Reclaiming the African in My African American Ethnicity

As I continue to question my identity, I try to place myself in the context of my ethnic backgrounds and my biological race. I know who I am. I understand some of the reasons as to why I am me. I have done extensive research into the hiSTORIES of my ancestors, both biological and adoptive. My ancestors, for the most part, were strong, courageous, brave, and determined. They did not allow the prejudices and racist views that society bestowed upon them, to hinder their abilities to progress in society.

Image result for african american flagHowever, I still questioned some of the more specifics. I know where in Italy my adoptive mother’s ancestors migrated from. I know where in Europe, or at least which countries, my Caucasian slave owners originated. These white slave owners include those whom intertwine in my biological bloodline, and those who I found participated in the ownership of my enslaved ancestors, but didn’t quite carry on affairs with any of my direct ancestors. What I don’t quite know, is where in Africa my enslaved ancestors were stolen from. I use the word stolen rather than migrate because although the enslavement of Africans to the Americas is considered a forced migration, there is a difference between my African ancestors and my European ancestors who willing and knowingly came to America even if their circumstances forced them to leave.

The paper trail, at least for me, does not paint a pretty picture of migration and immigration with specific locations in specific countries. No. My ancestry paints the tale of oppression and lost history, at least for my African ancestry. With the lack of documents available to aid in my persistence to find a country in Africa, I had no choice but to turn to DNA ancestry testing.

My DNA is in several ancestral DNA companies’ databases: AncestryDNA, 23andMe, FamilyTree DNA, MyHeritage, and GPS Origins. Each of these companies, confirmed what I already knew, that I had ancestors from Africa – a continent. Some of these companies were able to elaborate more on my European ancestry, down to the country. Yet, my African ancestry was just so broad. It was my DNA within GPS Origins database that led me to drawing upon my own conclusions. GPS Origins is a company that estimates two possible migration patterns based on one’s DNA.

Here is what I know without DNA:

I know that my African born ancestors came to America by way of enslavement.

I know that none of my paper trail ancestors came to America as indentured servants.

I know that I possibly have one ancestor who is the descendant of African-born parents based on census records.

I know that the British began slave trading in Africa around 1562.

I know that around 1640, slaves from Cameroon began to make their way to America.

I know that many of the tribal groups from Cameroon who became enslaved consisted of: Tikar, Ewondo, Babungo, Bamileke, Bamum, Masa, Mafa, Udemes, Kotoko, Fulani, and Haua people, as well as others.

I know that the Hausa people were nomadic and also came from Nigeria.

I know that from the 17th Century to 1865, slaves from Nigeria began coming to America.

I know that Calabar, Nigeria was one of the major slave exports in Nigeria.

I know that some of the people who came from Nigeria were of the Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa tribes.

I know that many of the Igbo people were sold in Maryland and Virginia.

I know that my own ancestry has been traced to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana.

From my knowledge on my ancestors, and knowing I have a few ancestors who indicated that they were born in Virginia, I believe that it is safe to assume that I have at least one ancestor who came directly from Nigeria and at least one who came from Cameroon. I know no more than those assumptions, but the DNA and the historical facts seem to correlate with what my ethnicity reports indicate. To be able to go back further, I turn to GPS Origins. The test outlines two possible migration routes based on my DNA:

Migration Story A

Ancient ancestry in Israel and Palestine

Your ancestors came from Israel and Palestine prior to 1260 AD, so let’s take a look at what was going on in Israel and Palestine up to this point:

The Byzantine Empire Takes Charge

Between 390 AD and 633 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the Byzantine era. In this period, the Roman Empire split and Palestine became part of the Byzantine Empire. In the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire collapsed leading to Christian migration into the Roman province of Palestine Prima and development of a Christian majority. Judaism was the only non-Christian religion tolerated. In 611, Sāsānian Persia invaded the Byzantine Empire and captured Jerusalem in 614. Jews were left to govern Jerusalem when the Persians took over. However. Byzantine Emperor Heraclius once again banned Judaism from the Byzantine Empire. People migrated from the Byzantine Empire and the Sāsānian Empire to Israel and Palestine due to the incoming administration and migration across the Byzantine Empire and the invasion of the Sāsānian Empire. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like the Sāsānian Empire and the Byzantine Empire. as a result of the invasions of Israel and Palestine by the Sāsānian Empire and the recapture by the Byzantines.

Islam Arrives

Between 634 AD and 1098 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the Islamic era. At this time, from 634-636, the Arabs conquered Palestine Prima and renamed it Jund Filastin, ending the Byzantine ban on Jews living in Jerusalem. Islam quickly replaced Christianity as the dominant religion. From 636, Jund Filastin was ruled by the Rashidun Caliphs, the Umayyad Caliphate and then the Abbāsid Caliphs. Jewish scribes establish the Masoretic text in this period, the final text of the Hebrew Bible. People migrated from the Umayyad Caliphate and Rashidun Caliphs and Abbāsid Caliphs to Israel and Palestine as part of the expansion of different Caliphates. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like the Umayyad Caliphate and Rashidun Caliphs and Abbāsid Caliphs as part of changing control over the region.

The Crusades

Between 1099 AD and 1290 AD, Israel and Palestine was ruled by local leaders in a period known as the crusades. The first crusade arrived in 1099 and established a Catholic Kingdom of Jerusalem. Both Muslims and Jews were indiscriminately massacred or sold into slavery. In 1187, the Ayyubid Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders in the Battle of Hattin, taking most of the territory. A Crusader states centered around Acre survived in weakened form for another century. From 1260 to 1291 the area became the frontier between Mongol invaders and the Mamlūks of Egypt. The Mongols were eventually defeated. People migrated from Western Europe and the Holy Roman Empire and the Ayyubid dynasty and Egypt to Israel and Palestine with the Crusades, the successful occupation of the territory by the Ayyubid dynasty, and the use of Israel and Palestine as a frontier in the conflict with the Mongols. At the same time, populations moved from Israel and Palestine to places like Western Europe and the Holy Roman Empire and the Ayyubid dynasty and Egypt as a result of the failure of the Crusades, the invading Ayyubid dynasty and the successful campaign of the Egyptians against the Mongol Empire.

Movement from Israel and Palestine to Libya

At some point before 1260 AD your ancestors moved to Libya. These are the events your ancestors would have lived through in Libya.

A Weakening of Byzantine Control

Between 501 AD and 641 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Byzantine Libya. At this time Justinian reconquests saw Libya return to control of Rome. However, the country was in disrepair and unpopular Byzantine governors failed to implement any new public services. By the end of the 7th century, Byzantine control over the region was weak, Berber rebellions were become more frequent and there was little opposition to Muslim invasion. People migrated from the Byzantine Empire to Libya with invasion and imperial settlement. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, and France and Spain as a result of the changing fortunes of the different empires.

The Arrival of Islam

Between 642 AD and 971 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Islamic Libya. In 642 Arab forces drove the Byzantines out of Libya and took Tripoli. By 663, Berber resistance was also overcome and the Exarch of Libya even enjoyed their support. Libya came under the rule of several Islamic dynasties in this period including the Ummayad, Abbāsid and Aghlabid dynasties. People migrated from the Middle East and the Maghreb and Italy to Libya as part of the movement of peoples and armies in the Arab Islamic conquest of Northern Africa and the power struggles that followed, including the invasion of Sicily by the Normans. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like the Middle East and Spain and Portugal with the changing fortunes of the different dynasties and empires.

The Fatimids Spread West

Between 972 AD and 1550 AD, Libya was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Fatimid Libya. In the 10th century Libya came under the control of the Fatamid dynasty. However, control over the region proved difficult owing to the changes in allegiance from Sunni to Shi’a. Libya also had several changes of regime: Tripoli was pillaged by the Normans of Sicily in 1146, the Almohad supporters arrived from Morocco in 1158 to Tripoli and an Almohad emir ruled Libya from 1207 to 1221. His dynasty, the Hafsids, ruled Tripoli separately for nearly 300 years, encouraging art and literature. People migrated from Saudi Arabia and Morocco and Chad to Libya with the Fatimid dynasty’s relocation of two opposing tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, the Alomhad invasion from Morocco and King Danama of Kanem annexing small territories in Libya. At the same time, populations moved from Libya to places like Saudi Arabia and Morocco as part of the changes in imperial control.

Image result for cameroonian flag on mapMovement from Libya to Cameroon

At some point after 1260 AD your ancestors moved to Cameroon and once they reached there this is what they would have experienced:

The Sao People Create a Kingdom

Between 400 AD and 1400 AD, Cameroon was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Sao Cameroon. During this period, the Sao kingdom arose in northern Chad in the vicinity of Lake Chad. It reached its height in the 9th to 15th century, after which it was conquered by the Kotoko state. People migrated from Chad to Cameroon when the Sao people moved. At the same time, populations moved from Cameroon to places like Chad with the changes in the fortunes of the Sao Kingdom.

Migration Story B

Ancient ancestry in Egypt

Your ancestors came from Egypt prior to 692 AD, so let’s take a look at what was going on in Egypt up to this point:

The Brief Rule of Sāsānian Egypt

Between 619 AD and 629 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Sāsānian Egypt . For a decade, the Sāsānian Empire ruled Egypt. They ruled from 619 until the Sāsānian rebel Shahrbaraz made an alliance with the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, which returned Egypt to Rome. People migrated from Persia to Egypt following the Sāsānian invasion. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like Persia due to the fact that the treaty returned territories to the Romans.

A Brief Roman Interlude

Between 630 AD and 640 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Byzantine Egypt. During this period, Rome regained control over Egypt. They were, however, overrun by the Arab Islamic conquest of Egypt from 639. People migrated from the Middle East to Egypt with Byzantine imperial conquest. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like the Byzantine Empire as part of the Arab conquest of Egypt.

Islamic Empires Arrive In Egypt

Between 641 AD and 908 AD, Egypt was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Islamic Egypt. In 641 Byzantine Egypt was overrun by the Islamic conquest of North Africa, which brought Sunni Islam to the country. The city of Fustat was the seat of power and a grand mosque was built there in honor of the victor Amr ibn al-As. While there were many conversions, the Christians were left to practice largely in peace. This period saw several changes in Caliphate from the Umayyads, the Abbāsids, the Tuluids and the Ikhsids. People migrated from the Middle East and the Maghreb to Egypt when new settlers arrived from the Empire and slaves arrived from Sudan as part of the terms of the Baqt Treaty of 641 AD. At the same time, populations moved from Egypt to places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Israel and Palestine, Syria, Yemen, and Italy and Sudan when Byzantinian settlers returned to Italy and settlers moved across the Maghreb.

Movement from Egypt to Chad

At some point before 692 AD your ancestors moved to Chad. These are the events your ancestors would have lived through in Chad shortly afterwards.

The Arrival of Islam under the Kaem-Bornu Empire

Between 900 AD and 1521 AD, Chad was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Imperial Chad. In the 10th century Chad fell under the Kanem-Bornu Empire. This influence and accompanying Arab travellers were responsible for the conversion of areas of Chad to Islam. Kanem-Bornu persisted despite the emergence of other kingdoms and peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Aluma from 1571-1603. People migrated from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt and Nigeria to Chad with the movement of nomadic Arab horsemen and the movement of peoples across the Kanem-Bornu Empire. At the same time, populations moved from Chad to places like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Egypt and Nigeria when nomadic Arab horsemen moved across the region and peoples moved across the Kanem-Bornu Empire.

Image result for nigerian flag on mapMovement from Chad to Nigeria

At some point after 692 AD your ancestors moved to Nigeria and once they reached there this is what they would have experienced:

The Nok People in Nigeria

Between 500 BC and 200 AD, Nigeria was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Nok Nigeria. Around 500 BC, the Nok people made the transition to the Iron Age. Evidence shows that they started to raise crops and cattle.

Igbo Culture

Between 201 AD and 800 AD, Nigeria was ruled by local leaders in a period known as Igbo Ukwu. During this period, the Igbo tribe inhabited areas of southwest Nigeria. Archaeological specimens have been discovered that show trade between the kingdom and Europe and even India. People migrated from Egypt and Chad to Nigeria due to trade from Northern Africa.

Of course, this is from GPS Origins, and I am only using the information to highlight the possible migration pattern that could have resulted in my ancestors who, possibly, came from Nigeria and Cameroon having lived in those regions. I do not know for certain that my more distant ancestors originated in Egypt, but I can understand the possibility of that. I can look at the information and understand why my ancestors may have left and migrated and continued to migrate until they finally settled in Nigeria and Cameroon. I do not know if they would have kept migrating, because then slavery happened. With slavery came a loss of agency: a loss of self and a loss of culture. With a loss of culture, came a loss of history because the oral history could not be passed down as families were torn apart and the records regarding enslaved people of African heritage were not well kept. The paper trail only goes back so far, but when you can get back far enough, that’s when the DNA can help and it’s the ethnic DNA that can come in handy in trying to navigate through the possible landmarks.

I cannot say for certain that I am Nigerian nor Cameroonian. I can say that I am likely descended from people from the Nigerian and Cameroonian territories, but I cannot claim a tribe. More extensive DNA would need to confirm me to a person with known history in Africa who is linked to only one or two tribes in order for me to feel confident in claiming an African tribe. Before I considered myself Black American. I didn’t know my “African” roots. Now I know some of them. My ancestors, probably, came from Nigeria and Cameroon. So I am, likely part, Nigerian and Cameroonian. I am now, African American.

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