Do Cape Verdeans and African Americans share African ethnic roots?

In the previous posts i have established that:

  1. most of the slave trade that passed through Cape Verde took place in the 1500’s/1600’s
  2. involved people from the Upper Guinea region
  3. with destinations in the Hispanic Americas
  4. only northern Brazil had significant Upper Guinean slave imports in the 1700’s/1800’s
  5. a separate Cape Verdean diaspora arrived in the Americas out of their free will, most of them living in the USA but many also residing in Argentina.

This brings me to my next question: to what degree do African Americans and Cape Verdeans show overlap in their African ethnic/regional origins?

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Leaving aside any geneflow resulting from intermarriage between Cape Verdeans and African Americans in the Post-Slavery period. Just focusing on the connections dating directly from the Trans Atlantic Trade and talking strictly shared ethnic origins from Upper Guinea. 

First of all it is known that hardly any slaves were shipped from Cape Verde to the USA or to the Anglo Caribbean because Cape Verde had already stopped being a large scale slave exporter at the time the English colonies started to import slaves (late 1600’s) and it was officially forbidden to trade with the protestant foreigners. Still some Cape Verdean individuals did end up in the USA and also Antigua, Barbados and Jamaica as the English did maintain a contraband trade with Cape Verde throughout the 1700’s and late 1600’s, focussing mostly on salt, textiles and food supplies. But apparently whenever there was a severe drought (Cape Verde has a Sahelian climate) slaves were to be had for a bargain and sometimes even free persons were forced to sell themselves or got kidnapped. The numbers involved were neglible though in the greater scheme of things. Below chart taken from the slavevoyages database. It only shows what’s been documented so it could have been more but not drastically so.

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CV-Anglo Americas

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org/)

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The English did however buy many slaves from the same broadly defined Upper Guinean area where Portuguese and Cape Verdean slavetraders had operated in previous centuries. It is often said that out of all English colonies or even all New World colonies the USA received most of these Upper Guinean slaves, proportionally speaking.  Below chart is taken from the slavevoyages database. It shows almost equal shares of direct slave imports from Senegambia to the USA and the Spanish Mainland (mostly Cartagena/Colombia), so that statement might need revision. The USA does have a clear edge however when it comes to Sierra Leone and Windward Coast. Taken together direct Upper Guinean imports could be as high as 35% for African Americans! This chart doesn’t include any indirect slave imports via the West Indies though. So it should NOT be taken as anything absolute or definite, just indicative!

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African Origins (broad regions) for All Americas (% against other origins)

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (2010) (http://www.slavevoyages.org/)

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Ideally you would want to have the same kind of breakdown for Cape Verde but this isn’t available because most slave voyages from Upper Guinea to Cape Verde simply weren’t documented also whatever was documented has only survived to a very small extent. While admirably covering the English, Dutch and French slave trade to a very large extent, the slavevoyages database is still far from complete when it comes to covering the early Iberian slave trade and especially when passing through Cape Verde! Also much of the illegal contraband and intercolonial slave trade has not been captured yet (for other disclaimers see this link to other charts taken from the slavevoyages database). 

Now there’s obviously many caveats when trying to extrapolate the African origins of modernday populations from slave trade statistics so you can’t just assume a straightforward connection with this chart which is also likely to be incomplete as i already mentioned. But just for the sake of argument i will briefly try to outline the main areas of shared Upper Guinean ancestry between Cape Verdeans and African Americans according to my knowledge: 

  • the region called “Senegambia and offshore Atlantic” includes Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde itself; no doubt it represents the main potential for shared ancestral connections
  • the region called “Sierra Leone” in fact also includes Guinea Conakry (Pongo & Nunez), it’s most likely more important for African Americans than for Cape Verdeans but there should be shared ancestry from these parts as well.
  • the region called “Windward Coast” includes both Liberia and parts of Ivory Coast, it’s practically inexistent as a source of ancestral origins for Cape Verdeans but of some minor importance for African Americans.

Getting more specific it’s known from historical sources that English and Portuguese slave traders operated from different slaveports within Upper Guinea. Generally speaking most Upper Guinean slaves brought over to the USA arrived via Gambia and Sierra Leone/Guinea Conakry while for Cape Verde it was Guinea Bissau & Senegal and their respective hinterlands. Despite obvious overlap this might have resulted in a differentiated ethnic mix from the same wider area of Upper Guinea for Cape Verdeans and African Americans. My website cvraiz.com offers an overview of the most likely top 20 ethnic origins for Cape Verdeans. I’m comparing that list with what i happen to know of the ethnically specific Upper Guinean origins for African Americans. I will get into more detail in future posts.

Very generalizing and speculatingly i’m guessing:

  • Within Senegambia the most ethnic overlap might have been for the Mandinga of Gambia/Guinea Bissau, the Wolof and Sereer of Senegal being less important for the African Americans than for Cape Verdeans, while ethnicities specific for the Guinea Bissau/Casamance area will be much more representative for Cape Verdeans and interior ethnicities from eastern Senegal/western Mali will be relatively more important for African Americans.
  • Within Sierra Leone/Guinea Conakry, the most ethnic overlap might have been for the Temne from northern Sierra Leone, they were known as “Sape” by the Cape Verdeans/Portuguese in the 1500’s/1600’s. In the 1700’s the infamous English slave fort of Bunce island was also located in their territory. Otherwise African Americans probably have more varied origins from throughout this region, incl. the Mende from southern Sierra Leone, an area which was probably very marginal for Cape Verdeans. From Guinea Conakry it’s likely that African Americans again have more varied origins as well as more interior ones, the most overlap is probably for the Susu or Fula.
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