The craze of ancestry testing has swept the globe. Organizations like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have been on the receiving end of millions of spit samples for a time now. I sent mine in, you can believe. One of the most interesting parts of doing a test like this is learning your backstory. Not just of a family, but of an entire world. There was a whole global exchange that happened, something never seen before.
Now, I know these tests aren’t perfectly accurate and they might misrepresent ethnicities and countries. But my question is: What does our ancestry reveal about American history and identity? I mean Nigerian ancestry, in this case.
Before we get started, I just want to lay out a disclaimer; I am not a geneticist or DNA expert. Besides the science or validity of testing, I want to look more at context. How did Nigerian ancestry even get to America? And why is there so much Nigerian ancestry in so many black people? The focus today will not be about DNA itself, but about the story that ancestry tells about American history and identity. That’s because the story of my ancestry is the story of many people. Let’s take a look, shalt we?!
Well, that one’s quite obvious isn’t it? Unless you’re living on an alternate time plane, we trust that most African heritage in the New World was brought under terms of slavery. Now, slavery was already being practiced in West Africa before Europeans showed up.
I only mention that because when the Portuguese arrived at what is now Nigeria, they initially set up contracts with local African leaders to trade slaves across the region. (BTW, where’d you think the name “Lagos” came from? Portuguese!) That is to say, traders already had a system set up with regional leaders. Soon after, they began to take some of those slaves for themselves to Brazil, and of course, England followed suit.
Nigerian ancestry (in America and elsewhere) comes mostly from a few groups, either Yoruba, Igbo, Edo, or Fulani, despite being home to over 250 ethnic groups. The Hausa are a very large group too, but they weren’t sent as much to the Americas. Throughout the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, most of those sent to the 13 Colonies (baby USA) were of Yoruba and Igbo origin. The Igbo captives, in particular, were known for being rebellious, violent, and even suicidal in revolt against slavery. This bad rep probably led to less of them being brought to the country over time. The ones that did make it were mostly held around the Mid-Atlantic colonies (Virginia, Maryland), according to records.
People of West African origin, including today’s Nigeria, would make a profound impact on the musical and culinary styles of the places they were sent to. In the United States, these manifested into ragtime, jazz, soul, funk, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop, and more. Think of them as intensely Americanized versions of African music. Remember, Nigeria was not a country at the time of American colonialism and many West African cultures extended beyond their present borders.
It’s important to note that there have been a couple of waves of Nigerian immigration to the U.S., especially Igbo, since the times of abolition. One of those immigration spikes is happening right now, actually. Nigeria today is the most populous nation in Africa, and its ancestry is highly present in many black Americans, whether for recent or historical reasons. But there’s just one problem: Many black people have too much Nigerian ancestry.
Nigeria’s overrepresentation in black American DNA
So, there’s a bit of a mystery when it comes to black American ancestry — well, a lot actually, but let’s look at this one thing. I’m what most people call “mixed” or “light-skinned(ed),” but the African ancestry I do have is mostly Nigerian. By now we understand how arbitrary that is. I mean, how much of that is Yoruba, or Edo, or any of those other 250? The point is, this scenario seems to be similar for many Americans with African ancestry — at least those that have been here for several generations.
What happened was that most slaves from today’s Nigeria were sent to the Caribbean or South America. North America … not so much. Those brought to today’s U.S. were mostly from Senegambia (Senegal, Gambia, Guinea) or Central Africa (the Congo, Angola, Cameroon), so the records say. If that’s true, then where did all these Nigerians come from?
There are a couple of theories and explanations for that. One is that Nigerian ancestry shows up more on DNA tests because a higher proportion of Nigerians partake in DNA studies compared to other African nations. So, that might boost your Nigeria score.
Another motive could stem from the abolition of Trans-Atlantic slave trading when it became illegal to capture and bring slaves from Africa anymore. That happened in 1808 in the USA. The weird part is that part of the pressure to do this, beside moral and economic, was to put a hold on the black population which actually outnumbered whites in the South. In order to get more black slaves later on, the U.S. had to import them from other New World colonies, particularly those in the Caribbean. This continued to happen even after all slavery was abolished in America.
It seems that there was a much higher death rate among the Senegambia slaves since they were among the first to arrive. It’s like the Europeans didn’t really know what they were doing yet, and so a lot of the slaves ended up dead. There were higher death rates in the Caribbean and South American slaves, but once brought to the U.S. they usually did a little better.
Many were probably second-generation and were already used to the hard life on plantations. It’s thought that they intermarried with the established black population or even outnumbered them in places, enough so that their gene pool would become dominant. In reality, it could be due to a mixture of reasons.
As a black-ish American, it is fascinating to me to learn more about my African heritage. There’s a lot to be proud of and a lot to feel bad about. The idea that Nigerian ancestry is likely so dominant due to Caribbean slaves being brought into the States really demonstrates how linked together black people of the New World are. We don’t have our old languages, customs, or religions, but we do have our own new dialect, our own new customs, and a rich culture that has taken the world by storm!
As I said, I am mixed, so I’ll be going over the different white, black, and whatever else ancestry I have over the coming weeks / months. It is all a part of a quest to understand the history of this country. What shows up on our DNA tests, whether exact or not, reveals not only how America was made. It reveals how the world made America.
Thanks for reading! As always, take care out there. 😉
from the term used by Russians to name the Alaska Peninsula, from the Aleut and Yupik languages for “object to which the sea’s action is directed” or “great land“
Predominantly English (~ 83%). The next most-spoken language is Spanish (~ 3%), though there are many native languages that are official in the state: Inupiaq, Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup’ik, Alutiiq, Aleut, Dena’ina, Deng Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Lower Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. All indigenous languages are spoken by small percentages of the population.
Northwestern United States, a partial exclave state separated from the contiguous U.S., in the general Pacific Northwest and Arctic regions. The largest U.S. state, it is mostly on the mainland with many islands, including the Aleutian Islands. It borders Canada to the east / northeast, has Arctic coastline to the north, and Pacific coastline, including the Bering Sea, to the south and west.
Part of the United States’ Arctic tundra, Boreal forests / taiga, Pacific Range mountains, Arctic Range mountains, Pacific Marine Forests, and Pacific Marine lowlands. Home to North America’s highest mountain, Denali (Mt. McKinley).
Heads up … catch! This seemingly (or should I say “deceptively”) simple word is stuffed and loaded with different meanings. Do the many uses of “catch” confuse you? Here I want to look at the traditional meanings, as well as some common slang and figurative uses of the word. There are also short and realistic dialogues to help. So, are you ready to catch some knowledge? Let’s do it.
Normally, to Catch means to receive something that is thrown or has fallen. As people, we mostly catch things with our hands.
— “Look, Charles, I got you a new iPhone charger. Catch!”
While attempting to grab the charger, Charles accidentally dropped his phone onto the floor.
— “Gee, thanks! Now I’m going to need a new iPhone too.”
— “Well, you should have caught it before it hit the ground.”
Catch something (figuratively)
As you can imagine, “catch” also has several figurative and even slang meanings. As a verb, you can catch something not visible such as an illness or some attention.
— “Did you hear what happened to Kevin Hart? He said he caught the ‘Vid’,” Charles said to his friend, Jonah, sitting behind him. Jonah gave him a firm Shhh!
— “Be quiet, man! Whenever I talk in class, I catch an angry look from Ms. Delaware. You’ll get me in trouble.”
Another meaning is when you catch someone, or find them. Usually, this is while they are doing something they shouldn’t be.
— “Hey, Sheila. Do you think we could take your little bro out for ice cream?”
— “I don’t know. He got caught eating cookies out of the cookie jar last night. I think he’s had enough sweets.”
— “Well, we could always take him to the Salad Bar,” Charles suggested.
— “Oh, no. You won’t catch me anywhere near that place.”
Still, catch can be about meeting another person, in general. This is usually at a designated time or place.
— “I hope we can hang out soon, Sheila. What do you think?”
— “For sure! I’ll catch you after our game tomorrow.”
Other random meanings of Catch
To catch can be to understand what someone else said or what has happened. It’s usually said as a question to check for comprehension or as a way to show a lack of understanding.
Jonah’s mind wandered as he daydreamed about the upcoming game that night. Suddenly, he realized Charles had been mumbling at him for the past five minutes.
— “Sorry, what did you say? I didn’t catch that.”
— “I was telling you about my plans to quit working for this lousy school. Did you catch it this time?!”
… Or, going to see something, such as an event.
— “Do you want to catch a movie after you get off work?” Charles asked Sheila. She turned at him and grinned.
— “Yeah … Or, we could go to the game like everyone else.”
Or, boarding a transportation vehicle.
Sheila gave Charles a big hug.
— “I have to catch this bus. If you want to see a movie, it’s fine. Can we talk later?”
— “Yeah, either way is fine. Let me know. Maybe we can catch a ride together.”
Phrasal verbs: Catch on, Catch up
And that’s just “Catch” by itself. Of course, there are also phrasal verbs like catch on — to begin to understand something — or catch up — to reach a desired point in understanding or place from behind.
— It used to be so much fun to speak in German around your friends. I think they’re starting to learn now.
— Right, especially Mark didn’t use to understand our conversations, but now he’s catching on.
— It’s about time! Why is Mark so far behind in his German, anyway? He needs to catch up!
A Catch, as a noun
All verbs aside, there is also catch used as a noun. A catch is a hidden condition or problem when something seems too good to be true.
Charles looked at his neighbor in disbelief.
“You’ll give me this car for four hundred bucks and all repairs are up to date? What’s the catch?”
— “No catch! It’s a good car, man. What, you don’t believe me?”
A catch can also be a person who seems like a perfect match, or a great person to be in a relationship with. They are like the ideal partner.
— I don’t know why you’re so in-love with Sheila. Look at Jenny. She’s the boss of her own business, helps her community, and owns a Benz. She’s a catch, for sure.
— “Uh-huh, Jonah. Total catch.”
**These are just some of the main uses of “catch”. Can you think of any others meanings? Can you think of your own examples for these words? Share it with us and spread the English love! Thanks for reading and learning. Take care out there.
Hey y’all! I just wanted to share this video I thought was interesting. It shows some of the hard reality of racism in America, but … It also shows how the majority of people, like anywhere one travels, are decent people. Even in America’s “most racist town.” Enjoy, and let me know what you think.
after the Alabama River which is named after the Alabama people, the name refers to someone of Alabama heritage in the Alabama language, could also come from the Choctaw language meaning “clearers of the thicket” or the Creek language for “tribal town“
Predominantly English (~ 95%). The local accents are known as Alabama English, part of the Southern U.S. variety.
Birmingham (largest urban area)
Southeastern United States, a state in the general Deep South region, also part of the greater Appalachia and Gulf Coast regions. Has a small coastline on the Gulf of Mexico (Atlantic).