exhibited little genetic differentiation from one another(average FST <0.4%). These results suggest that there are clear and discernible genetic differences among some of the West African populations, whereas others appear to be nearly indistinguishable even when comparing over 300,000 genetic markers.”  See also this table.

Schroeder et al., 2015

Various ADMIXTURE runs performed among Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba samples. At K=3 and K=6 the Hausa samples show closer affinity with Chadic speakers. See this chart and also this one.

Gurdasani et al., 2015 & Fortes-Lima et al. , 2017 

Both studies demonstrate clear distinction between Senegambian and Igbo/Yoruba samples. Actually already done in Zakharia et al., 2009. However this time using a much more extensive African sample data-set. See for example this chart and this one.

 

Studies based on other types of analysis besides autosomal DNA

Quite recently a potentially interesting study has been published aiming to explore genetic differentiation between the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani.

This study is however NOT based on autosomal genotyping (as performed by Ancestry and other commercial DNA testing companies). Rather it is using a so-called RAPD primer analysis. Which is much more restricted in scope and according to Wikipedia:

“Due to problems in experiment reproducibility, many scientific journals do not accept experiments merely based on RAPDs anymore. RAPD requires only one primer for amplification”

So the scientific basis for these findings seems questionable. All the more given that they only used 18 samples (6 each for Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani). Which is very minimal even when compared with my own still modest sample size of n=87! Either way they seem not to have found a great deal of differentiation. Except for a few primers with higher frequency among their 6 Hausa-Fulani samples. But nothing conclusive.

A more relevant example of a DNA study exploring genetic differentiation among Nigerians and along ethnic lines would be:

This study is again not based on autosomal genotyping, but rather on haplogroup analysis. Which is much more restricted in scope. And therefore not directly comparable to my AncestryDNA findings. However their results mention some highly important considerations. Highlighting the complexity of pinpointing ethnicity through DNA testing. In particular because of an estimated “inter-language gene flow of 10% per generation”.  Although actually their findings are rather hopeful in other regards.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The Cross River region in Nigeria is an extremely diverse area linguistically with over 60 distinct languages still spoken today. It is also a region of great historical importance, being a) adjacent to the likely homeland from which Bantu-speaking people migrated across most of sub-Saharan Africa 3000-5000 years ago and b) the location of Calabar, one of the largest centres during the Atlantic slave trade. Over 1000 DNA samples from 24 clans representing speakers of the six most prominent languages in the region were collected and typed for Y-chromosome (SNPs and microsatellites) and mtDNA markers (Hypervariable Segment 1) in order to examine whether there has been substantial gene flow between groups speaking different languages in the region. In addition the Cross River region was analysed in the context of a larger geographical scale by comparison to bordering Igbo speaking groups as well as neighbouring Cameroon populations and more distant Ghanaian communities.

RESULTS:

The Cross River region was shown to be extremely homogenous for both Y-chromosome and mtDNA markers with language spoken having no noticeable effect on the genetic structure of the region, consistent with estimates of inter-language gene flow of 10% per generation based on sociological data. However the groups in the region could clearly be differentiated from others in Cameroon and Ghana (and to a lesser extent Igbo populations). Significant correlations between genetic distance and both geographic and linguistic distance were observed at this larger scale.

CONCLUSIONS:

Previous studies have found significant correlations between genetic variation and language in Africa over large geographic distances, often across language families. However the broad sampling strategies of these datasets have limited their utility for understanding the relationship within language families. This is the first study to show that at very fine geographic/linguistic scales language differences can be maintained in the presence of substantial gene flow over an extended period of time and demonstrates the value of dense sampling strategies and having DNA of known and detailed provenance, a practice that is generally rare when investigating sub-Saharan African demographic processes using genetic data.

 

To conclude this section I would like to warn against potentially misleading internet articles which claim that “Yoruba are 99.9% genetically identical to Igbos”. These articles have been appearing in 2015/2016 and were quickly copied as well as widely shared on social media ever since. They are based on a heavily outdated study (2005) referenced below. I like to stress that I do not contest the basic premise that most neighbouring African populations will indeed show a high degree of genetic similarity and overlap. And I am also in support of the underlying message that West Africans should be more united and aware of their commonalities and not let ethnic, cultural or religious differences lead to conflict.

However genetic reality is more complex than being implied by the sensationalist headline of these internet articles. The science behind DNA testing has been developing very rapidly and in many ways might still be in its infancy stage when it concerns specifying someone’s ancestral origins. So it seems obvious that the 2005 study these articles are referring to – “Genetic structure in four West African population groups” by Adeyemo et al. – is heavily outdated and provides extremely low resolution when compared with AncestryDNA test. The 2005 study is based on the genotyping of a mere 372 markers while AncestryDNA (2013-2018 version) tests for over 700.000 markers all across your entire genome! (see quotes below).

It should also be pointed out that the 2005 study might have been taken out of context and/or misinterpreted. The study was performed originally for medical purposes. The 99,9% similarity found in the 2005 study actually only applies for a small subset of genes connected with type 2 diabetes, found on 2 chromosomes and tested for by only 372 markers. While as already mentioned AncestryDNA is based on autosomal genotyping of more than 700.000 markers! The findings of the 2005 study might be more insightful on how African Americans could have inherited their type 2 diabetes markers from any of the 4 West African source populations under study rather than offering any final conclusion on the degree of genetic differentiation in Nigeria and how it may correlate with regional/ethnic backgrounds.

In fact the authors mention themselves that based on their very limited data they were still able to identify genetic differences between the two Ghanaian groups versus the two Nigerian groups. Going by AncestryDNA’s white paper from 2013 it can be confirmed that the genetic distinction between the Ghanaian ethnic groups of the Ga & Akan on the one hand and the Igbo & Yoruba from Nigeria on the other hand can quite accurately be made by way of the socalled “Ivory/Coast/Ghana” and “Nigeria” regions [2013-2018 version]. My observations of actual African AncestryDNA testresults are in agreement that a broadly based regional assignment within West Africa is indeed possible (within acceptable margins of error), see also my spreadsheet featuring African AncestryDNA Results (2013-2018).

Furthermore my final research findings on this page are suggesting that even between Yoruba’s and Igbo’s and even more so between southern Nigerians and the Hausa-Fulani a noticeable degree of genetic differentiation can already be observed. Not per se consistent on an individual basis but more apparent when based on group averages and approximate tendencies. More research is however needed to establish a firmer basis for determining the degree of genetic variation and how it may (roughly) correlate with ethnic background in Nigeria.

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Within the context of the Africa America Diabetes Mellitus (AADM) Study (a genetic epidemiologic study of type 2 diabetes mellitus in West Africa), we have investigated population structure or stratification in four ethnic groups in two countries (Akan and Gaa-Adangbe from Ghana, Yoruba and Igbo from Nigeria) using data from 372 autosomal microsatellite loci typed in 493 unrelated persons (986 chromosomes).”

It is important to point out that despite the small amount of genetic differentiation in the sample as a whole, it was possible to distinguish between the groups from each country using a hierarchical AMOVA model and a dendrogram algorithm. Thus, the absence of significant population structure between the four groups did not mean that the groups could not be distinguished from each other. Rather, the data in Table 4 show that enough differences exist to separate the two populations from Nigeria from those from Ghana.

Source Adeyemo et al.(2005), Genetic structure in four West African population groups, BMC Genetics, 38, (6).

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” Without getting too technical, AncestryDNA analyzes your autosomal DNA, which includes almost the entire genome—all 22 pairs of nonsex chromosomes—instead of looking only at the Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA. A Y-DNA test follows one family line on the chart, from son to father. An mtDNA test also follows only one line, the maternal line. The autosomal test looks at your entire family tree.  Also, typical Y-DNA and mtDNA tests look at much smaller amounts of your DNA. Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA make up less than 2% of your entire genome, and a Y-DNA test will look at from 12 to 111 locations on one chromosome. AncestryDNA, on the other hand, looks at the entire genome at over 700,000 locations. You don’t need to be a scientist to see that 700,000 is much more detailed.” 

Source: AncestryDNA – The Insider’s Guide to DNA

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Notes

1) Currently you are much more likely to get a realistic estimate of your Nigerian lineage on 23andme. Even if of course not 100% accurate 😉 Still going by actual Nigerian 23andme results the predictive accuracy of 23andme’s “Nigerian” region is quite impressive. Especially for southern Nigerians (around 90%). 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:

2) My Nigerian AncestryDNA survey is actually the most extensive and oldest part of my African survey (2013-2018). Such results initially being very difficult to come by. I still remember being quite excited having seen the first Nigerian (Igbo) AncestryDNA result which was shared with me in 2014! Many other results were likewise directly shared with me by the persons doing the test.

But in addition I have also selected a few screenshots taken from public websites. As I found them to be of potentially great educational benefit for others. I have asked for prior consent whenever I could but regrettably wasn’t able to do so in all cases. I have naturally taken great care to cut away any name details in order to safeguard everyone’s privacy. Apologies in advance to anyone who recognizes their results and is not comfortable with this blog page featuring them. Please send me a PM and I will remove them right away.

In later years I have also had tremendous help from friends in my collecting efforts. For which I am still very grateful. Establishing an plausible ethnic background in these cases was not always done by myself. I should also mention that about a dozen of my Hausa-Fulani survey results were kindly provided to me by a person of Fula descent (Senegal/Guinea). They were to be found among his closest DNA matches. Also going by plausible surnames. As well as regional breakdowns being in line with my previous Hausa-Fulani results. Within my spreadsheet in column B “Ethnic Details” additional info can be found also when clicking on the notes (indicated by a small black triangle).

3) 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… 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 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 (see this post for a summary). In the context of my Nigerian survey it seems that relatively remote regions as “Senegal” may indeed be more distinctive than neighbouring regions such as “Benin/Togo and “Cameroon/Congo”. Which naturally show much more genetic overlap. But either way with correct interpretation and awareness of relevant (pre) history I hope to have demonstrated that many insightful aspects may be derived from Nigerian AncestryDNA results.