Jamaican maternal lineages trace back mostly to Ghana?

nanny2

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“In line with previous findings, the matriline of Jamaica is almost entirely of West African descent. Results from the admixture analyses suggest modern Jamaicans share a closer affinity with groups from the Gold Coast and Bight of Benin despite high mortality, low fecundity, and waning regional importation. The slaves from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa were imported in great numbers; however, the results suggest a deficit in expected maternal contribution from those regions.” (Deason et al., 2012)

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The quote and table shown above are from two very insightful studies (see bottom of the page for full citation) dealing with the distribution of maternal haplogroups found in Jamaica and correlating these haplogroups with their likely regions of origin within Africa: “Interdisciplinary approach to the demography of Jamaica” (2012) and the follow up study “The West African Ethnicity of the Enslaved in Jamaica” (2013). Before i proceed in discussing further details i like to point out a few disclaimers:

  • Maternal haplogroups only represent a very limited portion of a persons total ancestry and often date back from thousands years ago. Autosomal DNA testing is the only way to find out about your complete ancestry.
  • For Afro-descendants in particular you will have to trace back to your first African born female ancestor carrying your maternal haplogroup. Generally speaking this will be atleast 2 or more centuries ago at which point of time you could have dozens or even hundreds of ancestors, out of whom your direct maternal ancestor would be only one. (see also “Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors“)
  • Maternal haplogroups are usually not restricted to just one region or unique to just one ethnic group. Because of ancient migrations and intermixing they are usually widespread across ethnic groups although with varying frequencies. (see alsoAfrican-American mitochondrial DNAs often match mtDNAs found in multiple African ethnic groups“)

Having said that it’s common practice to use maternal haplogroups for population studies as the frequencies found among a larger samplegroup can still provide valuable information about the regional origins as a collective. Specifically for Jamaica a very intriguing comparison is made with documented slave trade history and the demographic evolution of the Jamaican population.

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Disproportionate genetic legacy?

The working hypothesis of “Interdisciplinary approach to the demography of Jamaica(2012) was as follows:

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“Considering the overwhelming proportion of slaves imported from the Bight of Biafra and West-Central Africa just before the end of the slave trade, as well as the continuously high levels of mortality among slaves, it is hypothesized that the mtDNA haplogroup profile distribution will resemble these latter sources more closely than regions exploited earlier in the slave trade.” (Deason et al., 2012, p.3)

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But their research outcome seems to have surprised them:

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“The results of the admixture analysis suggest the mtDNA haplogroup profile distribution of Jamaica more closely resembles that of aggregated populations from the modern day Gold Coast region despite an increasing influx of individuals from both the Bight of Biafra and Westcentral Africa during the final years of the trade.

When taking what is known about the negative rate of natural population growth of slaves on Jamaica, these results add an additional layer of complexity to demographic history of Jamaica. Planters found it more economical to import new labour rather than invest in natural reproduction within their existing groups. Coupling low fecundity with the high mortality leads to the expectation of a fluid demographic shift through time to a haplogroup profile distribution more closely resembling those groups arriving later during the slave trade. Present results do not show this, hinting instead at non-random processes in the creation of modern Jamaican matrilineal demography” (Deason et al., 2012, p.5)

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Which goes to show that demographics of slave populations can be really unpredictable. There’s so many factors to take into consideration that you can never just simply extrapolate from the slave trade statistics (although they are still indicative to a large extent). Besides skewed sex ratios, harshness of labour regime, and founder effects from early slave imports this study also mentions:

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Between a quarter to a half of newly landed Africans died within the first three years on the island. The distance and time individuals spent travelling is negatively correlated with survival; as such, individuals embarking at ports further from Jamaica would be expected to arrive in a more poorly state therefore that despite more than half of all Africans shipped to Jamaica coming from the Bight of Biafra, they may have not survived the acclimatization process as frequently as those individuals from further west along the coast. ”  (Deason et al., 2012, p.5)

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English slave imports from the Bight of Biafra and Central Africa steadily increased throughout the entire slave trade period for Jamaica (and also generally speaking for the Anglo-Caribbean). Not only in absolute numbers but also proportionally peaking in the very last decades before Abolition in 1807. While the Africans arriving from the Gold Coast were most frequent in the middle period. This can be verified by looking at the West Indian slave registers from the early 1800’s in which the Igbo and the Congo very consistently show up among the top 3 most frequently mentioned slave ethnicities (see these previous blogposts). And even more so in these charts taken from the Slave Voyages Database:

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JAM -  embarkation regions  numbers 50years period

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

 

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JAM -  embarkation regions  percentages 50years period

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

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Correlation with Ghanaian influence in Jamaican Patois?

Deason, M.L. et al. (2012) also mention how Jamaican Patois is mostly showing Ghanaian (Kwa) linguistical influence and suggest that this possibly contributed to a greater genetical legacy (as measured by mtDNA) from Ghana as well:

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“Africans arriving from the Gold Coast may have thus found the acclimatization and acculturation process less stressful because of cultural and linguistic commonalities, leading ultimately to a greater chance of survivorship and a greater number of progeny.”  (Deason et al., 2012, p.7)

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Also in Newman et al. (2013) it is stated that:

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“Edward Long, Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica and a keen observer of life and society on the eighteenth-century island, was convinced that the Gold Coast Coromantee dominated the language of slaves: their’s was, he observed ‘more copious and regular than any other of the Negro dialects’. As long as a century later, William Gardner echoed Long, asserting that ‘the influences of the Coromantyns seems to have modified, if not entirely obliterated whatever was introduced by other tribes’. […]

“The Coromantee ‘build their houses distinct from the rest’, he went on, and they ‘do not mix at all with the other slaves’. Scholars of linguistics have argued that Akan-speakers were ‘centers of linguistic and cultural conservatism for a large part of the island’, and there is evidence that Africans from other areas learned elements of the Akan language once in Jamaica.” (Newman et al., 2013, p.391).

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This is certainly an interesting and plausible theory.  A creolization process dominated by slaves of Ghanaian origins and also favouring the socialization of newcomers of such origins might possibly have lead to their genetic impact being disproportionately bigger than their share in slave trade statistics suggests. As seen in the previous blog post (“Words of African Origin in Jamaican Patois“), Ghanaian lexical influence (incl. non-Akan languages!) seems to be indeed much more pronounced than Igbo (Bight of Biafra) infuence but the Central African contribution of 17% is still quite noticeable as well and in fact pretty much in line with slave trade records (compare with 16,1% in previous chart). Future studies might however come up with newly identified African retentions in Jamaican culture originating from the Bight of Biafra. As this is still very much an ongoing research effort.

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African lexicon in Jamaica (Farquharson, 2012)

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Genetic consequences of Creolization  

The 2012 study also proposes that ethnic/racial bias in the Jamaican slave society could have lead to preferential treatment of locally born “Creole” and also mixed-race slaves, again resulting in differentiated survival ratio’s among the slaves. The implication being that there was a higher probability of these locally born slaves having Ghanaian origins.

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“The slave society on Jamaica also operated in a very rigid social hierarchy; creole slaves had much greater life expectancy, fecundity, and upward social mobility than those born in Africa. Slaves born of mixed parentage were more often the recipients of more favourable positions, including domestics and tradesmen. Slaves of colour were also much more likely to be manumitted by their owners [28]. Considering the estimated paternal contribution by Europeans for modern Jamaicans is estimated at just over 40% [10], African-European admixture may have played an important role in the legacy of the slave population.”  (Deason et al., 2012, p.6)

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This might seem to be a somewhat controversial theory but it appears to be supported by the extensive demographic research done by B. W. Higman in his “Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica, 1807-1834”.  And it might also explain how the minor European admixture levels found among Jamaican population came to become widespread (although the 40% European Y-DNA frequency in the above quote could be exaggerated, in this 2012 study it was instead 18,9%). In fact this phenomenon could be true to varying degree for many other former slave societies as well.

This argument is expanded upon in Newman et al. (2013) where it is stated that despite less females from Gold Coast arriving in Jamaica somehow they still managed to pass on more of their mtDNA than Biafrans according to their findings.

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“Between 1650 and 1807, an estimated 159,000 enslaved female Africans came to Jamaica from the Bight of Biafra. Of these, over two-thirds arrived between 1750 and 1807, by which time plantation society was somewhat more settled, a creolized population was beginning to emerge, and family formation and reproduction amongst the enslaved was rising. In contrast, approximately 126,500 enslaved females had arrived in Jamaica from the Gold Coast, and a further 66,250 had arrived from the Bight of Benin […]

However, DNA evidence suggests that more of the maternal ancestors of modern Jamaicans were from the Gold Coast than were from the Bight of Biafra, which suggests that more enslaved children in Jamaica were born to Gold Coast women and raised, to varying degrees, in those traditions from Gold Coast societies that survived the Middle Passage.” (Newman et al., 2013, pp.380-381).

“If, for example, larger, older and more established plantations tended to buy relatively fewer new slaves over the course of the eighteenth century, with the enslaved reproducing themselves, then perhaps it is to the African migrants of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth century that we must look for cultural formation and continuities over time. If the slaves imported during the later eighteenth century went in larger proportions to newer and smaller plantations, were they less likely to enjoy a significant formative role in the create of an Afro-Caribbean society and culture?” (Newman et al., 2013, p.390).

“Michael Craton has demonstrated a proportional decrease in the number of Africans in Jamaica over the course of the eighteenth century, from 89.4 per cent in 1712, to 76.4 per cent in 1752, to 64.4 per cent in 1772. By 1807, according to Barry Higman, only 45 per cent of Jamaican slaves had been born in Africa.” (Newman et al., 2013, p.390).

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The last quote is implying that a small majority (55%) of Jamaican slave population in 1807 would have been locally born, a.k.a. “Creole”, and therefore their African origins might be better reflected by the slave trade patterns of the 1750’s or even earlier when the Gold Coast was a bigger area of provenance than the Bight of Biafra or Central Africa. The horrors of Jamaican slave society and the high mortality and sufferings it caused for both African born and locally born slaves are well known. However we should also not underestimate the resilience of the slaves who did survive all the ordeal; afterall they are the direct ancestors of presentday Jamaicans! Trying to understand what made the difference in survival ratio’s and if there was any ethnic factor involved can be useful from that perspective.

All charts below are taken from Higman (1976) and are clearly showing higher mortality rates for African born slaves and higher natural increase for locally born slaves. It might very well even underestimate African mortality rates in previous decades because the slaves mentioned in these charts from 1817 would have been long term survivors from the socalled “seasoning” by this time. Official slavetrade with Africa having been abolished by the English in 1807. It’s known that especially the very first months or first years after disembarking from Africa could be very deadly for newly arriving slaves. So if these statistics had been available for say the 1790’s you would see an even higher discrepancy between African and Creole mortality rates.

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Tabel 12  - Death rates Africans

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Tabel 17 - African & creole mortality rates

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 Tabel 26 - Birth & Death rates of Coloured Slaves + White parentage

*** (click to enlarge)Tabel 27 - Slaves of colour on ten properties

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Intercolonial slave trade involving more Igbo than Ghanaian captives?

In the Newman et al.(2013) follow up paper to Deason et al.(2012) additional arguments are proposed in order to explain the findings of a seemingly Ghanaian predominance when it comes to maternal haplogroups in Jamaica. Especially the re-export of many slaves from Jamaica to other colonies and how there might have been some selective ethnic bias at work in this socalled intercolonial trade. Keeping the slaves who were valued by the Jamaican planters (according to some subjective/prejudiced criterion obviously) and sending away the other ones.

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“The preference of mid-seventeenth-century Barbados planters for slaves from the Gold Coast was apparently taken up by Jamaican planters, not least because in the first instance many planters and many more seasoned slaves were transferred from Barbados to Jamaica” […] “This is one reason why the proportion of Gold Coast slaves in Jamaica may have been higher than the statistics for slave exports from Africa directly to Jamaica indicate. Perhaps on the basis of these Barbadian Gold Coast slaves, Jamaican planters continued to articulate a clear preference for slaves from that region of West Africa.

“the ‘major single destination of Gold Coast slaves was Jamaica’. Thus, despite the fact that the Voyages database indicates that more of the Jamaican enslaved had come from the Bight of Biafra, Africans from the Gold Coast nonetheless achieved a degree of ‘Akan cultural prominence’ (including Ahanta, Fanti, Akim and Asante peoples), premised upon white planter preference for Gold Coast slaves, and the largest concentration of Gold Coast peoples anywhere in the British Atlantic world.”

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However no matter what their preference would have been, at the end of the day the Jamaican planters were dependent on supply and often had to rely on whomever was available. So by no means was the Jamaican slave population ever consisting of exclusively Gold Coast captives, right from the start it has always been very regionally & ethnically mixed just like other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. However the sizeable outflow of Jamaican slaves being resold to other colonies complicates getting a clear picture.

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In short, no one African region dominated the shipment of slaves to Jamaica, whatever the stated preferences of Jamaican planters may have been: ‘The overall impression is of rapidly changing provenance zones.

“It is the authors’ contention that a greater proportion of Jamaicans today are descended from people who lived in the Gold Coast region than any other. While there is evidence to suggest that more enslaved Jamaicans had disembarked from the Bight of Biafra than from the Gold Coast, our research suggests that disembarkation did not necessarily reflect region of origin, and that in all probability more Africans from the Bight of Biafra were sold off the island than was true of Africans from the Gold Coast.”

” Both David Eltis and John Thornton have argued far more slaves arriving in Jamaica from the Bight of Biafra were sold on to Spanish America: six slaves from other African regions were sold to the Spanish for every slave from the Gold Coast who was sold on.”

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There’s naturally much uncertainty about the ethnic composition of Jamaican slave exports to surrounding West Indian colonies and especially to the Hispanic Americas. Even the full extent of this intercolonial slave trade can only be estimated as there was a great deal of undocumented contraband trade going on. Still the records we do have seem to suggest that this intercolonial trade was greater in volume in the early 1700’s than in the late 1700’s. Which might contradict some of the assumptions in Newman et al.(2013). As it was afterall in the late 1700’s that the Bight of Biafra and Central African slave exports really got predominant but apparently intercolonial slave trade by that time was declining. From the second chart (based on most recent research) 129,778 slaves were transported by the English (mostly from Jamaica) to other colonies in the period 1716-1750 versus 63,236 slaves in the period 1751-1790.

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Slave Re-exports from Jamaica 1701-1807

The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (Philip D. Curtin, 1969)

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Estimates of Reexports 1716-1790

Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (David Eltis, David Richardson, eds., 2008)

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On second thought…

The two studies discussed in this blogpost present much thought-provoking data and insightful theories which might also be applicable to other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. Still it must be reiterated that maternal haplogroups can merely provide a partial overview of ancestral origins and only largescale autosomal DNA testing can be expected to have a final say in this matter. For some preliminary survey findings see:

Also some of the assumptions made in both studies appear to be speculative to a considerable degree. Some vital information about the interaction between slaves from different ethnic backgrounds and their demographics will probably always be missing. The authors of these studies recognize the approximate nature of their findings:

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“In summation, despite the historical evidence that an overwhelming majority of slaves were sent from the Bight of Biafra and West-central Africa near the end of the British slave trade, the mtDNA haplogroup profile of modern Jamaicans show a greater affinity with groups found in the present day Gold Coast region. Caution must be paid however to the scope of the analyses performed here. ” (Deason et al., 2012, p.8)

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Table 2 - haplogroup method

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Just to add some counterevidence or issues worthy of reconsideration i will briefly mention the following:

  • If you look into the chart shown above which has the main findings you will notice the relatively high 9,2% share for Southeast Africa. It is even higher than West-Central African (9,2% vs 8,9%). This clearly goes against what is known from the documented slave voyages to Jamaica with only 0.1% of those coming from Southeast Africa and 16,1% from West-Central Africa! So most likely those “Southeast African” haplogroups (as identified by the study based on relative frequency) would actually have ended up in Jamaica via Central African ancestors. Bantu speaking people from both areas can be expected to share many ancestral connections, incl. haplogroups. If you add up both percentages it is practically the same as the documented slave voyages from Central Africa (18% v.s 16%). That would mean the predicted share of Central African ancestry based on slave trade statistics could still be about the same as found in this mtDNA survey.
  • The second biggest regional contribution to Jamaican mtDNA from the Bight of Benin (12,25%) could likewise also possibly be derived in part from Bight of Biafra instead because of regional overlap and ancient migrations. Possibly related to a broader Kwa/Benue ethnolinguistical grouping. Which would mean that the Bight of Biafra (incl. Igbo) contribution to Jamaican mtDNA could actually be higher than it is being portrayed!  A similar finding of Bight of Benin ancestral markers overlapping with Bight of Biafra ones is also to be observed on the autosomal AncestryDNA tests (see “Is “Benin/Togo” really pinpointing origins from within Benin’s borders?“).
  • Runaway slaves in Jamaica were predominantly Igbo & Moco (from Bight of Biafra) and Congo (from Central Africa) based on documented advertisements. So they were definitely present on the island (in the time periods covered) and in significant numbers despite any possibly higher than average mortality or re-export rates. See also “Ethnic Origins of Jamaican Runaway Slaves
  • Jamaica experienced several other important demographic developments after the Abolition of Slave Trade. Numerous Central Africans and Yoruba’s entered Jamaica after the Slave Trade period as socalled contract labourers. Also there was an outgoing migration flow of Jamaicans to Panama and other countries in the wider Caribbean region in the post-Slavery period.
  • On 23andme Igbo’s seem to have as many Jamaican IBD matches as Ghanaians (personal observation). Suggesting close ancestral connections in comparable measure. Future DNA studies focussing on IBD matches for Jamaicans based on much more extensive African databases could undoubtedly provide more clarity.
  • The samplesize of the study (n=390) seems to be quite robust and proportionate according to parish but it is possible that future studies might tap into even more representative samplegroups as well as compare with more ample African reference populations which might lead to different conclusions.
  • The frequency of haplogroups does not perfectly correlate with autosomal admixture. An immediate clue for this being the case is the disproportionate share of European paternal haplogroups among Jamaicans compared with the overall European contribution to Jamaican genomes.

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Sources:

– Deason, M.L. et al. (2012). Interdisciplinary approach to the demography
of Jamaica. BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12, (24). (available online)
Higman, B. W. (1976). Slave Population and Economy in Jamaica, 1807-1834.
Newman, S.P. et al. (2013). The West African Ethnicity of the Enslaved in Jamaica.
Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, 34, (3), 376-400.
 

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8 gedachten over “Jamaican maternal lineages trace back mostly to Ghana?

  1. That was a great study. I wonder, then, since Ghana is highlighted how much overlap could there be with groups in Benin/Togo. There seems to be degrees (more or less) of syncretism among the Akan (Fanti), Ga, and Ewe in Ghana; as the Ga and Ewe are also well represented in Benin/Togo regions.

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  2. The overlap seems to be there indeed also on AncestryDNA. See for example this graph. Benin/Togo and Iv.Coast/Ghana are shown as the closest clusters and even partially overlapping. I’m really curious to see the results of a Ghanaian as i have a feeling they could be showing signfificant “Benin/Togo”. Perhaps depending on ethnic background but going back several centuries i’m assuming a fair degree of intermixing must have taken place between the Ewe, Akan and Ga.

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  3. The word “obeah” is not of Igbo origin and shares the same definition in Jamaica to the Akan-Twi word for “witchcraft”. The igbo word “obia” means “doctoring” like an herbalist and is also used today to refer to a medical doctor(ndiba – a doctor). The Twi “obayi” means “witchcraft”, just as it does in Jamaica.

    Here’s an interview with an obeah man, as he explains that the term is also misused for anything including African Spirituality whether malicious or not(excepting for “herbalism” as herbalists are referred to in Jamaica as “bush doctors or herbalists”). In the interview, the Obeah man(who claims to be a spiritualist, which would have the same meaning as “okomfuo” amongst the Akan.) he claims that his form of spirituality is called Obeng and is the root of the word “Obeah”. Obeng is twi to mean “well experienced” or “intelligent”, “skilled” and “powerful”. A term only used for priests and not witches. But due to Europeanization, Jamaicans how don’t understand, see all African spiritual as “Obeah” or “witchcraft”.

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    • Thanks for your comment! Obeah is a very valuable African legacy. I suppose it’s possible that people from various African backgrounds – not just limited to either the Igbo or Akan speaking people – contributed to the way Obeah developed within Jamaica. In this other blogpost i did “Ethnic Origins of Jamaican Runaway Slaves” i came across these very intriguing early mentions of Obeah in the 18th century! As you can see it’s individuals from different backgrounds (“Papaw”= from Benin, “Eboe”= Igbo from Nigeria) who were associated with it although of course not perse indicative of its origins which might go back earlier in the 18th or even 17th century.

      “1 June 1790 Royal Gazette

      […] Also absconded from same Estate, some time ago, an elderly Negro man of the Papaw country, named ROCK, alias VENTURE marked as above, stout made and corpulent, passes amongst the Negroes for a great obeahman,”

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      “12 February 1785 Cornwall Chronicle

      […] ABRAHAM, an old Eboe Negro fellow, pretends to be an ObeahMan and Doctor, and is supposed to be skulking in this neighourhood”

      I’m aware that for many words in Jamaican Patois more than 1 possible etymology has been proposed. I’m not taking any sides in this academic debate. I just went with the latest study i’m aware of which i also blogged about earlier “Words of African Origin in Jamaican Patois“. Quoting from Farquharson (2012, p.308):

      “The etymology of this word has been the source of much speculation and contention. With a note that the derivation of the word is probably multiple, the DJE asks us to consider Efik ubio ‘a thing or mixture of things, put in the ground, as a charm, to cause sickness or death’, plus Akan O-bayif´o ‘witch, wizard, sorcerer’. The DJE’s Akan etymology can be omitted on the basis that it matches the Jamaican word neither in form nor in meaning. In addition, it is common for poly-syllabic words of Akan origin to be copied into Jamaican without the noun-class prefix (§7.2.1).

      The DCEU points out that ‘no precise origin has been determined, but some items especially in West African languages, suggest a connection’. The editor provides several forms for consideration: Ijo˙(Nembe) obi ‘sickness, disease’, Igbo obia ‘this particular) mind, will’,Ibibio abia ‘practitioner, herbalist’, plus the Efik and Akan etymologies discussed above. While the Ijo candidate is a good formal match for the Jamaican form obi , it means ‘sickness,disease’ and not witchcraft. Although one could make a connection since sickness is often viewed as the result of witchcraft, such a source is still speculative. The Igbo etymology is too tenuous as it is derived from two morphemes and appears to refer to some general state of mind, as opposed to something which could unequivocally be linked to witchcraft. The Ibibio etymology is formally and semantically close to the Jamaican form, but it refers to the practitioner as opposed to the practice. This is not so strange as we have a case where a Koongo word meaning ‘prophet’ came to designate both a ritual specialist and the practice in Jamaican. With this in mind, I have also accepted the related Igbo word. ④ Benue-Kwa: Igbo, Ibibio (BIA).”

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      • ok, jamaican people don’t refer to “doctoring”(talking traditional doctoring now with the use of herbs) as “obeah”. They only refer to witchcraft as obeah. “Traditional herbal DOCTORING” we say as just “bush doctor”, people know the difference. “Obeah” means attacking people with spells in Jamaica. Although we were conditioned to believe ANY traditional african spiritual system is “obeah”(in the same manner that Akan day names are now synonymous with ‘stupidity’). It is only possible even from your findings, that “Obeah” must be from the Akan “Obayi” to mean “Witchcraft”. “Obia” just happens to sound the same, this does not mean this is the origin of that word. The word is still used today in Nigeria by Igbos to mean “medical doctoring”. Nothing to do with “witchcraft” or even anything traditional.

        Also, people in Guyana and Suriname had a higher percentage of Akan captives than they did with Igbo and they too say “obeah” to mean “witchcraft”. Where as in the U.S. and Cuba where you have more Igbo, no one says “obeah” to refer to “witchcraft”.

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      • Interesting what you say about the usage of obeah in Surinam/Guyana in contrast to Cuba/USA. Cultural retention is always a complex issue. Perhaps it’s also a matter of the timing of arrival. Although Surinam slave imports indeed had an overall minor Bight of Biafra proportion, in the very early period (1600’s)the Dutch did bring many people over from that region relatively speaking. In fact in Guyana there used to be a Dutchbased creole language which was unique because of its predominant Ijaw influence: Berbice Creole Dutch

        Also interesting the distinction you make between witchcraft and traditional doctoring. I’m no expert at all about Obeah and how its referred to by West Indians. But it could be that its meaning has shifted in time. There’s a good paper on this for Barbados where obeah was first recorded if i’m not mistaken

        Slave medicine and Obeah in Barbados, circa 1650 to 1834

        On the very end they also discuss the possible origin of the word and say this:

        “Since etymologists have started with the assumption “that Obeah denotes evil sorcery,” they “have predictably succeeded in finding words in a number of African languages that are phonologically somewhat similar to Obeah and have meanings related to witchcraft or sorcery.”
        However, he suggests that if etymologists were to view Obeah “to begin with as a kind of neutral or positive spiritual force,” then etymological discussions might go in another direction and find the roots of Obeah in other linguistic contexts and languages.”

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    • Actually, Obia in Igbo is a collection of meanings including sciences, doctoring and medicine, the reason for this is because Di Obia (Dibia) who are the practitioners of Obia have different callings and skills, so you can have a dibia who is more of a herbalist and a dibia who is more of a spiritual medium. Obia itself means oracle or mysticism.

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