On this page i will attempt to provide some analysis for the Haitian AncestryDNA results which have kindly been shared with me or which i found on public websites. If you want to skip the discussion just scroll to the bottom of the page to see a selection of screenshots. I will restrict myself to the African part of their Ethnicity Estimates as it’s in line with the theme of this blog. In order to enable easy comparison i have scaled the African breakdown to 100% for all, leaving aside any non-African admixture. For more details on my research methodology see the front page of this AncestryDNA section. Follow this link for an overview of all the Haitian results (scroll down to Franco-Caribbean):
As far as i was able to verify all of these Haitian results are from persons who are either Haitian-born themselves or who have two Haitian-born parents. All except one who might possibly also be partially Bahamian to an unknown degree. These are obviously first of all individual results reflecting unique family trees and very limited in number because there’s only few Haitians who have tested with Ancestry.com. Furthermore DNA testing at this stage cannot be expected to be 100% accurate in estimating regional origins. See this page for more disclaimers, especially on how the country name labeling of the AncestryDNA regions should not be taken at face value! Undoubtedly with more Haitian testresults available you might also see different or additional patterns. Still i think the screenshots i will post in the last section of this page might be representative to a considerable degree for how many other Haitians would score hypothetically speaking. I will now proceed with discussing the main patterns i’m able to pick up on. Of course merely expressing my personal opinions & thoughts and not meant to be conclusive in any way 😉
Edit: this article was first published on 3 Oct. 2015, when i had only 15 Haitian AncestryDNA results available for my analysis. As my survey has been ongoing i have since collected more Haitian AncestryDNA results. For the latest version of this article (n=45) follow this link:
Summary of Findings
***(click to enlarge)
When reviewing the statistics i calculated above based on the data entered in the spreadsheet, it’s 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 also the minimum & maximum values to get a sense of the range of the scores.
***(click to enlarge)
This second chart features an additional macro-regional breakdown into “Upper Guinea”, “Lower Guinea” and “Central Africa” which is of my own making. Making this distinction is admittedly arbitrary and can only produce a rough proxy, given the limitations of AncestryDNA. Still I find it useful because you get to see some patterns more clearly and it conforms with what’s common in slave trade literature. For ethnolinguistical and historical maps from these 3 main regions of provenance see: Upper Guinea, Lower Guinea, Central Africa.
- “Benin/Togo”, “Cameroon/Congo” and “Nigeria” are the most significant and consistent regions reported for Haitians sofar. Confirming what we know from documented slave trade as well as cultural retention in Haiti.
- “Southeast Bantu” and “Pygmy/San” (“SC Hunter-Gatherers”) scores might be minor for the most part, but it’s insightful in my opinion to combine them with “Cameroon/Congo” to produce a proxy of Central African ancestry for Haitians. Measured in such a way Central African ancestry would be among the highest when compared with other parts of the Afro-Diaspora (see also front page).
- However judging from the current results Lower Guinean ancestry (Ghana, Benin,Togo, Nigeria) seems to be primary for Haitians with Central African (Congo) origins coming in second place. This might be somewhat surprising when going by slave trade statistics in which Central Africa is always clearly mentioned as the biggest area of enslaved captives for Haiti (see chart in next section or also this one taken from the Slave Voyages Database). However such reasoning leaves out of consideration the compound effect of early creolization among people leaving from the Bight of Benin and the relatively later arrival of Central Africans in Haiti. Plus it omits the considerable Inter-Colonial slave trade carried out in Haiti with surrounding Caribbean islands, and especially Jamaica. As a trivial aside apparently in Haitian Kreyòl the historical term of “Guinea” or rather “Ginen” is still being used to refer to Atlantic Africa although in a more spiritual meaning (see also “What´s in a name”).
- Upper Guinean roots (“Senegal”+ “Mali”) are largely diluted even if still detectably present for Haitians, as is the case for most parts of the Afro-Diaspora. There are a couple of higher outliers for “Mali” though. “Mali” could very well be suggestive of genuine Malian origins, “Bambara’s” being regularly documented for Haiti (see chart below). However given the imperfections of the current AncestryDNA Regions, i suppose “Mali” could perhaps also signal origins from Burkina Faso or the northern Gur-speaking parts of Ghana/Benin/Togo. Aside from other options (Guinea Conakry/Sierra Leone). The trace amounts of North Africa for Haitians could still be indicative of genuine ancestry from Upper Guinea or the Sahel Region. Although again also other ancestral scenario’s might apply.
- The average score for “Ghana/Ivory Coast” is about equal to “Senegal” + “Mali” combined. Highlighting noticeable ancestral connections with the Gold Coast and the Wind Ward Coast due to English contraband slave trade in Haiti (often by way of Jamaica). Although in fact also the French carried out direct slave trade with especially the Ivory Coast (Cape Lahou).
Haitians more diverse in African origins than stereotyped?
*** (click to enlarge)
Ethnic identities documented in Haiti 1721-1797
*** (click to enlarge)
Trans Atlantic Slave trade carried out by the French to Haiti (St. Domingue) (Inter-Colonial trade by the English not included!)
*** (click to enlarge)
Africanisms (words of African origin) in Haitian Kreyòl (Kwa is referring mainly to Gbe languages from Benin)
Again i like to stress the number of Haitian results i managed to collect (n=15) is very small. This samplesize cannot be expected to be fully representative for a population of more than 10 million people! However as the results are randomly picked and from various regions within Haiti they could still be a rough indicator of the scope of African diversity in Haiti as well as its main tendencies. Already these AncestryDNA results might come as a surprise to people who exclusively associate Haiti’s African origins with Benin because of its well known influence on Haitian Vodou. This is however clearly a case of oversimplification as in reality Vodou is very much a syncretic religion which also contains important Congolese and Yoruba influences aside from its possibly Fon-Ewe foundations. And in fact the very concept of many different “nachons” (according to some accounts no less than 21!) in Vodou is a direct referral and acknowledgement of the various African nations who contributed to cultural retention in Haiti (see this article for a useful overview).
“Benin/Togo” indeed turned out to be the biggest reported AncestryDNA region on average but not for every one. Also “Nigeria” and “Cameroon/Congo” show up as top regions, while the range for “Benin/Togo” goes from a high of 51% of total African ancestry to a low of merely 3%! So obviously there’s individual variation among Haitians and more African diversity than some people might expect based on stereotypes. Actually when looking at the Haitian results on AncestryDNA they are most of all characterized by heterogeneity, a reflection of the blending of various ethnic groups from Western & Central Africa and to very minor degree also Southeast Africa. This is easily verified as almost all Haitian results i’ve seen show 4 or 5 different African regions in their main breakdown, leaving aside the Trace Regions. In this regard Haitians are of course the same as other parts of the Afro-Diaspora: a melange of ethnic/regional origins rather than just hailing from one particular area/lineage within Africa. For more discussion see also the Afro-Diasporic comparison on the frontpage.
The charts shown above are meant to illustrate where some of this diversity could be coming from and in which approximate proportions. It’s of course not a complete overview and in future blogposts i might provide more context. For now i will just mention that contrasting documented slave trade records with documented ethnic origins of enslaved Haitians and Africanisms in Haitian Kreyòl already shows some insightful discrepancies. Mostly to be explained by English contraband slave trade with Haiti but probably also by more complex processes of creolization and historical differences in natural growth between ethnic groups.
- The Bight of Benin origins for Haiti are possibly understated when going by slavevoyages carried out only by the French but perhaps more importantly also more diverse than imagined: notice the numerous Yoruba (“Nago”) and also interior references (“Chamba”, “Hausa”, Nupe” etc.) being mentioned in the first chart.
- Central African origins are possibly overstated when going by slavevoyages carried out only by the French. However the ancestral significance of Central Africa for Haiti is undeniable, this is apparent too judging from linguistical influence and documented origins of slaves. Aside from the Bakongo, also other ethnic groups from Central Africa might be hiding under the umbrellaterm of “Congo”.
- The Bight of Biafra share in Haiti’s ancestry is not often discussed but definitely present. Notice the share of documented “Igbo” in Haiti and how it’s almost twice as high as the percentage of Bight of Biafra in documented slave trade. They are also reported to have left behind a minor but noticeable linguistical legacy (see Parker 2000). It is most likely because of contraband slave trade by way of Jamaica.
- The Upper Guinean roots of Haiti can be assumed to be mostly from northern and interior parts of Senegambia, because of the relatively high proportion of “Bambara”. Slave trade records might be a slight underestimation of the historical presence of Upper Guineans in Haiti. Notice for example also their minor but still valuable contribution to Haitian Kreyòl (Mandé and Atlantic). However their heavily biased sexratios (see first chart) might explain why their bloodlines and DNA got diluted eventually.
***(click to enlarge)
As can be seen in the chart above and also discussed on the frontpage, across the Afro-Diaspora there is a great deal of shared regional ancestry from within Africa. None of the AncestryDNA regions are in any way unique to any nationality or population. Haitians therefore have many African roots in common with other parts of the Afro-Diaspora. As long as these roots are defined in the AncestryDNA format that is. If it were somehow possible to uncover the ethnic origins hiding behind the limited number of AncestryDNA regions you would see much more differentiation. But even so given the interconnected history of the Afro-Diaspora it’s inevitable that Haitians will also share many of its African ethnic origins with other Afro-descended populations within the Americas
Keeping all these basic commonalities in mind it’s perhaps still interesting to explore which African origins could be more “typical” for Haitians. What stands out for them? Not anything unique but just reported in higher frequencies or proportions. Judging from the first chart i would say that it’s especially the higher than average “Benin/Togo” and “Cameroon/Congo” shares of total African ancestry. We can see that both components are in no way confined to Haitians alone however it clearly peaks for them when comparing with Jamaicans, African Americans, Dominicans and Cape Verdeans. Which is a nice corroboration of what you might expect. It’s fascinating to also compare with the 7 Nigerian results i’ve collected (incl. 4 Igbo’s and 2 Yoruba’s). They show a slightly higher share of “Benin/Togo” but a lower share of “Cameroon/Congo” than the 15 Haitians, which proves how the DNA markers measured by the AncestryDNA regions are in fact found across borders and also among neighbouring ethnicities. Again it will be misleading therefore if you take the country name labeling too literally!
Some of the regional breakdowns (“ethnicity estimates” would actually be a misnomer) given to Haitians could very well be exactly the same in both ranking and percentages for persons from other parts of the Afro-Diaspora, like Jamaica or also African Americans. However the underlying ethnical origins might still be different even when AncestryDNA groups them together under the same region. This goes especially for the socalled “Benin/Togo” region. According to both historical evidence and cultural retention a higher likelyhood of Fon or other ethnic origins from within Benin/Togo’s borders should be expected for the Haitians than for Jamaicans or African Americans. Also “Nigeria” might much more frequently denote Yoruba or other western Nigerian origins for Haitians compared with Jamaicans and African Americans.To a lesser degree perhaps also the likelyhood of “Cameroon/Congo” signalling Central African origins instead of ancestry from Bight of Biafra might be higher for Haitians than for Jamaicans and African Americans. Although as discussed already Haitians also have partial roots from the Biafra area, just to a lesser (documented) degree. Regrettably the overlapping occurence of AncestryDNA regions within West Africa complicates a finer distinction for the moment.
***(click to enlarge)
It’s also useful perhaps to look at the frequency of top regions being reported for Haitians. Even when usually 3 or 4 other main regions are also showing up in the total breakdown and obviously these would also matter for a complete scope on Haitian’s African origins. Right now of course the sample size is very limited, but it might be telling already that sofar only “Benin/Togo”, “Cameroon/Congo” and “Nigeria” ended up as number 1 main region for Haitians. It will be very interesting to know the distribution of these nr.1 regions if the samplesize grows to 150 in stead of 15. Will “Benin/Togo” prove to be the main region for most Haitians still or rather “Cameroon/Congo”? And will the relatively high number of “Nigeria” top spots be sustained or not? Just based on informed speculation and notwithstanding a possibly even greater amount of diversity than already observed i would guess that any Haitian scoring “Senegal”, “Mali” or “Southeast Bantu” as number 1 region will be quite rare while “Ghana/Ivory Coast” as top region might occur more often but still will be uncommon for Haitians.
It’s true that Haitians have shared ancestry from Ghana with especially Jamaicans because of English contraband slave trade. However it might be exactly the generally diminished proportion of “Ghana/Ivory Coast” reported for Haitians which serves as a key difference between Haitians and African Americans/Jamaicans. That is when comparing on a population wide level, obviously there’s always individual variation. The same thing goes for “Senegal” and any noticeable difference in African origins (inspite much overlap) between Haiti & the Dominican Republic. The AncestryDNA region called “Senegal” is present among Haitians but in much diluted proportions, more so even than “Mali”. While among Dominicans the “Senegal” scores are generally much higher, often also reported as number 1 region.
Summing things up we could say that Haitians are not unlike any other population of the Afro-Diaspora when it comes to their essentially mixed African origins. However proportionally speaking “Cameroon/Congo” and “Benin/Togo” might be somewhat more pronounced for most Haitians on average.
As far as i know and was able to verify all of these screenshots below are from persons with 4 Haitian-born grandparents. Meant to illustrate the individual variation among Haitians in the first place. Despite the limited samplesize these results might still also be quite representative while a few of them could even be distinctly Haitian. I like to thank again all the persons who kindly agreed to share their results with me!
Notice the combination of Benin/Togo, Cameroon/Congo and Southeast Bantu appearing twice in the same ranking for the first two results! It seems very representative of Haiti’s main African origins. The first result also showing a 100% African score, something which can actually be seen across the Afro-Diaspora. But probably the frequency of such scores will be higher for Haitians, even when they also generally show minor proportions of non-African admixture.
Aside from a high Cameroon/Congo percentage also a striking Ivory Coast/Ghana score!
Aside from a high Cameroon/Congo proportion, also a very noticeable Mali score of 22%!
Again high Cameroon/Congo combined with Mali in second place.
In both cases Nigeria as nr.1 main region is combined with Benin/Togo in second place. And in fact the whole top 4 ranking is identical for both!
Notice also the 2% North Africa. Just to cover all options it could somehow be related to distant Iberian/Canarian ancestry. However for Haitians a scenario involving partial origins from the Sahel Region (see this page for maps) is also very much a possibility according to documented slave trade by the French through the Senegal river valley.
- On African Origins: Creolization and Connaissance in Haitian Vodou
- Historical Linguistic Dimensions of Spirit Migration in Haitian Vodou
– Parkvall, M. (2000). Out of Africa: African Influences in Atlantic Creoles.
– Geggus, D. (2001). The French Slave Trade: An Overview. The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 58,(1),119-138.