Saturday, April 11, 2015

Finding Eve's Daughter


I recently submitted a DNA test with 23andMe. This particular test, provides not only an ethnic breakdown, but also specifics regarding my direct maternal lineage.

Geneticists refer to the most common female ancestor for humanity "Mitochondrial Eve", Her name is in honor of the female mitochondrial DNA a mother passes along to her children. A father does not pass along this DNA to his children. This type of DNA changes extremely slowly, so it allows scientists to trace the movement of women across time and space.

Based on my mitochondrial DNA, the geneticists were able to locate the origins of one of Mitochondrial Eve's daughters. She is my mother's mother's mother's (X a lot) mother. Let's just call her my Great Mother.

Scientists created a genetic family tree for all of humanity. On this tree, Mitochondrial Eve is known by a letter L, located in Eastern Africa. Her daughters, are known by a combination of letters and numbers known as a haplogroup. 

My haplogroup is L1b1a. This type is most common among the Mandinka (Manding) people and the Fula (Fulani) people of West Africa.

My Great Mother has Two Famous Children: 

The Mandinka
Map of Mandingo Land
Courtesy of Wikipedia: Mandinka people

The Mandinka
were a fierce, intelligent people. They built the Mali Empire and defended it bravely. They were scholars in Islam. They built temples and universities in the city of Timbuktu. People traveled from all over the world to learn their techniques in medicine, mathematics and astronomy.  

The Fulani
Fulani Woman
Courtesy of Wikipedia page: Fula people

The Fula (also known as Fulbe, Fulani, or Peul in French) are a nomadic people with a rich musical heritage. They, too, were a brave people. By trade, they were herders and craftspeople. It is believed they have origins in Egypt. The Fula live by a strict moral code. Though they are cousins with the Mandinka, they did not always get along.

This DNA test revealed that my direct maternal ancestor originated in what is present day Mali. Though this line originated in Mali, a large concentration is found further West in Senegambia, due to migration patterns after the collapse of the Empire. Both ethnic groups described above are still found in present-day Mali and Senegambia

This discovery has been so exciting to me for several reasons. 

1. Since educating myself about the history of Louisiana and our connection to Mali, I have been utterly obsessed with learning about the history of this ancient empire. The richest man who ever lived was Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali. (Yes, even with inflation, he was richer than Bill Gates because of his monopoly on the gold mines.)

2. The Louisiana Creole flag honors of West African ancestors from Senegal in the top right quadrant and Mali in the lower left quadrant. The reason a connection has always been known is because the French colonized Senegal and forcefully migrated people directly to Louisiana during the eighteenth century. Basically, I think this proves that my direct female line has been in Louisiana a long ass time. (That's a technical term.) 

3. The first test I took with AncestryDNA revealed that approximately 15% of the DNA I carry originated in either Mali or Senegal. I am not sure why, but knowing that these are my people and that it aligns with history has been incredibly empowering.

4. The kid and I recently completed a unit study on Mali. He is not a history person, but he was so intrigued. We plan on adding a visit to Mali to our bucket list of places to see before we die. 
Who doesn't want to see this? 

Ancient Mosque in Timbuktu, Mali

5. Too often, Louisiana Creoles overemphasize our French and Iberian fathers, but forget about our Malian and Senegambian mothers. I am so proud to carry within me the genetic material of strong, beautiful and intelligent black women who came directly from the Mother Land to our second home--Louisiana. 

I have not named my Great Mother. But, knowing me, I probably will. So, if anyone knows any names for a Mali woman, let me know. Until then, I will celebrate my "Great Mother" and her children in Mali, Senegambia and Louisiana.

UPDATE: I have chosen to name my matriclan mother Mariam, which happens to be the most popular female name in Mali. It is a religious name, a version of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

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