Nigerian Results

1) Introduction

On this page I will be posting the AncestryDNA results for Nigerians with confirmed ethnic background(s) within Nigeria. Unlike for Afro-descendants in the Americas or elsewhere these results can therefore be verified with known genealogy. This should be insightful on how reliable/predictive the various African AncestryDNA regions can be and also how they might be interpreted. For other African AncestryDNA results see this page:

In my personal estimation AncestryDNA can report valuable information about your ancestral origins as long as you correctly interpret the data and are aware of the relevant context and inherent limitations. Still these results might appear to be “off” at first look for those not accustomed to how AncestryDNA or DNA testing in general works. Therefore please keep in mind the following disclaimers (for a more detailed discussion see the AncestryDNA and AncestryDNA Regions pages):

  • Don’t take the country name labeling of the regions too literallyThe regional percentages firstmost signal close genetic similarity to samples taken from the countries after which the regions get named. Actual origins from neighbouring countries should not be ruled out.
  • Almost all African countries have been colonial creations with borders cutting right through the homelands of ethnic groups. Closely related ethnic groups can often be found on both sides of the border. This is also the case for Nigeria, which is arguably the most ethnically diverse country in Africa. With close genetic ties to populations nowadays living in Benin and Cameroon.
  • Most DNA is common in many populations, just at different frequencies. Due to either migrations or shared origins dating back from hundreds or even thousands of years. Generally speaking ethnic groups do not possess unique DNA markers, especially in comparison with neighbouring ethnic groups or from within the same wider region.

The number of Nigerians and other Africans being tested on AncestryDNA is still very limited but fortunately it is growing! Which is good news as DNA testing can be potentially educational, interesting, entertaining, beneficial etc. for native Africans as well. Even if you already know your ethnic background, you might still be keen to learn more about your (deep) ancestry. Afterall many Africans might also not be fully aware of the ethnic backgrounds of ancestors from several generations ago, let alone several centuries ago. So their results might even hold some surprises. At any rate you do not need to have all sorts of “exotic” admixtures to take a DNA test that’s worthwhile! It’s your own personal ancestry that you are researching and socalled “admixture” can also be defined in ethnic or intra-African terms. It’s not like DNA testing is only reserved for Americans. Also Europeans and Asians are taking these tests because they want to learn more about their heritage!

As these results below show many Nigerians are in fact of “mixed” background if you go along with the regional framework provided by AncestryDNA. Again to repeat myself it is counterproductive to get distracted by the country name labeling. Rather consider the AncestryDNA regions to be proxies of ancestral components which have become more frequent in certain places but still show a wide dispersal in neighbouring areas as well due to ancient migrations and inter-ethnic unions occurring probably since the dawn of mankind!

I will first post the screenshots of the Nigerian AncestryDNA results i managed to collect sofar. In the following sections I will attempt to provide some preliminary analysis on a group level despite the very small sample size. The ethnic backgrounds behind these Nigerian test results were verified by me in the best way i was able to. Mostly by statements made by the persons taking the tests but in a few cases i also distilled a likely ethnic background by way of other clues (usually family names and family locations). In these latter cases i have added a question mark in the header. Therefore a 100% accurate depiction of ethnic self-identification is not intended. I like to thank all these Nigerians for having tested on AncestryDNA and sharing their results online so that it may benefit other people as well!

You can also see the breakdown of the Nigerian results shown below in my spreadsheet via this link:

Nigerian AncestryDNA Results

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2) Nigerian Results

As far as I was able to verify all of these screenshots below are from persons with two Nigerian-born parents. This section is intended to illustrate the individual variation among Nigerians firstmost. The ethnic headers are meant to provide additional perspective. Even if at times only approximate info was available to me. Naturally i respect everyone’s right to self-identify as they please. My accompanying comments should be taken as informed speculation on my part they are not meant to exclude other possibilities or simplify complex family histories. I like to thank again all the persons who kindly agreed to share their results with me!

In addition i have also selected a few screenshots taken from public websites. As i found them to be of potentially great educational benefit for others. I have asked for prior consent whenever i could but regrettably wasn’t able to do so in all cases. I have naturally taken great care to cut away any name details in order to safeguard everyone’s privacy. Apologies in advance to anyone who recognizes their results and is not comfortable with this blog page featuring them. Please send me a PM and i will remove them right away.

IGBO

IGBO1

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This breakdown features the highest amount of “Nigeria” (77%) i have observed sofar. To some it might be surprising that a “100% Nigerian” outcome is not obtained. However these results still make sense if you realize that genetics does not respect manmade borders and neighbouring people will always have shared DNA in common because of ancient migrations or recent inter-ethnic unions. Genetics are complex and your DNA won’t always exactly fit in any neat boxes. Now this might get in the way of how you initially expect things to work out in DNA testing but that’s just how things are. This guy also made a very funny yet still also very insightful Youtube video:

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IGBO

IGBO2

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In the following screenshots a decreasing amount of “Nigeria” can be observed. Even when it is still being reported as the predominant or biggest region for almost all, except for three persons (n=15). In addition it turns out that in particular the regions  “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” are needed to describe the heterogeneous genetic make-up of Nigerians. Basically because of a high degree of genetic diversity in Nigeria, shared origins across borders and probably also due to the limited reference populations being available to AncestryDNA. Individual variation among Nigerians is to be expected therefore and might very well correspond with ethnic identity as well as deep ancestry (going beyond ethnicity and dating back many centuries). More detailed discussion in section 4 & 5.

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IGBO

igbo8

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IGBO (?)

IGBO4

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The screenshot above and the one below are very similar in their top 3 breakdown as well as proportion-wise. The trio of “Nigeria”, “Benin/Togo” and Cameroon/Congo” are consistent as main regions. With the Trace regions being minimal.

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IGBO

IGBO3

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IGBO

Igbo (Anambra)

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Again two very similar results directly above and below. Intriguingly “Cameroon/Congo” is showing up more pronounced  than “Benin/Togo” for both. And in addition also “Ivory Coast/Ghana” is being reported above trace level! Highlighting the close genetic ties across Lower Guinea into Cameroon. As far as i know these persons, both of confirmed Igbo descent, do not have any recent family connections with any of these neighbouring countries. This outcome is rather to be explained by people originally living in Nigeria migrating in both westward and easterly directions. These population movements taking place in a both prehistorical age (Bantu speakers) and more recent time periods (Kwa speakers). More details in section 4.

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IGBO

igbo6

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IGBO

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 50%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 34%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 8%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 7%

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A well spoken video which features similar results as the two results directly above. Except that the socalled “Cameroon/Congo” region is showing up even more pronounced. While the socalled “Benin/Togo” region is rather subdued especially when compared with “Ivory Coast/Ghana“.  As also explained in greater detail in the next section the socalled “Cameroon/Congo” region should not be taken too literally as actually implying ancestral origins from Cameroon. Rather it would suggest crossborder ancestral ties as a result  of (ancient) migration flows historically starting within southeast Nigeria rather than the other way around.

Also the “only” 50% socalled “Nigeria” score should not be interpreted as diminishing anyone’s Nigerian status. It’s just a preliminary measure of how you compare genetically with the (by default limited) sample dataset utilized by AncestryDNA. Right now they have 67 Nigerian samples in their reference panel. Had these 67 samples been selected from close family members or people from within your ancestral village undoubtedly your Nigerian score would have been been much higher!  As i always say your DNA results are only as good as the next update 😉

More details by way of her blog:

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IGBO?

IGBO7

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I have no certainty about the ethnic background of this person. Although there is valid reason to assume at least a partial Igbo background. The breakdown on display is atypical compared with what i have seen sofar for Nigerians and especially for Igbo’s. “Nigeria” is being trumped by both “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo”! Although the composition is actually pretty much balanced in between these 3 overlapping regions. I suppose this might be suggestive of this person having a multi-ethnic background. Inter-ethnic unions possibly involving ethnic groups surrounding Igboland such as the Ijaw, Efik, Edo etc. (see ethnolinguistical maps of Nigeria in section 5). This ethnic mixing might have taken place just 1 or a few generations ago but it could also be dating from further back in time, beyond family recollection even. Naturally all of this is just speculation on my part 😉 For all i know this person selfidentifies as fully Igbo and so would her parents, grandparents etc. The sample size i managed to collect is very small still so it might turn out a result like this might not be that unusual afterall. Perhaps it’s also more representative for certain Igbo subgroups.

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IDOMA/YALA (Cross River State)

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 43%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 35%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 13%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 2%

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Very nice video showing yet again how these results might be confusing when you take the country name labeling too literally. However when taking into the account the background of this person as well as the disclaimers i have already mentioned this breakdown actually makes a lot of sense. The socalled “Nigeria” amount is indeed a bit low, but still close to the average i have found for the Nigerians in my survey. The socalled “Cameroon/Congo” amount of 35% however is clearly above average and in fact the second highest such score i have observed! This is not surprising at all  given that this person’s family is from Cross River State, which is located right at the border with Cameroon. Of course genetics doesn’t care about manmade borders dating back from only a hundred years or so when your DNA is reflecting ancestral connections which can go back many centuries or even millennia 😉 She doesn’t mention her ethnic background, but interestingly the captital of Cross River State is Calabar and many people who live there are Efik. The socalled Moco and Calabari are very frequently named as ethnonyms for enslaved Africans in the Americas (see the section for slave ethnicity data for the Anglo-Caribbean and the Hispanic Americas).  Their ancestral contribution is somewhat lesser known among the general public who usually only think of the Igbo when contemplating Bight of Biafra origins. As this very useful video illustrates any socalled “Cameroon/Congo” amount reported for Afro-Diasporans could also have been inherited by way of southeastern Nigerians.

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IDOMA/YALA (Cross River State)

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 39%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 35%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 14%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 3%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%
  • “Hunter-Gatherers”: 1%

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This video features the results of the mother of the person above. The breakdown is practically identical safe for a slightly lower “Nigeria” amount. The same comments apply as i made above. This time however the mother did specify her ethnic background, which interestingly is Yala, a subgroup of the Idoma people. Intriguingly these people are originally located a bit more inland (Benue state), again highlighting the importance of migrations. See also these links:

Wellworth watching the entire video as the mother makes a couple of very fascinating comments about familylore involving intermarriage with a European man 3 or 4 generations ago. Although this family history is not confirmed by the 100% African breakdown. Furthermore she mentions being in contact with several DNA cousins from the Maryland area. Which seems very appropriate as this state together with Virginia received the greatest proportion of Bight of Biafra captives during the Slave Trade period (see this blogpage). At the very end the mother makes a truly inspiring statement about how DNA testing can be used to realize how interconnected we all might be.

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IJAW (3/4) & KRIO (1/4)

IJAW1a

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This person is actually not of 100% Nigerian descent because one of his grandparents is a Krio from Sierra Leone who migrated to Nigeria where they are also known as Saro (see this wikipedia article for more details). I still included his breakdown on this page because i find them very insightful! Judging from the Sierra Leonean results i have seen (see African AncestryDNA results) the 24% “Ivory Coast/Ghana” might very well reflect his quarter Krio background. Afterall Sierra Leone does not have a region of its own on AncestryDNA. It could be that some of his Trace Regions are also inherited from his Krio side. But i imagine that’s impossible to tell right now. Which leaves a breakdown which is almost evenly divided between “Nigeria” and “Cameroon/Congo” to describe his Ijaw background. We will have to await further Ijaw results but i find this outcome very useful as it seems to suggest that the Ijaw might have a greater genetic affinity with the Cameroonian samples used by AncestryDNA than the 6 Igbo results i have seen sofar. Which would make sense given both geography and linguistics.

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EDO

EDO1

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EDO

EDO2

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Very interesting to see these two results of persons with a Edo (a.k.a. Bini) background. Most people in the West are only aware of a few Nigerian ethnic groups. While actually more than 200 distinct ethnic groups are said to live in Nigeria! The Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa/Fulani being most well known because of their greater numbers and notable presence among both recent migrants and the Trans Atlantic Diaspora. The Edo are located in southern Nigeria and are descendants of the people who founded the famous Benin Empire, not to be confused with the moderday country of Benin (known as Dahomey in colonial times). This empire is rightfully celebrated for its arts and city planning. Less well known might be that the military expansion of the former Edo (Benin) kingdom across southern Nigeria caused a great deal of population movements. With people originally living in southern Nigeria ending up all the way in Ghana (incl. Gbe speaking people such as the Ewe). Quite likely an important factor behind the seemingly “mixed” AncestryDNA results of Nigerians and their close genetic ties with neighbouring countries to the west. The breakdown of these two single Edo individuals is actually not that drastically different from the previous Igbo results except that the amount of “Benin/Togo” is more significant and “Cameroon/Congo” seems more subdued.

A  worthwhile quote from the person behind the second Edo result:

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My mom was really dismissive when I showed her the results. I could tell she felt that the test was implying that she’s not really Edo (which it’s not) and that she’s not what she think she is so she dismissed it as false. She’s like “my mother is Bini, her mother is Bini, and her mother is Bini. This is all lie lie”. Yeah ok but do you know past that? What about our ancestors 200 years ago or 500 years ago? She must think that Edo people existed since the beginning of time and never migrated to or from somewhere for 1000’s of years lol. She’s really old fashioned so I don’t blame her.”

Sourcehttp://thatnigeriankid.tumblr.com/

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EDO & YORUBA

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Benin/Togo”: 55%
  • “Nigeria”: 35%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 7%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 1%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 1%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%

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Highly fascinating video and corresponding results. This woman received the highest amount of “Benin/Togo”  i have seen sofar among Nigerians, a whopping 55%! It is a perfect illustration of how the country name labeling by AncestryDNA can be potentially confusing. Because in fact she is not at all from either Benin or Togo. Ancestry.com does actually provide very decent background information on how to interpret their results. Unfortunately it seems to be often skipped by those who don’t like to read the small print ;-). But not so by this Nigerian woman who explains very clearly how Benin is literally right next to Yorubaland and in fact many Yoruba’s also live within Benin itself! The mixed ethnic background of this woman underlines that the frequency of inter-ethnic unions among Africans should not be underestimated. It is well worth the time to watch the entire video as traditional Nigerian (Yoruba) views on genealogy are also being discussed in a very lucid manner.

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YORUBA

Yoruba2a

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Yet again a clear “Benin/Togo” shift is being shown for this person of Nigerian nationality and fully Yoruba ethnic background. The “Benin/Togo” share is in fact biggger than his socalled “Nigeria” score and makes up about half of his total breakdown! A convincing confirmation that these socalled “Benin/Togo” ancestral markers seen among Afro-Diasporans might just as well have been inherited via a Nigerian ancestor. And in fact also by way of Ghanaian ancestors depending on their ethnic background (most likely non-Akans, see this Ewe result which shows 72%  socalled “Benin/Togo”).

Another interesting thing to note is how this breakdown only shows 1 single Trace Region while Afro-Diasporans usually tend to show a handful of Trace Regions. The “Senegal”  score mentioned in this breakdown (and also in the next Yoruba result) might only have been reported at trace level. But given that this region has a robust prediction accuracy it could still be genuine and possibly be suggestive of a single distant Fula lineage. The Nigerian Fulani having migrated to northern Nigeria in recent times, coming from the west and originally located in the Senegambia area. Also the 8% “Cameroon/Congo”, even if only minor might still be suggestive of distant Igbo or otherwise southeastern Nigerian lineage. Eventhough the previous Edo results actually show similar levels of this region.

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YORUBA

Yoruba

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This person’s “Nigerian” % is close to what a “typical native” from Nigeria would score according to the samples from Ancestry.com (69%). Also in line with expectations and previous results the “Benin/Togo” % is quite pronounced. Everything else is at minor Trace Region level and therefore could as well be simply “noise” or just generic DNA that AncestryDNA finds difficult to classify. Still interesting that “Cameroon/Congo” is mentioned only with a very reduced amount. The “Cameroon/Congo” region could be a tell-tale sign i suppose to distinguish the “average” Yoruba from the “average” Igbo. However it is important to keep stressing that even within ethnic groups, especially large ones like the Igbo and Yoruba, you will find MUCH individual variation as everyone has unique family trees and different levels of deep ancestry dating from a proto-ethnic era. Continued discussion in section 4 & 5.

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YORUBA

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Nigeria”: 44%
  • “Benin/Togo”: 37%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 15%

Trace Regions

  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 2%
  • “Mali”: 1%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%

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This video features the results of UK-born singer Alex Boyé, who is however of fully Nigerian descent. Because of his childhood he was initially not interested at all in his Nigerian roots. But having started a family of his own he became more curious. Nowadays he actually sings some of his songs in Yoruba. See also his website:

This breakdown seems to fit in nicely in the Yoruba results i have seen sofar. Especially the near equal combo of “Nigeria” and “Benin/Togo”. Only the 15% socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana” stands out a bit. It might be genuinly signaling a recent Ghanaian family line. But on the other hand it could also be a mere reflection of shared ancient ancestry between southern Nigeria and its bordering countries to the west. Perhaps dating back hundreds of years or possibly even thousands! For more discussion see also section 4.

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YORUBA & IGBO

YORIGBO

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Eventhough this person is half Igbo his breakdown seems to pull him more to his Yoruba side. That is judging by the few results available sofar. Especially “Cameroon/Congo” only appearing at trace level seems to be more typical for a Yoruba composition. However more results are needed to make a proper assessment.

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YORUBA & URHOBO

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yorur

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A very nice reaction video in which a profound statement is made that ” you don’t have to be [racially] mixed to take a DNA test”. The Ethnicity Estimates obtained from AncestryDNA can be rewarding for anyone who takes interest in their ancestral origins! The “Nigeria” amount (72%) for this person is among the highest i have observed sofar. Only two other Nigerians scoring above 70% for the “Nigeria’ region from what i have seen (n=15). It’s basically only “Benin/Togo” which shows up in addition. Remarkably zero % “Cameroon/Congo” is being reported, being absent even among the trace regions. Although not really surprising given her Yoruba/Urhobo background. This mixed combination is yet again testimony of inter-ethnic unions being pretty common among Nigerians. The Urhobo people, located to the west of the Niger delta, are probably not very well known outside of Nigeria. But they are apparently closely related to the Edo people, once forming part of the Benin empire. For more detailed information see also this article:

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YORUBA & TABOM & FULANI?

NAIJA - Yoruba descendant in Ghana

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These results above reflect a personal history of multiple migrations across West Africa and even Trans Atlantic migrations from Brazil back to West Africa. Just to summarize: this person seems to be descended mostly from a prominent Yoruba family who migrated from Nigeria to Ghana during the 1800’s. Apparently these migrations started as early as 1813! It goes to show that the intermingling of ethnic groups within Africa due to migration and intermarriage should never be underestimated.  Even so it’s striking that the main regions shown in this breakdown are still “Nigeria” and “Benin/Togo” as was to be expected judging from the other Yoruba results posted above.The specifics are described in greater detail on these webpages written by the man who took the test:

Aside from Yoruba ancestry this person also has an ancestral tie to the Tabom people from Ghana. They are somewhat similar to the Krio people of Sierra Leone and Liberia, as in that they descend from formerly enslaved Afro-Diasporans who returned to West Africa during the 1800’s. The Tabom however left from Brazil and not the USA or Jamaica. The amount of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” was less than expected by the person who took the test himself. However he also mentions that many of the Tabom people were actually Muslim and might have hailed originally from northern Nigeria before being taken to Brazil and then settling in Ghana. An incredible odyssey! Follow these links if you want to learn more about these fascinating people:

Intriguingly yet another migrating Nigerian connection is present in this person’s family tree. Involving “hired warriors” from Sokoto in northern Nigeria who headed south. Going back more generations however this side of the family might ultimately have migrated from Mali, which goes in line with the history of the Sokoto Caliphate, which was founded by the Fula (or Fulani as the Nigerians say), who arrived in Nigeria coming from the West. It is amazing therefore that the “Mali” score in this breakdown is the highest i have seen among Nigerians. Which would be confirming family lore. Zooming into ethnic details could prove to be more trickier at this stage. However it might be insightful to compare with the next following two results who also have or seem to have (partial) northern Nigerian origins.

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ITSEKIRI (3/4?) & URHOBO

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Ethnicity Estimates

Africa: 100%

  • “Benin/Togo”: 66%
  • “Cameroon/Congo”: 25%
  • “Nigeria”: 6%

Trace Regions

  • “Mali”: 1%
  • “Ivory Coast/Ghana”: 1%
  • “Southeastern Bantu”: 1%

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A very entertaining video by a man who jokingly mentions his Nigerian passport might be revoked because his socalled “Nigeria” score is as low as 6%! This is the lowest score i observed sofar while his socalled “Benin/Togo” amount of 66% is the highest score up till now. Such a ranking of “Benin/Togo” in first place is atypical but not uncommon as already described above. As explained in greater detail in the next section this socalled “Benin/Togo” component is actually widespread among southern Nigerians. Despite the misleading country name labeling it should be kept in mind that historically the migration flows went from Nigeria into Benin/Togo rather than the other way around. During the video a remark is made “what is my business with the Togolese?“. However it’s more about Togolese having (ancient) ancestral origins wthin southern Nigeria than this individual or southern Nigerians in general having any origins from Benin/Togo.

This particularly striking outcome of only 6% socalled “Nigeria” and 66% socalled “Benin/Togo” is most likely to be explained by the fact that the socalled “Nigeria” region is only based on 67 samples, by definition a very minimal subset of Nigeria’s population of more than 180 million! Given the huge genetic diversity to be found within Nigeria and even within each single Nigerian ethnic group it is not surprising that not each and every Nigerian is going to fit in this predefined “DNA mold”.  Especially when as far i know no Itsekiri nor Urhobo samples were included. So therefore the 6% socalled “Nigeria” score should be interpreted merely as a genetic similarity to the not necesarily representative 67 samples from Nigeria, used by AncestryDNA. This individual person instead happens to show more genetic similarity to the 60 samples from Benin & Togo used by AncestryDNA (in the absence of more fitting samples). Which still makes sense if you take into account the close genetic ties between southern Nigerians and these neighbouring countries. Given what we know about both historical and prehistorical migration flows generally originating in southern Nigeria rather than Benin/Togo there should be no cause for alarm or doubt when considering this person’s Nigerian identity 😉 It is very interesting though that his partially Itsekiri background might be greater than imagined at first (3/4 rather than 1/2). The Itsekiri people are known to be closely related to the Yoruba and by proxy also to the Beninese people. For more details see also:

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HAUSA/FULANI

HAUSFULA1

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The Hausa/Fulani are often mentioned combined as being the biggest ethnic group in northern Nigeria. It is therefore very illuminating to compare this single northern Nigerian result with the southern Nigerian results posted above. Most striking difference seems to be the (near) absence of “Cameroon/Congo” and “Benin/Togo” regions, and instead the noticeable presence of especially “Senegal” and also “Africa North” and “Middle East”. To hark back at the theme of frequent inter-ethnic unions within Nigeria. The Hausa/Fulani themselves are an excellent illustration of this phenomenon as they represent a fairly recent fusion of two distinct ethnic groups. Aside from widespread intermarriage also characterized by language adoption (Hausa becoming the preferred first language) and cultural amalgation. Even when apparently despite much common ground many Hausa and Fulani do choose to maintain separate identities as well or atleast are aware of their previous lineage. This person for example has a Tuareg greatgrandfather from neighbouring Niger. For more background information see also:

The predominantly Hausa background for this person seems to be confirmed by the rather high 73% score for the “Nigeria” region. Which is the second highest Nigerian percentage i have seen sofar! Despite their Chadic language suggesting ultimate origins further east, the Hausa are known to have a long history within Nigeria borders (at least since 500-700 AD according to this overview). While the Fulani settled in Nigeria relatively recently (probably mostly during 1600’s-1800’s) having migrated from their original homelands in Senegambia and Guinea (see this website for an overview).

Amazingly the partial Fulani background is very clearly captured by the 16% “Senegal”.  Unmistakingly confirming that Senegambia is indeed the original homeland of the Fula people. Even when probably also to some measure the minor North African and Middle Eastern scores can be correlated with Fulani origins. Naturally in addition to the genetic contribution from the Tuareg greatgrandfather for this person. Given its tracelevel (<1%) reporting the socalled “Iberian Peninsula” score can safely be assumed to be just a misreading of actually North African DNA. It’s insightful to compare with these results for a person of fully Fula background (afaik):

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HAUSA/FULANI (Kaduna)

hausfula2

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This second Hausa-Fulani breakdown looks quite similar in its Top 3 breakdown. The same goes for the minor “Middle East” score as well as the minimal African Trace regions, with “Benin/Togo” being conspiciously absent again! Proportionally speaking it seems safe to state however that this individual has a higher degree of Fulani origins, judging from the elevated level of both “Senegal” and “Africa North”. Again the “Mali” region does not seem to be especially useful as an indicator of Fulani ancestry, only showing up at 1%.  The “Senegal” score of 25% is the highest i observed sofar in my still very limited Nigerian sample group (n=24). Ironically among the much greater number of African American AncestryDNA results i have seen (more than 1000 right now) this same amount of 25% is still the maximum score as well. Suggesting that northern Nigerians might actually have a greater chance of scoring high amounts of Senegambian DNA than African Americans who are often touted as having significant Senegambian origins.

A striking standout feature would be the 10% socalled “Southeastern Bantu”. Despite the labeling it seems more logical to assume this ancestral element is actually suggestive of Chadic or Nilo-Saharan origins from neighbouring Chad and Sudan. These populations are afterall not yet represented within AncestryDNA’s reference panel which is used to determine their socalled Ethicity Estimates by comparing  a person’s DNA with that of the databased samplegroups. Also it is known that the Hausa have linguistical and ancestral ties to these countries to the east. It will be very interesting to see if this component is common among other Hausa-Fulani as well or just reflecting this person’s particular family tree.

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UNKNOWN

UNKNOWN

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I do not know the ethnic background(s) for this Nigerian person. However she herself expressed to be surprised about the relatively high 13% “Mali” score. As Mali is not a neighbouring country for Nigeria. But this socalled “Mali” region might actually also signal ancestral connections with Burkina Faso and northern parts of Benin/Togo/Ghana in addition to the Upper Guinea area. For more details see also the “Mali” entry on this page:

Even when the number of Nigerian results i have collected is still very limited this “Mali” score does stand out sofar as being among the highest i have observed and it’s also atypical for being above trace level.  Additional context is needed to make more sense of it though. It could be something rather ancient which was inherited through both parents and also generally present within the genepool of the ethnic group this person belongs to. Similar to the “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” scores among Yoruba and Igbo but possibly more indicative of northern Nigerian or Middle Belt origins. On the other hand it might also be more recent and hailing from just one particular family line wih possible origins from outside of Nigeria’s borders.

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3) Summary of Findings

  1. As expected “Nigeria” is reported as the primary region for almost all. But it is plain to see that the region labeled “Nigeria” by AncestryDNA does not cover the full extent of Nigerian DNA.
  2. “Benin/Togo” is the most significant secondary ancestral component for the group as a whole and even the top region for 3 out of 15.
  3. “Cameroon/Congo” is especially prevalent among my Igbo and Ijaw samples and might be a marker of Biafran ancestry. Especially when it’s >10%.
  4. “Senegal” scores among Nigerians seem to be highly indicative of Fulani descent.
  5. Main regions being reported are almost always geographically adjacent to Nigeria while Trace Regions are minimal. Especially when compared with Afro-Diasporan results which are as expected much more diverse and wideranging.

Disclaimers:

Keep in mind the sample size of my survey is minimal in number. Even more so when going by ethnic background! Obviously no fictional population averages are intended for either the whole of Nigeria or the ethnic groups being mentioned. At this very preliminary stage also the representativeness of the samples cannot be fully judged yet. Afterall Nigeria is home to more than 150 million people! Even so, i believe the group averages i calculated based on 15 Nigerian results hold very valuable information in themselves already. Robust enough to at least indicate a basic regional framework as defined by AncestryDNA. And most likely also valid in broad lines for many other Nigerians.

I am aware that ethnicity can be a sensitive topic for Nigerians. My motivation to research these socalled Ethnicity Estimates is purely scholarly. It stems from a deep fascination with Nigeria’s eminent place within West Africa’s ancient population migrations, as well as its many connections with the Afro-Diaspora. I do not condone the misuse of my research for identity politics! I am in full support of democratizing knowledge. However when parts of my work are being copied i do expect that a proper referral to my blog and the additional context it provides will be made.

***Chart 3.1 (click to enlarge)

NAIJA Nr.1 Regions (n=15)

***

This first chart shows how many times the socalled “Nigeria” region was reported with the highest amount by AncestryDNA. However for 3 out of 15 Nigerians in my survey “Benin/Togo” showed up as biggest region. A wakeup call for people who take the country name labeling of ancestral categories as gospel ;-). And an essential finding to correctly interpret the results of Afro-Diasporans. See also:

***Chart 3.2 (click to enlarge)

Naija, Igbo, Edo, Yoruba (n=15)

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While reviewing the statistics i calculated above based on 15 Nigerian AncestryDNA results, it is good to be aware that averages tend to hide underlying variation. That’s why it’s always advisable to also take into account other measures such as the median and especially the minimum & maximum values to get a sense of the range of the scores. Naturally also the sample size (mentioned in the row labeled “Number”) is essential to place this data in its proper context 😉

Nigerians compared with Afro-Diaspora

***Chart 3.3 (click to enlarge)

Regional Top 2

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Within my spreadsheet i have created a column named “∑ Top 2” which features the sum of the two biggest African regional scores for each individual result (leaving aside any non-African admixture). Combining the shares of the two main regions provides a rough measure of how homogeneous or rather heterogeneous a person’s African breakdown might be. The chart above shows the averages of these combined top 2 regional shares per nationality. According to Ancestry.com their Nigerian samples were among the most admixed in their African reference panel. However when compared to Afro-descended nationalities my Nigerian sample group clearly stands out for being relatively the most homogenous. In almost all cases the top 2 regions for my Nigerian samples consisted out of a combination of “Nigeria”  and “Benin/Togo”, genetically closely related regions.

***Chart 3.4 (click to enlarge)

Naija -Diaspora Comparison

***

This last chart shows how the average African breakdown for my Nigerian sample group compares with various other nationalities. It suggests a great deal of overlap and shared regional ancestry between Nigerians and the Afro-Diaspora. Not only for the socalled “Nigeria” region but in fact also the “Benin/Togo ” and ” Cameroon/Congo” regions. Even though the underlying ethnic origins are unfortunately more obscure and uncertain for Afro-descendants at this stage. For more in depth discussion see also:

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4) Observations

Let me first re-emphasize that my survey is based on individual results reflecting unique family trees. In my analysis below i will however be focusing on the group averages to get a better grip on the underlying patterns. It is important though to underline the individual variation we should expect for Nigerian results, even if persons belong to the same ethnic group. Which is only natural when you realize that Nigeria is the most diverse and populous country of Africa with a very long (pre)history of significant migrations across its territory. It is of course inevitable that when more Nigerian test results become available, additional and different regional patterns might show up. It is especially regrettable that I did not have any more results from northern Nigeria as well as the socalled Middle Belt to analyze as they might provide an insightful contrast to the almost exclusively southern Nigerian results in my survey. I will now proceed with discussing the main patterns I am able to pick up from the current data. Of course merely expressing my personal opinions & thoughts and not meant to be conclusive in any way.

 “Nigeria” region does not cover the full extent of Nigerian DNA

***(click to enlarge)

Nigeria2

Source: Ancestry.com

***

All the persons within my survey are of fully Nigerian descent as far as i was able to verify. Yet no one was described as 100% “Nigeria” by AncestryDNA. Instead the highest “Nigeria” score i observed was 77% and the lowest score was 24%. While the average i calculated for 15 Nigerians was barely 55% (see chart 3.2). Even when an overwhelming majority (12/15=80%) of my sample group did have “Nigeria” as their top region, this still wasn’t the case for 3 Nigerian testers who instead had “Benin/Togo” as their biggest region (see chart 3.1).

For some people this might give ground to an overhasty dismissal of these results. Most likely based on an incomplete understanding of how DNA testing works and unrealistic expectations.This would however deprive them of a great deal of informational value to be gained. On the very top of this page i have already briefly explained how this outcome should be interpreted. Basically a high degree of genetic diversity is inevitable because Nigeria has such a huge and heterogenous population. Too much diversity to be described by just one ancestral category. But this finding is actually also very well explained on the website of Ancestry.com itself, as can be seen in the screenshot above. Helpful additional information is also being provided when you take the time to carefully browse through your Ethnicity Estimates. See also:

It should be clear therefore that for logical reasons the genetic origins of actual Nigerians are not fully covered by just only the region “Nigeria”. Additional regions are needed to describe their DNA, in particular “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo”. Ancestry.com mentions that the “typical native” would be 69% “Nigerian”, using the median score for their more numerous sample size of 67 Nigerians. So that’s a bit more than the 54% median score for the 15 Nigerian results I have collected. Aside from individual variation this difference is probably also correlated to the ethnic origins of the samples. Ancestry.com does not specify the ethnic origins of their reference populations. But among the 15 Nigerian results within my spreadsheet, are included 6 and possibly 7 Igbo,  2 Yoruba, 2 Edo, 1 Hausa and 3 persons with one Yoruba parent combined with 1 parent being either Edo, Igbo or Urhobo. Hence an almost exclusively southern Nigerian sample group.

Either way this outcome might be of consequence for the way we should interpret the AncestryDNA results of African Americans and other Afro-Diasporans. Afterall it might very well be that similarly also for Afro-Diasporans the “Nigeria” region may not be reporting the full extent of their genuine Nigerian origins. But rather this region’s score would tend to underestimate their Nigerian ancestry, generally speaking. And the reported “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” amounts for especially African Americans and West Indians might in part actually have been inherited by way of Nigerian ancestors who already carried these DNA markers in their own genome.

Benin/Togo” most significant secondary component 

***(click to enlarge)

Benin&Togo

Source: Ancestry.com

***(click to enlarge)

Yorubaland_Map

Map of Yorubaland extending into Benin and even parts of Togo.

***

img-5

In this linguistical map the socalled Kwa language group is still shown as also including southern Nigerian languages like Yoruba and Igbo, formerly called eastern Kwa. But nowaydays these languages are often considered to be a separate grouping of Benue-Congo or Volta-Niger

One of the perhaps most insightful findings of my survey of Nigerian AncestryDNA results are the prominent socalled “Benin/Togo” scores. For 3 out of 15 people this neighbouring region to Nigeria was reported with the highest amount in their breakdown (see chart 3.1). The maximum “Benin/Togo” score sofar being 55%! But also otherwise most of my Nigerian samples – not only Yoruba but also Edo and Igbo – received substantial “Benin/Togo” scores. Usually ending up as second biggest region behind “Nigeria” and above tracelevel. On average it reached almost 29%, so clearly a significant part of the ancestral make-up of my Nigerian sample group as a whole (see chart 3.2).

This outcome highlights my earlier disclaimer that the country name labeling of ancestral components should not be taken at face value. Due to inevitable regional overlap and bordercrossing ancestral connections, both recent and ancient ones. This might be seen as somewhat misleading but the truth of the matter is that the labeling of ancestral categories in DNA testing is bound to be a complex affair and might never be 100% satisfactory. Keeping in mind Nigeria’s huge ethnic diversity it is actually reaffirming that my (partial) Yoruba samples showed a clear tendency to high and at times even predominant (>50%) “Benin/Togo” scores. Yorubaland being situated mostly in western Nigeria right next to the border of Benin and also extending across central Benin into Togo! As can be seen in the map above. In fact Benin itself is home to a significant Yoruba minority, estimated to be about 12% of the population. Showcasing the close ethnic and therefore genetic ties across borders.

However these DNA similarities might also reflect other types of ancestral connections, not per se tied to Yoruba identity. Afterall also my 6 Igbo samples from southeastern Nigeria usually showed significant amounts of “Benin/Togo”. Even when as expected to a decreasing degree (on average about 19% versus 41% for two Yoruba).  While for my two Edo samples a very similar level of “Benin/Togo” (39%) was reported as for my Yoruba samples (see chart 3.2). It is tempting to correlate this finding with the commonly held belief that the Gbe speakers (Fon, Ewe etc.) of Benin/Togo and eastern Ghana were originally migrants from somewhere in southern Nigeria around the same time (1200’s-1400’s) the expansion took place of the famous Bini/Edo empire, confusingly also called Benin, but centered in southern Nigeria! The exact extent of this empire is not known but i have read accounts that it stretched all the way west beyond Lagos into modernday Benin and it may also have caused population displacement in the east across the Niger delta into Igboland.

All this movement of peoples might possibly be the reason why my Igbo survey participants are shown to have DNA markers in common with people from Benin/Togo and even Ghana. It would in fact imply that the socalled “Benin/Togo” component represents shared DNA that originated during ancient times within southern Nigeria but nowadays is more frequently seen among Gbe/Kwa speakers in Benin/Togo. Basically because of historical migrations, similar source populations and founding effects. In this light it is also noteworthy perhaps that formerly the Igbo as well as Yoruba and Edo languages were classified as “Eastern Kwa” because of close linguistical similarity with the Kwa languages spoken in Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast. But nowadays these three southern Nigerian languages are considered to be distinct enough to be placed in a separate subgroup called West Benue-Congo or Volta-Niger.

“Cameroon/Congo” marker of Biafran ancestry?

***(click to enlarge)

Igboland

Igboland is located in southeast Nigeria. To the south it is connected to the Bight of Biafra. To the east it is nearby Cameroon.

***(click to enlarge)

img_1194

Besides the Igbo several other ethnic groups live in the socalled Bight of Biafra hinterland (= southeast Nigeria). Most notably the Ijaw and the Efik/Ibibio. The Edo (a.k.a. Bini) are located inbetween the Igbo and the Yoruba in southern Nigeria.

***(click to enlarge)

bantumigration

The Bantu speaking migrations into Central- and Southern Africa are said to originate in the borderarea of southeast Nigeria and Cameroon.

***

The “Cameroon/Congo” region is rather broadly based and open to multiple interpretation. However the appearance of this region among Nigerian testresults seems quite clearcut. On average the “Cameroon/Congo” scores represent the third biggest genetic component for my Nigerian sample group, almost 11%. And interestingly it is more pronounced sofar among Igbo results (15,3% for 6 samples) than among Yoruba results (5,5% for 2 samples) (see chart 3.2). This particular outcome makes sense if you keep in mind the following:

  1. the geographical proximity between Cameroon and Igboland (see first map above or also scroll down for Nigeria & Cameroon maps on this page)
  2. the Bantu Expansion which is supposed to have started somewhere near the border area of Cameroon/Nigeria. Spreading genetic similarity in easterly and southern directions. Similar to the population migrations to the west by Kwa speakers.

Due to a minimal sample size obviously my survey findings are very preliminary at this stage. Still i suppose that the “Cameroon/Congo” amounts might be a tell-tale sign to distinguish the “average” Yoruba from the “average” Igbo. However it is important to keep stressing that even within ethnic groups, especially large ones like the Igbo and Yoruba, you will find a HIGH degree of individual variation as everyone has unique family trees and different levels of deep ancestry dating from a proto-ethnic era. Still such reasoning might also add more perspective to the “Cameroon/Congo” scores of Afro-Diasporans. As (partial) Igbo or otherwise southeastern Nigerian ancestry might also be hinted at. Especially for African Americans and Anglo-Caribbeans whose historical links to the Bight of Biafra are well documented. More details also in section 6.

“Senegal” scores among Nigerians indicative of Fulani origins?

***(click to enlarge)

Fula spread

 The Fulfulde/Pulaar language is closely related to the Wolof and Sereer languages spoken in Senegal. Historically it is known that the Fulani originated from Futa Toro along the Senegal river valley.

***(click to enlarge)

Fula

AncestryDNA results for a person of Fula descent

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Sofar i have only seen one Nigerian result of confirmed Hausa-Fulani background. As described above the breakdown for this person was exceptional because of a 16% “Senegal” score. Which stands in sharp contrast with the absence or only trace level reporting of this region among southern Nigerian results. I have however also seen two other AncestryDNA results for Fula descended persons nowadays living in Saudi Arabia (see above and also Saudi entries in this sheet). They received “Senegal” scores of 46% and 14%. Interestingly the eastward migrations of this socalled Fellatah subgroup also passed through northern Nigeria where many of them might have resided for many generations before moving on to Sudan and onwards to Saudi Arabia because of pilgrimage. The amazing thing is that despite centuries of nomadic migration all across the Sahel the ultimately Senegambian origins of persons of Fulani descent are clearly detected by the “Senegal” region! The original homeland of the Fula according to most historians would be the Senegal river valley and the above breakdown seems to confirm this theory very nicely judging from the clear majority of “Senegal” within the African breakdown.

In fact also the “Africa North” and “Middle East” regions could very well be indicative of Fulani lineage for Nigerians who do a AncestryDNA test. Even when other ancestral options (such as Tuareg, Shuwa etc.) also remain a possibility. The “Mali” region does also appear above trace level for the Fula person above. However because this region is more ambigious an even wider range of possible ancestral options may apply. Especially but not exclusively ancestral ties with Gur speaking populations, living in northern parts of Benin and further west might be hinted at for Nigerians. Even given the paucity of available samples i would venture to say this might imply that for Nigerians the “Senegal” region could be a more reliable indicator of Fulani lineage than the more ambivalent “Mali” region. Eventhough the latter could very well be mostly indicative of northwestern or Middle Belt origins.

I would like to underline that when i say “indicative” i am not ruling out that other ancestral scenario’s might also still be valid! I am not advocating sweeping generalizations that any amount of “Senegal” would automatically be correlated with Fulani origins. Afterall there are many other ethnic groups from Upper Guinea and Mali whose DNA would be described as “Senegal” by AncestryDNA. And some individuals belonging to these ethnic groups might have migrated to Nigeria along with the Fulani in the past centuries. Although personally i am not aware of this happening in any noteworthy numbers. The Fulani presence in Nigeria on the other hand is very well documented, especially for the 1700’s/1800’s (see this website for overview). It seems therefore not coincidental that the only southern Nigerians sofar to have received any detectable “Senegal” scores were both Yoruba. Admittedly very minor amounts (1%-2%) but still in line with historical involvement of the Fulani in Yorubaland and the Oyo empire. While other parts of southern Nigeria, especially Igboland, did not have such historical connections.

Main regions geographically adjacent and Trace regions minimal

***(click to enlarge)

147_-38-46-fig1

This map shows where one of Nigeria’s most import food crops, the yam, is being cultivated. It might possibly correspond with ancient population migrations (thousands of years ago) associated with the spread of Yam cultivation across West Africa. (Source)

***(click to enlarge)

Trace Regions

Source: Ancestry.com

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When comparing Nigerian AncestryDNA results with those for Afro-Diasporans there are a couple of standout features. As shown above in section 2 Nigerians who get tested by AncestryDNA can also receive quite varied breakdowns. Hinting at ancient migrations and at times also recent geneflow between neighbouring ethnic groups. However results of Nigerians can easily be distinguished for having a much narrower regional scope on average than Afro-Diasporans in the Americas. The main regions reported for Nigerians tested on AncestryDNA will almost always be geographically adjacent, generally fewer in number and usually with one single predominant (>50%) region unlike most Afro-Diasporan results. The sample size of my survey (n=15) is of course minimal and Nigerians are singled out by Ancestry.com as being the most admixed of their African reference populations (together with Malians). The trio of “Nigeria”, “Benin/Togo” and Cameroon/Congo” are consistent as main regions in varying proportions. Nevertheless as shown in chart 3.3 and chart 3.4 my Nigerian survey group clearly stands out along with my Cape Verdean samples as showing a preponderance for just one single region, even when not for the full 100%. The AncestryDNA region called “Nigeria” is undeniably culminating for Nigerians, as it should. Actually in pretty much the same way as “Senegal” has been predominant for my Cape Verdean sample group. For more details see:

Another difference is the number and total amount of socalled trace regions being reported for Nigerians. Afro-Diasporans tend to show a handful of trace regions – combined with their main regions often spanning the entire African continent – and usually with a considerable total amount (>10%). But not so my Nigerian survey participants: on average only 2 Trace Regions appear but sometimes also only 1 or even none at all. The total amount also being restricted, on average about 4%. Implying that the trace regions being mentioned for Nigerians seem to be of very little importance. As mentioned by AncestryDNA itself these regions tend to have a lower confidence interval which includes zero % estimates. In many cases i suppose they can be discarded as just being “noise”, in other words generic and/or minor DNA segments which AncestryDNA finds difficult to classify.

However in some cases Trace Regions might still be insightful, in particular when distinct regions are showing up; outside of Nigeria’s direct area (Lower Guinea). Such as  “Africa North”, “Senegal”, “Mali”, “South-Central Hunter Gatherers” and “Southeastern Bantu”. I have already discussed above how especially the “Senegal” region might be indicative of minor Fulani lineage for Nigerians. Even when reported at tracel level it could still be valid. Sofar i have not seen any substantial “Southeastern Bantu” %’s being reported for Nigerians. However i imagine especially for northeastern Nigerians it might be suggestive of ancestral connections with Nilo-Saharan speaking populations from neighbouring Chad.

When it comes to the “Ivory Coast/Ghana” scores being reported for Nigerians it is fascinating to note that sofar this region seems to be more prevalent among southeastern Nigerians than among southwestern Nigerians. Which seems counterintuitive given geography. As discussed for the 3/4 Ijaw & 1/4 Krio sample in selected cases the socalled “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region can denote Krio/Saro connections with Sierra Leone. The Saro being mainly located in Lagos but also Port Harbour and other coastal cities. I personally have no idea about their intermarriage rates but i suppose generally speaking any degree of Saro lineage will not be too distant nor overly diluted. Therefore it should be likely to appear above trace level and reported as main region. Naturally also a genuine and even more recent connection with Ghana could be implied when the “Ivory Coast/Ghana” region is showing up in double digits for Nigerians. Infamously possibly over a million Ghanaian migrants were expelled from Nigeria in 1983. However they had been residing in Nigeria already since atleast the early seventies and many might have had offspring in this period. As described in the article below where a Ghanaian woman still carries Yoruba tribal marks after having married a Yoruba man in Lagos.

In other cases when the amount of “Ivory Coast/Ghana” being reported is more subdued i suppose other explanations might also apply for Nigerians who have no known family connection with Ghana or Sierra Leone. Aside from a simple misreading because of trace level reporting it could still also be indicative of something genuine but dating back from many centuries ago. Similar to the ancient connections caused by migration with neighbouring Benin and Cameroon. This is mere speculation on my part but an ancient ancestral connection between the Kwa speaking people in the west and southern Nigerians might be hinted at as well. Perhaps because of the expansion of the Benin empire taking place within the historical era. But possibly also dating from much further back and related to population migrations originating within Nigeria and the spread of agriculture, throughout the socalled yam belt. As shown in the map above.

The spread of agriculture across West Africa and its possible linkage with population migrations is not properly understood in all its details yet. However it seems not farfetched to assume that Nigeria and perhaps especially the socalled Nok culture played a pivotal role in this process. Although a geneflow in reversed direction should also not be ruled out. It is a shame that West African (pre) history too often is forcibly linked to other faraway regions simply for prestige reasons or ideology. While so much insight is to be gained when West Africa is considered to be a regional unit within its own right and on its own terms. With its own independent historical driving forces centered mostly in Mali and Nigeria along the Niger river valley, the true bearer of civilization for West Africa in so many aspects.

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5) Can Nigerian ethnic groups be genetically distinguished?

***Figure 5.1 (click to enlarge)

NAIJA ETHNIC DIVERSITY

***Map 5.1 (click to enlarge)

2000px-Nigeria_linguistical_map_1979.svg

***Map 5.2 (click to enlarge)

For more ethnolinguistic maps scroll down to Nigeria on this page:

Nigeria_ethnic_v3

***

Obviously – as illustrated by the above maps – Nigeria is incredibly diverse and home to a great number of ethnic groups. According to a recent listing no less than 371 groups! But still it seems significant that atleast within the AncestryDNA format Nigerians from various backgrounds do share a great degree of genetic origins as described by the socalled “Nigeria” region. There is at least one important lesson we may take away from the Nigerian AncestryDNA results featured on this page. It seems inevitable that most ethnic groups within Nigeria will display close genetic affinity as a testimony of a great degree of shared origins. Sometimes due to relatively recent intermarriage but ultimately mostly to be traced back to ancient prehistory. I suppose knowing about these cross-ethnic connections and also having shared ancestry in common with people across borders could be an antidote for an overly “tribalistic” mindset. Judging from the results i have collected actually also within ethnic groups you are bound to see a great deal of individual variation correlated with geography, distinct subgroups and deep ancestry predating ethnogenesis. By no means it seems will there be any unique genetic “blueprint” for any given ethnic group.

This is a topic i intend to blog about in more detail as soon as i acquire a sufficient number of Nigerian AncestryDNA results with a representative ethnic distribution. For now i will just point out that based on my very preliminary findings and minimal sample size: it seems it is foremost the secondary regions which might give additional clues about Nigerian ethnicity.  Especially their relative contributions as none of the AncestryDNA regions will be exclusive to any particular ethnic group. These clues will not per se be conclusive but rather indicative. We can verify these proportional tendencies from the above compliation picture of 4 Nigerian AncestryDNA results as well as chart 3.2:

  • The Yoruba are likely to score more pronounced “Benin/Togo” amounts on average than the Igbo
  • The Igbo in their turn are likely to score more pronounced “Cameroon/Congo”  scores on average than the Yoruba
  • The Hausa/Fulani will in all likelyhood score much higher “Senegal” amounts than both the Yoruba and the Igbo on average
  • Obviously these are generalizing tendencies, there will always be individual variation. Also smaller ethnic groups such as the Edo and the Ijaw are likely to be more intermediate and hence more difficult to distinguish.

Actually in several scientific DNA papers it has already been established that ethnic groups within Africa can reliably be distinguished from each other as long as they are not neighbouring groups but rather geographically apart and preferably also belonging to different language families. It is important to stress that the basis for this distinction is not in some uniquely ethnic DNA markers which can only be found among one particular ethnicity but rather because of a distinctive proportional mix of ancestral components which results in separate clustering patterns. In fact this is also the foundation for the socalled Ethnicity Estimates on Ancestry.com. When limited to only 2 possible options it enables AncestryDNA to reliably predict – within a reasonable margin of error – if someone is Akan rather than Bakongo or make an accurate distinction between a person of Wolof descent versus a person of Igbo descent. See also:

I will discuss these scientific articles in an upcoming blogpost. To conclude this section i will however already mention that internet articles which claim that  “Yoruba are 99.9% genetically identical to Igbos, Akan and Gaa-Adangbe” are potentially misleading and based on a heavily outdated study (2005). These articles have been appearing in 2015/2016 and were quickly copied as well as widely shared on social media. I like to stress that I do not contest the basic premise that most neighbouring African populations will indeed show a high degree of genetic similarity and overlap. I am also in support of the underlying message that West Africans should be more united and aware of their commonalities and not let ethnic/cultural/religious differences lead to conflict.

However genetic reality is more complex than being implied by the sensationalist headline of these internet articles.The science behind DNA testing has been developing very rapidly and in many ways might still be in its infancy stage when it concerns specifying someone ’s ancestral origins. So it seems obvious that the 2005 study these articles are referring to – “Genetic structure in four West African population groups” by Adeyemo et al. – is heavily outdated and provided very low resolution when compared with the AncestryDNA test which was last updated in 2013. The 2005 study is based on the genotyping of a mere 372 markers while AncestryDNA tests for over 700.000 markers all across your entire genome! (see quotes below).

It should also be pointed out that the 2005 study might have been taken out of context and/or misinterpreted. The study was performed originally for medical purposes. The 99,9% similarity found in the 2005 study actually only applies for a small subset of genes connected with type 2 diabetes, found on 2 chromosomes and tested for by only 372 markers. While as already mentioned AncestryDNA is based on autosomal genotyping of more than 700.000 markers! The findings of the 2005 study might be more insightful on how African Americans could have inherited their type 2 diabetes markers from any of the 4 West African source populations under study rather than offering any final conclusion on the degree of genetic differentiation in Nigeria and how it may correlate with regional/ethnic backgrounds. In fact the authors mention themselves that based on their very limited data they were still able to identify genetic differences between the two Ghanaian groups versus the two Nigerian groups.

Going by AncestryDNA’s white paper from 2013 it can be confirmed that the genetic distinction between the Ghanaian ethnic groups of the Ga & Akan on the one hand and the Igbo & Yoruba from Nigeria on the other hand can nowadays quite accurately be made by way of the socalled “Ivory/Coast/Ghana” and “Nigeria” regions. My observations of actual African AncestryDNA testresults are in agreement that a broadly based regional assignment within West Africa is indeed possible (within acceptable margins of error), see also my spreadsheet featuring African AncestryDNA Results.

Furthermore my admittedly tentative findings on this page are suggesting that even between Yoruba’s and Igbo’s (and even more so between southern Nigerians and the Hausa/Fulani) a noticable degree of genetic differentiation can already be observed. Not per se consistent on an individual basis but more apparent when based on group averages and approximate tendencies. More test results are however needed to establish a firmer basis for determining the degree of genetic variation and how it may (roughly) correlate with ethnic background in Nigeria.

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Within the context of the Africa America Diabetes Mellitus (AADM) Study (a genetic epidemiologic study of type 2 diabetes mellitus in West Africa), we have investigated population structure or stratification in four ethnic groups in two countries (Akan and Gaa-Adangbe from Ghana, Yoruba and Igbo from Nigeria) using data from 372 autosomal microsatellite loci typed in 493 unrelated persons (986 chromosomes).”

It is important to point out that despite the small amount of genetic differentiation in the sample as a whole, it was possible to distinguish between the groups from each country using a hierarchical AMOVA model and a dendrogram algorithm. Thus, the absence of significant population structure between the four groups did not mean that the groups could not be distinguished from each other. Rather, the data in Table 4 show that enough differences exist to separate the two populations from Nigeria from those from Ghana.

Source Adeyemo et al.(2005), Genetic structure in four West African population groups, BMC Genetics, 38, (6).

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” Without getting too technical, AncestryDNA analyzes your autosomal DNA, which includes almost the entire genome—all 22 pairs of nonsex chromosomes—instead of looking only at the Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA. A Y-DNA test follows one family line on the chart, from son to father. An mtDNA test also follows only one line, the maternal line. The autosomal test looks at your entire family tree.  Also, typical Y-DNA and mtDNA tests look at much smaller amounts of your DNA. Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA make up less than 2% of your entire genome, and a Y-DNA test will look at from 12 to 111 locations on one chromosome. AncestryDNA, on the other hand, looks at the entire genome at over 700,000 locations. You don’t need to be a scientist to see that 700,000 is much more detailed.” 

Source: AncestryDNA – The Insider’s Guide to DNA

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