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Great grandmother Nana Faba Idun (age 81) has lived in Elmina, a Ghanaian town of one of the infamous slave dungeons, all her life. Nana’s brother, Joseph “Kawantwi” Arthur, remembers the childhood stories of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Kawantwi spoke of having a great-grandfather who was taken away to work for the Europeans in another land. They thought they would return in their lifetime.
Nana and her brother believed as many Ghanaians believed, that those who left the coast of Ghana in bondage to Europeans would return to help enrich the lives of those left behind. Nana welcomes the surviving descendants of her enslaved family members, wherever they may be, to come back home and to help them build. However, it was not until after Kawantwi and other members of the family visited the slave castle in May 2016 that they came to realize some of the horrors that was the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
In May 2016, I collected DNA samples from Faustina (age 55) of the Ghanaian Fante ethnic group and conducted a conversational interview with her about identity, kinship, and slavery. A few days later, I went to her family home in Elmina and conducted a group interview with her mother, uncle, and other family members. I then collected a DNA sample from Faustina’s mother, Nana. I recorded a special message from Nana addressed to the descendants of the enslaved to come back home. I mailed the AncestryDNA kits and eagerly waited for their processed results to be listed alongside the results from Faustina’s daughter, Rhoda Quaigrain, who submitted a DNA sample several months before this visit. I was eagerly waiting for the results because identifying and reconnecting with the African ancestral family is the dream of many African Americans.
Speaking with Nana’s family and reading works such as Routes of Remembrance: Refashioning the Slave Trade in Ghana by Bayo Holsey, I learned that there is a common misconception in Ghana that the enslaved and descendants of the enslaved increased in riches in the Caribbean and the United States and selfishly chose not to return to Ghana to help their brothers and sisters who remained in their ancestral homeland.
Whereas some African Americans today can return to Africa to help develop their ancestral homelands, many in Africa do not know the history of U.S. slavery and Jim Crow. Nor do they know about the Civil Rights movements or other forms of resistance it took to get to this point. They are not aware of how the legacies of those times are expressed in the poor education and neighborhood conditions for many African Americans in the U.S. today. This lack of knowledge is understandable given that Ghana was formerly colonized by the British. The imposed British education was void of the horrors of slavery and the fullness of Ghana’s own history. Welcoming messages from the elderly in Ghana today are filled with notions of descendants returning to Africa to help develop it but are without notions of the social and psychological healing needed by people of African descent who do find their African families. Moreover, most people of African descent do not recognize how African life was shaped by pressing conflicts with colonization, making Africans preoccupied with their own independence struggles.
After I conducted the interview and collected Nana’s DNA sample, Faustina, her uncle, several other household members and I visited the Elmina slave dungeons. We learned of the horrors that was existence in those dungeons, particularly for the women. I visited the Cape Coast slave dungeons years ago, but still could not help but weep as the Elmina guide spoke. After the tour, I asked the family “Do you get it?” referring to why autosomal ancestry DNA testing and efforts to identify relatives in Africa was so important to many. They nodded their heads “yes” in unison. It was only now that they have come to understand some of the horrors associated with the slave trade and, maybe, some of the healing aspects of finding “home” for people of African descent. Maybe Kawantwi’s memory of his great-grandfather being taken away in slavery would take on new meanings for him and shape his interactions with returning relatives.
Since Rhoda, her mother Faustina, and her grandmother Nana took the AncestryDNA test, Rhoda has been able to connect with several of her relatives in the diaspora. Ailene Randolph-House and Melvin Collier are African Americans who are related to this Ghanaian family branch as confirmed through AncestryDNA results and tools on GEDmatch. Rhoda and Ailene have communicated several times by phone. Melvin recently took a trip to Ghana to visit with Nana and Faustina as family. Nana’s side of the family warmly received Melvin which included attending a Welcome Home celebration hosted by the Obeng family with over 100 people in attendance. Through ancestry DNA testing, Africans and their diasporic relatives worldwide can begin the process of forging family. Who knows what will happen next?
Note: Rhoda was first introduced through TAKiR in a blog post in January 2015: Ghanaian Connects with Caribbean Distant Cousin.
-by Willie Wynn
Mohamed’s maternal uncle Aly, Willie Wynn (African American), Mohamed Fofanah (Guniea)
My desire for quite some time was to find out information about my enslaved ancestors that were once enslaved in southern U.S. Being born and raised in Mississippi, U.S., I was familiar with visiting many of the restored plantations that held blacks as slaves in the deep South. This was the closest that my mind stretched in physically connecting with an indirect part of my history as a person of African descent.
Then in March 2015, my wife and I decided to visit South Africa. In the South Africa capital city of Cape Town, there were many West African immigrants who lived throughout this region. Many told me that my looks and facial features resembled people in their West African countries. These remarks pushed me to a greater action when I got back home to the US. I decided to invest in an ancestry.com test kit to get my full ancestral story.
My results came back 91% African DNA and connected me to many relatives who were my cousins in America. One match, however, stood out in a grand way as 100% African descent. This cousin match was Mohamed Fofanah, a person from the city of Conakry in the West African country of Guinea, but who was currently living in Dakar Senegal. He and I decided to upload our DNA on gedmatch.com and the results provided us with a more detailed estimate of how close we were related, a 5.5 generation distance.
Mohamed and I messaged one another through the ancestry.com system and exchanged Skype numbers shortly after my results came in. The rest of the story now stands as history. He and I now talk at minimum once a week. He has been very instrumental in sharing with me information about my African history. Both Mohamed’s mother & his deceased father have a long oral family history rooted through the Mandinka tribe. Mohamed not only serves as a DNA gateway to my family’s true home within the West Africa region, but he’s also a true friend. Our fellowship is more meaningful than “the cousin connection.” I can truly say that he is an individual that I would befriend in the natural (if met in a regular setting) without knowledge of our DNA kinship. He and I are only three years apart in age, are very similar in personality & share many similar moral beliefs. My maternal Grandmother would always tell my mother that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Genetic research and my interaction with Mohamed both solidify that we are connected to that common family tree. Fruits of one shared distant grandparent continued to multiply in Africa while the other was transported by force to the soils of America. Both trees, however, continued to multiply and now stand as physically reunited through divine intervention in 2016 for the first time in over 200 years.
My wife and I will be returning to Africa to visit Mohamed in Spring 2017 in Dakar Senegal.