Puerto Rican Results

On this page i will attempt to provide some analysis for the Puerto Rican AncestryDNA results which have kindly been shared with me. If you want to skip the discussion just scroll to the bottom of the page to see a selection of Puerto Rican Ethnicity Estimates. I will restrict myself to the African part of their results as it’s in line with the theme of this blog. However i have also calculated some statistics for their Native American scores (see first screenshot). 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 the link below for an overview of all the Puerto Rican results (see columns N and O for additional info on North African & Amerindian %’s ):

Spreadsheet with Puerto Rican results

As far as i was able to verify all of these Puerto Rican results are from persons who are either born themselves in Puerto Rico or have two Puerto Rico-born parents. These are obviously first of all individual results reflecting unique family trees. Furthermore DNA testing at this stage cannot be expected to be 100% accurate in estimating regional origins from within Africa. See this page for more disclaimers, especially on how the country name labeling of the AncestryDNA regions should not always be taken at face value. Even when limited in number the samplesize (n=90) of my spreadsheet is larger than the one from published DNA studies, Moreno-Estrada et al. (2013) has only 27 Puerto Ricans for example while Montinaro et al. (2015) analyzes 70 additional samples. The results in my spreadsheet were collected at random and as far as i can tell they are from all over the island. Still for future research it might be insightful to make an extra effort to also look into samples drawn from specific regions within Puerto Rico known to have higher than average African ancestry, such as Loiza. As described below there could very well be substructure in the regional African origins of Puerto Ricans correlating with their degree of total African ancestry.

Undoubtedly with more Puerto Rican testresults available you might also see additional or different patterns. Still i think the screenshots i will post in the last section of this page might be representative to a large degree for how many other Puerto Ricans would score hypothetically speaking. I will now proceed with discussing the main patterns i’m able to pick up on from the data. Of course merely expressing my personal opinions & thoughts and not meant to be conclusive in any way 😉

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1) Summary of Findings

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Original scores (1x)

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Stats

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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.

The first chart is based on “unscaled” data, that is the original percentages provided by AncestryDNA while the second one is based on regional ratio’s of total African ancestry which together add up to 100%.

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Statsplus

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This third chart features an additional macro-regional breakdown into “Upper Guinea”, “Lower Guinea” and “Central Africa” which is of my own making. In order to obtain a strictly “SSA” (Sub Saharan African) comparison i have excluded the region “North Africa” and corrected the other averages accordingly. 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 tendencies 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.

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PR35 vs PR25b

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The above chart is showing the results for two separate subgroups of Puerto Ricans i created based on their total African ancestry. I suppose this distinction might also correlate with racial selfidentification. It highlights two possible biases in my samplegroup: relatively few samples showing higher degrees of African ancestry and “North African” ratio’s appearing inflated for people of minor African descent otherwise. For more detailed discussion see section 2.

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Observations

• As shown in the second overview above the results for each region have been very wideranging in between minimum and maximum score, reflecting a large degree of individual variation. Overall the averages are therefore quite balanced. Quite similar to the overall results for Dominicans. It seems to indicate the wideranging scope of Trans Atlantic Slave Trade to the Hispanic Caribbean. Sourcing African captives from even more regions of provenance (in between Senegal and Mozambique) or in a more evenly manner than in other parts of the Americas  (see also Afro-Diaspora AncestryDNA results: A Comparison).

• Still on average and considering the whole samplegroup (n=90) a top 3 of main ancestral contributions seems to be “Senegal”, “North Africa” and “Mali”. “Senegal” standing out most clearly because it was reported as the main nr.1 region for 24 people out of 90 results, which is about 25% of the whole samplegroup. Also its calculated average and median score are the highest.

• A major finding of this survey might be the differentiation of regional origins within Africa according to total African admixture level. As can be seen in the last chart above when creating two subgroups based on total African ancestry the averages are quite different for most regions. With “Senegal” being the most significant region for the subgroup with minor African ancestry (Africa<25%) and “Nigeria” the biggest region for the other subgroup with a higher degree of African ancestry (Africa>35%). A useful reminder that one should be careful to attribute the African heritage of Puerto Ricans to just one particular area or ethnic group within Africa. It’s much more complex than that. Individual family history and especially the approximate timeframing of a person’s African ancestors arriving in Puerto Rico playing a key role when tracing the African roots of Puerto Ricans. See section 2 for continued discussion.

• Combining the average scores for “Senegal” with “Mali” this AncestryDNA analysis seems to provide convincing confirmation of a Upper Guinean founder effect for Puerto Ricans. Basically a disproportionate and enduring genetic legacy of the first Africans to arrive in Puerto Rico. Their regional origins are known to have been overwhelmingly from Senegambia, Guinea Bissau/Conakry and Sierra Leone. This outcome has been obtained in other studies as well, however not before to such extent. See also:

•  Compared to West Indians and African Americans these Puerto Rican results as a whole (n=90) seem to show fewer Lower Guinean origins (area in between Ghana and Nigeria). With their combined “Senegal” and “Mali” scores being slightly higher on average (38% versus 36%, see third chart above). This seems to contradict the oft quoted statement by Puerto Rican historian Luis M. Diaz Soler that “the largest contingent of Africans came from the Gold Coast, Nigeria and Dahomey“. It’s especially striking how the score for “Ghana/Ivory Coast” is quite subdued and showing the lowest average out of all African regions on AncestryDNA (excl. “Pygmy/San” or “SC Hunter-Gatherers” ). However it should be noted that it’s very likely that “Ghana/Ivory Coast” as well as “Benin/Togo”, “Nigeria” and “Cameroon/Congo” will show up in much more significant proportions for Puerto Ricans of higher or even predominant African ancestry. See last chart above as well as section 2 and screenshots in the last part of this page.

• The ancestral contribution from Central Africa is solidly present but still secondary, compared with the other regions. It is probably telling that the average for “Southeast Bantu” is somewhat higher than for “Cameroon/Congo” when calculated for the samplegroup as a whole (n=90). This is in line with other Hispanic results i’ve seen but not so, generally speaking, for West Indians or African Americans. It could very well signal especially Angolan ancestry from the 1600’s being relatively more important for this samplegroup on average. However as can be seen in the last chart above the Puerto Rican subgroup with the highest amounts of African ancestry (Africa>35%) show an opposite pattern whereby their “Cameroon/Congo” is almost three times as high on average than their “Southeast Bantu”. The samplesize (n=12) is admittedly very limited but it seems to be a reflection of mostly Congolese origins of more recent timeperiods (late 1700’s/1800’s).

• The “Pygmy/San” or “South Central Hunter Gatherers” scores are typically only reported as Trace Region. This category is likely to be mostly reflecting ancient Pygmy geneflow into Bantu speaking ethnic groups from Central Africa. But it might be meaningful still that sofar the “Pygmy/San” average for Puerto Ricans is noticeably higher than for most other nationalities in my spreadsheet. So even when obviously being very minor overall it appears to be more readily detectable among my Puerto Rican results. It might be a hint that the slightly ambigious “Cameroon/Congo” region is mostly picking up on Congolese ancestry for Puerto Ricans. It could however possibly also be due to socalled cold spots or a side-effect of recombination being more “quirky” for people of minor African descent.

• The “North African” scores for Puerto Ricans are likely to be hailing especially from their Canarian lineages Guanches!). However other ancestral options are also possible mostly by way of Spain, possibly indicating a Morisco legacy or perhaps even dating from prehistorical times. In addition a West African explanation (from the Sahel region) might still also be valid i suppose in a minority of individual cases or partially so (see section 4 of this page for more detailed discussion). However the “North African” category appears to be negatively correlated with total African ancestry. Meaning that people of minor African descent will usually score highest for it. As i am scaling everyone’s African breakdown to 100% this causes the “North African” proportions to appear inflated for people with little “SSA” ancestry otherwise (see last chart above). Based on the original percentages as provided by AncestryDNA, the average “North African” score of about 3% would be rather consistent though across my entire samplegroup. See also charts below.

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2) Substructure in regional African origins according to admixture degree?

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Original scores (2x)a

 

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PR35 vs PR25c

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numero uno (n=12)

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numero uno (n=60)

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Taking a closer look at the results of the two subgroups i created according to total African ancestry we obtain even more pronounced differentiation when we exclude the “North Africa” region. As can be seen in the first chart above the original scores for “North Africa” are actually quite consistent across the entire samplegroup (n=90) with an average of about 3%. However when measured as a ratio to total African it tends to obstruct an even handed comparison of the other African (SSA) regions for people of minor African descent. That’s why i have taken it out of the equation in the other charts above. The results i managed to collect are mostly skewed to the lower range of African admixture. The highest total African % within my samplegroup is 57% and the lowest 5%. I’m inclined to think the differentation shown above might have been even more striking if i had results available of Puerto Ricans of predominant African descent. Due to limitations of the data i somewhat arbitrarily split up my sample group in people with total African being higher than 35% and lower than 25%. However as it is right now you can already see an insightful pattern of different relative ancestral contributions from Africa for each of the two subgroups.

The biggest discrepancies between both groups seem to be the following:

  • For subgroup “Africa>35%” it’s “Nigeria” which is shown as being the biggest ancestral contribution and no longer “Senegal” as it was for the samplegroup as a whole (n=90).
  • Also the averages scores of “Cameroon/Congo” and “Ghana/Ivory Coast” are markedly higher for subgroup “Africa>35%”.
  • Subgroup “Africa<25%” has a much higher “Senegal” average, almost three times higher than the one for subgroup “Africa>35%”. It also seems striking that sofar “Senegal” hasn’t been reported as number 1 main region for people with higher amounts of African ancestry.
  • Intriguingly also “Southeast Bantu” is significantly higher on average for subgroup “Africa<25%”.
  • “Benin/Togo”, “Pygmy/San” and especially “Mali” seem to have a consistent share among both subgroups.

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3) Confirming DNA studies?

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Two waves

Source: “Reconstructing the Population Genetic History of the Caribbean”, (Moreno-Estrada et al., 2013).

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We find that populations from the insular Caribbean are best modeled as mixtures absorbing two independent waves of African migrants. Assuming a 30-year generation time, the estimated average of 15 generations ago for the first pulse (circa 1550) agrees with the introduction of African slaves soon after European contact in the New World” (Moreno-Estrada et al., 2013, p.13).

While the geographic extension of the regions of origin of African slaves brought to the Americas has been widely documented, it was unclear until now the extent to which particular sub-continental components have shaped the genomic composition of present day Afro-Caribbean descendants. Our ancestry-specific and size-based analyses allowed us to discover that African haplotypes derived from Caribbean populations still retain a signature from the first African ancestors despite the later dominance of African influx from multiple sub-continental components.” (Moreno-Estrada et al., 2013, p.14).

Overall, we found evidence for a differential origin of the African lineages in present day Afro-Caribbean genomes, with shorter (and thus older) ancestry tracts tracing back to Far West Africa (represented by Mandenka and Brong), and longer tracts (and thus younger) tracing back to Central West Africa.” (Moreno-Estrada et al., 2013, p.11).

“The Puerto Rican population lies within the West African cluster and is surrounded by populations from the Senegambia region, Cape Verde being the closest one. The grouping of Puerto Rico with the Senegambian populations broadly corroborates historical reports identifying this region as one of the largest sources of slaves to the island. Furthermore, Senegambian mtDNAs were predominant in the 16th century and thus have spent more time reproducing in Puerto Rico than mtDNAs from more to the south, which were more common among slaves brought in the 19th century, according to history. “ (Viero-Vera, 2006, p.30).

“In addition, more than 30% of the total slaves arriving in mainland Spanish America up to the 1630s came from Senegambia, and we accordingly find that the relative contribution from the Mandenka is higher in all areas historically under the Spanish rule.“ (Montinaro et al., 2015, p.4)

“The observed heterogeneity in the relative proportions of African, European, and Native American ancestry among contemporary populations across the Americas is the reflection of local variables such as the pre-Colonial size of the existing indigenous populations and the relative importance of the African slave trade. The differences in genetic admixture among individuals within a population result from assortative mating based on socioeconomic status and skin color, the consequences of a social hierarchy established by the colonial powers. ” (Via et al., 2011, pp.1-2)

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As can be verified from the quotes above several DNA studies have indeed already identified differentation in the African origins of Puerto Ricans. Also a relatively high genetic contribution from Senegambia or more properly said Upper Guinea has been detected in their analysis. These studies point out that generally this outcome seems to be correlated with the timing of African arrivals and consequent absorption of African genes in the general population through admixture. The last paper (Via et al., 2011) provides a particularly plausible reason why there should be substructure in the regional African origins for Puerto Ricans. It argues that relative endogamy along social class & colour lines as well as relative regional isolation were apparently the standard for many Puerto Rican families. Across the generations this might have ensured that on average older African lineages dating from the 1500’s/1600’s remained concentrated in people with relatively minor total African ancestry as they didn’t experience African geneflow in later timeperiods.

In fact some of them might very well have forgotten about these early colonial African ancestors as their minor African DNA has become so dilluted it doesn’t show up recognizably anymore in their own phenotype or of family members from 1 or 2 generations before. It is known that African captives from this earliest era were predominantly from Upper Guinea (detected mostly by the “Senegal” region but also by “Mali” ) and also from Angola (probably indicated mostly by the “Southeast Bantu” region). In the same paper it is said that generally speaking higher African ancestry levels in Puerto Rico correlate with the locations of former sugar plantations in the eastern/coastal areas. It is historically known that after a long period of stagnation in the 1600’s the sugar sector in Puerto Rico only really expanded again after 1765 when the slave imports grew massively. So we might assume then that the regional provenance zones of the slave trade from that period (1700’s/1800’s), featuring especially Lower Guinea and the Congo, will show up more strongly for people of greater and more recent African descent. For more detailed discussion and full references see also:

Taking a cue from these DNA studies we could postulate that subgroup “Africa<25%” might have older African ancestry on average than subgroup “Africa>35%”. I would like to emphasize again that each person’s African ancestry will of course be unique and varied and in reality might be dating from various periods deriving from many individual ancestors (see also “Fictional Family Tree incl. African Born Ancestors“). However for the sake of argument i am focusing on the averages to get a better grip on the underlying patterns. Even when the proverbial exceptions to the rule could in fact be one of the main patterns  . A majority of Lower Guinean (Ghana-Nigeria) & Congolese ancestry might be expected then for a subgroup of selfidentified “mixed” and “black” Puerto Ricans. However when considering the Puerto Rican population as a whole and also taking into account the minor African admixture present in many selfidentified “white” Puerto Ricans, Upper Guinean ancestry might still be more widespread and more frequently showing up overall despite stereotypes based on presentday cultural retentions.

Returning to the (limited) data i have collected sofar (see this chart) we can see some preliminary trends appearing which seem to be mostly in support of the above:

• Higher than average “Senegal” and “Southeast Bantu” scores for subgroup “Africa<25%” might be explained by a founder effect from the 1500’s/1600’s. Notwithstanding the limitations of sample size the contrast with the scores for subgroup “Africa>35%” is quite sharp, the average for “Senegal” being almost 3 times bigger and for “Southeast Bantu” twice as big.

• Higher than average “Nigeria”, “Cameroon/Congo”  and “Ghana/Ivory Coast” scores for the subgroup “African>35%” could be explained by this group mostly having African origins dating from post-1765. Again the contrast with the scores of subgroup “African<25%” is quite big, a doubling of the averages taking place.

• “Benin/Togo” seems to be a bit more intermediate, although subgroup “Africa>35%” scores slightly higher for it. Perhaps it’s hinting at these regional African origins dating mostly from the middle period (1640-1765) which would explain both subgroups showing up with these markers. With a bigger sample size it’s possible more differentiation will show up though.

•The “Mali” averages are even more consistent and showing up at a similar level for both subgroups. Which is a fascinating but also puzzling finding. As it seems to indicate a “Mali” presence throughout the colonial period of Puerto Rico. Even when explicit documented references of such hardly exist as far as i know (Malian captives were usually termed “Bambara”). The socalled “Mali” region is however not very well defined and based on very few reference samples (see also AncestryDNA regions). It could very well be picking up on a variety of ethnic origins outside of Mali proper, especially Guinea Conakry and Sierra Leone.

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4) Which ethnic origins are being implied by “Senegal” and “Mali” ?

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 Puerto Rican “Senegal” & “Mali” averages in comparison with others

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PR vs otros

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One of the most intriguing results of my AncestryDNA survey for me personally has been the seemingly resounding confirmation of what might be called a founding effect from the earliest victims of Trans Atlantic Slave Trade (1500’s). As already referenced above similar findings have been reported by several DNA studies. A clear majority of these persons arrived in the Hispanic Americas from the Upper Guinea region, often by way of Cape Verde. It is astonishing to find out that the genetic legacy of these African pioneering co-builders of Hispanic colonial societies is still highly detectable and persistent, especially among Puerto Ricans of minor African descent otherwise. It seems to be a testimony to their survival skills and also their early integration in colonial populations.

We can verify this by reviewing the last chart above.The average scores for “Senegal” and “Mali” are significantly higher for Puerto Ricans as well as other Hispanic nationalities when compared with African Americans and West Indians. “Senegal” peaks for my Cape Verdean samples which might be seen as a corroboration of its predictiveness. “Mali” is more troublesome to interpret but it seems telling that it’s peaking sofar for Mexicans. Given the regionally well defined slave trade patterns for Mexico, it’s unlikely that any significant “genuine” Malian origins are being pinpointed as they have not been documented for Mexico as far as i know (and neither for Puerto Rico). However a “Zape” presence from Sierra Leone/Guinea Conakry is well attested for Mexico. Lasting into the 1600’s there even was a Zape Cofraternity for them in Mexico City (see this Wikipedia article). These Zape were also quite numerous in Puerto Rico during the late 1500’s as can be seen in the chart below.

The Upper Guinean roots of Puerto Ricans are not known in exact full detail or proportion however many valuable indications have been historically documented. See for example:

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Upper Guinean origins of Puerto Rico during the 1500’s

Red stars are indicating ethnic groups from Upper Guinea.

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Etnias Africanas PR 1500's

Source: “Puerto Rico Negro”, Sued Badillo, Jalil; López Canto, Angel (1986).

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The chart above is based on only a few slave registers from Puerto Rico to have survived from this early period (1500’s). Still the main top 5 ethnicities being mentioned are pretty much the same all over the Hispanic Americas in that period (see this overview). Which should serve as some independent confirmation. The overview is quite wideranging but still with Upper Guineans being a clear majority. If i’m reading it correctly the Upper Guinean ethnic groups being mentioned for Puerto Rico are the following:

  • Zape (= blanket term but mostly referring to modernday Temne from Sierra Leone)
  • Brama/Bran (=modernday Papel from Guinea Bissau)
  • Biafara/Biafra (= modernday Biafada from Guinea Bissau, NOT to be confused with Bight of Biafra, slaves from that area were generally termed Carabali in Spanish)
  • Mandinga (= blanket term for Mandé speakers)
  • Jelofes= Wolof from Senegal
  • Banol=Bainuk from Gambia/Casamance (southern Senegal)
  • Fologajen=Fula from Senegambia or Guinea
  • Berbesi=Sereer from Senegal
  • Malagueta=reference to Liberia, formerly known as the socalled Pepper or Grain Coast
  • Coculi=Baga subgroup from Guinea Conakry
  • Nalu=ethnic group of same name in Guinea Bissau/Conakry
  • Biojo= Bijago from Guinea Bissau
  • Cacanga= Kasanga from Casamance (southern Senegal)
  • Fula= Fula ak.a. Fulani/Peulh from Senegambia or Guinea
  • Cabo Verde= most likely slaves born locally in Cape Verde

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Puerto Rican population in between 1530-1874

Keep in mind the data shown in the overview below is just reflecting rough estimates, especially the earliest data likely to be reflecting a mere subset of the population within and nearby official Spanish settlements. Also racial classification would have been dependent on local perception. The slave count should be rather reliable though as afterall they represented economic assets…Take note of how the number of free blacks/mulatos was always bigger than the enslaved part of the population after 1530. They would have been mostly Puerto Rican born and (at least partially) also having deep roots from the 1500’s/1600’s. By way of initial miscegenation, natural growth and relative endogamy after the 1600’s (especially for selfstyled “blancos”) Puerto Rico’s earliest African bloodlines might have been recycled across the generations. While the geneflow from newly arrived African born slaves in the late 1700’s /1800’s might have become more restricted to certain regions along the coast and therefore only infusing a subset of the Puerto Rican population.

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Upper Guinean origins of Puerto Rico during the 1800’s

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Little room to doubt from the mid-1830’s to the late 1840’s […] most of the islands captives came from Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry” (Dorsey, 2003, p.134)

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Slave vessels captured 1834-1859 (African regions calledon)

Source: “Slave traffic in the Age of Abolition: Puerto Rico, West Africa, and the non-Hispanic Caribbean, 1815-1859”, Dorsey, J. C. (2003).

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This chart above is documenting the very last period of African arrivals to Puerto Rico in the 1800’s when slave trade had already been officially abolished. It’s listing the slave vessels heading for Puerto Rico which were captured in between 1834-1859 and where they had bought their African captives. It is therefore important to keep in mind it can only represent a very limited and incomplete snapshot. In earlier timeperiods, especially in between 1765-1808 different regional patterns would have prevailed as Puerto Rico was then relying mostly on English slave suppliers. Also indirect slave imports from neighbouring Caribbean islands have always been important for Puerto Rico, in fact continuing even during the 1800’s. So the quotation given above should not be taken out of context as regional slave trade patterns were always subject to fluctuations. But still the seemingly predominance of Upper Guinea in the chart above might possibly provide an additional explanation for why especially “Mali” seems to be such a consistent ancestral region for my samplegroup, regardless of admixture level.

Guinea Conakry (Rio Pongo), Sierra Leone (Sherbro) and Liberia (Galinhas) became preferred spots for illegal slave trading carried out by Spanish owned vessels during the 1800’s. And particularly so for Puerto Rico as argued in Dorsey (2003). The well known intercepted slave ship of La Amistad for example was carrying Mende slaves from this area. Slaves from this area were generally known as “Mandinga” and also “Cangá”, blanket terms for various ethnicities like the Mende but also the Vai, Kissi, Sherbro, Kono, Susu, Temne, Gola etc. (see also this site for a very detailed ethnic breakdown of Canga and Mandinga in Cuba). These slaves seem to not have left behind any recognizably cultural retention in the popular imagination of Puerto Ricans. However in the 1800’s for example the expression “hablar en cangá” was widely used to refer to the African influenced dialect of socalled bozal slaves. This is already a major indication of their numerical significance during this time in Puerto Rico. Their genetical legacy might perhaps be assumed to be concentrated among a subset of Puerto Ricans. And it is also not at all guaranteed their inherited genes would be read solely as “Mali” or “Senegal” by AncestryDNA. Judging from two individual results i’ve seen from Sierra Leone (Mende) and Liberia, in fact “Ivory Coast/Ghana” might be a closer match for their DNA markers (see African results). Still it is an additional source of Upper Guinean origins for Puerto Ricans.

Given what’s been discussed above the country name labeling of the AncestryDNA regions should therefore not distract from the very real possibility that for Puerto Ricans especially origins from Guinea Bissau/Conakry and Sierra Leone might be reported by “Senegal” and “Mali”.  Of course there might be various other explanations for scoring high “Senegal” or “Mali” amounts on AncestryDNA. Genuine origins from especially Senegal have also been historically documented for Puerto Rico. Many Ladinos from the earliest settlement period such as Juan Garrido might have been Wolof or Sereer. Also of course Upper Guinean lineages can still be traced to any given point of time within the entire slave trade period, that is up till the mid 1800’s. As can be seen in the last chart above and also in this amazing blog post of someone who actually managed to trace a slave ancestor from Senegal in the 1800’s living in Puerto Rico. Here’s the link for it: Searching For My Afro-Boricua Roots.

Statistically speaking there might be less chances for such a scenario to be typical however. As relatively very few Senegalese slaves arrived in Puerto Rico in later periods while they were a majority or plurality in the early 1500’s. But it goes to show anything’s possible in individual cases. Looking at the greater picture we know that the majority of the Puerto Rican population was racially mixed and no longer enslaved most likely already in the early 1700’s if not before that (see chart above). And for this reason the odds might be deemed greater for Upper Guinean roots to be dating mostly from the 1500’s/1600’s in stead of from the 1800’s on average. Much like the genetic legacy left behind by the Taino, it would represent an ancestral element encapsulated in the genome of a core group of early (mixed) Puerto Ricans from the 1500’s, preserved and diffused as the Puerto Rican population slowly grew bigger.

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5) “Nigeria” pinpointing Yoruba or rather Carabali/Igbo origins?

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TAST

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

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Cuban slave market 1790-1880

Source: “The Cuban Slave Market, 1790-1880″ (Bergad et al., 1995)

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Puerto Rico’s Yoruba population was disproportionally small. A handful appeared in runaway notices in the 1820’s, but neither they nor any other slaves from the Lower Guinea coast were ever identified as participants in Puerto Rico’s slave revolts.” (Dorsey, 2003, p.169)

Cuba always outdistanced Puerto Rico in slave acquisitions. As a result, independent Puerto Rican access to African captibves was limited to Gallinas, Sherbro and the Pongo in Upper Guinea (which yielded Mande speakers – some Vai, but mainly Soninke, Susu, Manding and especially Gangá); the Niger delta in Lower Guinea (some Ibibio, according to records from the Temerario, but mainly Ibo, called jointly “Carabali”; and ill-defined areas on both sides of the Congo but few from Angola. Thus Cuba (and Brazil), not Puerto Rico, received large numbers of Yoruba (“Lucumi”) captives from the Bight of Benin.” (Dorsey, 2003, pp.135-136)

Santeria, also known as regla de Ocha, derived from Yoruban regligion with an overlay of Spanish Catholocism, is very strong in Puerto Rico today. According to scholars, modern Santeria was introduced into Puerto Rico by Cuban migrants during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.” (Religions of the world: a comprehensive encyclopedia of beliefs and practices, p.2341)

Mira que tu madre es conga,
Tu padre es carabalí
Tanto tiempo en Puerto Rico
y no puedes hablar asi
(Bomba lyrics)

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“Nigeria” was shown as the main region for the subgroup of my samples with higher African ancestry. Any attempt to find out which exact ethnic origins are being pinpointed by the various AncestryDNA regions is of course going to be speculative at this stage. Also obviously unique family trees will ensure some individual variation. But just very generalizing and based on whatever’s been documented we might already come to some preliminary conclusions. According to the Slave Voyages Database (see chart above) a far greater part of Nigerian slaves arriving in Puerto Rico would have been brought over from the Bight of Biafra (39,6%) and not the Bight of Benin (2%). This already suggests that they were mostly Igbo (“Carabali”) and not Yoruba. Slave voyages for Puerto Rico are however greatly underreported because of widespread smuggling and intercolonial trading with surrounding Caribbean islands. So any full coverage should not be expected, especially the early slave voyages to Puerto Rico during the 1500’s/1600’s are seriously underestimated in the Slave Voyages Database. Still the main patterns of Bight of Biafra predominating together with Central Africa and Sierra Leone in third place might still be valid enough atleast for the late 1700’s and 1800’s judging from additional indications.

Puerto Rico’s slave suppliers were from various nationalities (Portuguese, Danish, Dutch, French). But it’s probably the English who sold the most slaves in between 1765-1808, when Puerto Rico’s sugar economy was in full expansion again after almost 2 centuries of stagnation. Looking at the main slave trade patterns of the English during the last decades before Abolition, it’s apparent that the Bight of Biafra and Central Africa were the leading places of origins of African captives in the late 1700’s. This can also be verified by the consistent prominence of people identified as “Ebo” and “Congo” in the slave registers compiled in the early 1800’s throughout the English ruled West Indies, see also this overview.

But also in Cuba and to a lesser degree the Dominican Republic a similar pattern can be observed. For example the “Carabali” are shown to be three times more numerous in Cuba than the “Lucumi”, a.k.a. Yoruba, in the last chart above. We should be careful however in assuming that all people labeled as “Carabali” or Lucumi” would indeed be just Igbo or Yoruba. When applying a more detailed classification of ethnic origins for Liberated Africans in Cuba no less than 51 subgroups were mentioned for the Carabali and 29 subgroups for the Lucumi (see this excellent webpage).

As a final consideration we should also keep in mind that documented references to the Yoruba in Puerto Rico are apparently rare to find. Going by the research of Dorsey (2003) it seems this can be explained by a relative absence of Puerto Rican slave trade with the Bight of Benin also continuing into the 1800’s. A search in Puerto Rico’s slave census of 1872 also doesn’t produce any matches for either “Lucumi” or “Ollu” which would be how the Yoruba would have been known as in colonial Puerto Rico. This census is available also on ancestry.com via this link. According to Dorsey (2003, p.118) the most frequent African surnames documented in Puerto Rico (derived from their “nacion”) in the late 1800’s were: Congo, Cangá, Mandinga, Carabali and Mina. Doing an online search in the 1872 slave census (which would have records on about 31.000 slaves of whom only 3000 were foreign born though), the greatest number of search results is obtained for the Cangá (32x), followed by Congo (17x), Mandinga (2x) and Carabali (3x).

Finding the exact origins of African retentions in the New World isn’t always easy and sometimes the cultural exchange taking place in the post-slavery era might confuse things. For example according to the third quote above some currentday practices in Puerto Rico associated with the Yoruba might actually have been recent imports via Cuba. (see also this book: Cubans in Puerto Rico: Ethnic Economy and Cultural Identity). Not all scholars are in agreement about this however. A definite answer to this question can probably only be given after more historical research as well as more refined DNA testing.

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6) Puerto Rican Results

As far as has been confirmed to me all of these screenshots below are from persons who were themselves born in Puerto Rico or else had two Puerto Rico-born parents. Meant to illustrate the individual variation among Puerto Ricans in the first place. My suggestions should be taken as educated guesswork on my part they’re not meant to exclude other possibilities or simplify complex family histories . Despite the limited samplesize these results might already be quite representative, especially for people with lower degrees of African ancestry. I like to thank again all the persons who kindly agreed to share their results with me!

For more information on what type of ethnic origins could possibly be implied by these regional breakdowns, see also African origins of Hispanic Caribbeans according to DNA studies or this overview of ethnic groups mentioned in historical documentation across Latin America.

High “Senegal”

This region has been showing up most frequently as the biggest component in the African breakdown of the Puerto Rican results available to me. Lest i be misconstrued let me repeat that overall the AncestryDNA results for Puerto Ricans suggest a very high and proportionally balanced degree of diversity in African origins. The highest “Senegal” scores to be observed especially for Puerto Ricans of relatively low overall African descent, while Puerto Ricans with higher levels of African ancestry generally seem to show different patterns of regional origins (see also sections 2 & 3). Unlike what i’ve observed for Dominican results the “Senegal” region has not been reported sofar as top region for Puerto Ricans with higher total African percentages (>35%). In some individual cases it might possibly also indicate additional Upper Guinean origins from later timeperiods (1700’s/1800’s). But otherwise it seems to be a remarkable testimony of the preservation of the earliest African component in Puerto Rico (see also section 4).

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SENEGAL

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Senegal4a

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SENEGAL (2)

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SENEGAL (1)

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Intriguingly this result shows “Southeast Bantu” in almost equal measure as “Senegal”. It could possibly hint at Angolan ancestry and both components might very well be dating from the 1500’s/early 1600’s.

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SENEGAL&ANGOLA

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SENEGAL (4)

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This result had the second highest total African percentage (the highest being 33%) to also still show “Senegal” as main region. The pronounced presence of “South Central Hunter-Gatherers” is noteworthy too. It’s usually reported as Trace Region only and with 3% it’s in the higher range for these DNA markers, especially considering  the total African amount. Most African Americans and West Indians for example don’t score that high for this region even when their total African is much higher on average.

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SENEGAL (5)

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SENEGAL (6)

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Senegal7

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Senegal9

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Senegal8

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Senegal10

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High “Mali”

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“Mali” is more difficult to interpret than “Senegal” (see AncestryDNA Regions). But it’s noteworthy that just like i’ve observed for Dominican results, high “Mali” scores appear for people of both relatively high and low degrees of total African ancestry. It could very well be picking up on many different types of ethnic origins. However generally speaking i would expect it to be signalling Upper Guinean ancestry. It seems to be reported in very high proportions for people of only minor African descent. While for people with higher amounts of African ancestry “Mali” is only just slightly standing out amongst several other regions.

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MALI (2)

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MALI

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MALI (3)

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Mali10

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MALI (1)

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mali14

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Mali12

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Mali9

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mali15

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Mali8

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Mali (7)

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Mali (6)

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MALI (5)

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MALI (4)

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Mali (9)

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Mali12

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High “Ivory Coast/Ghana”

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Aside from Ghana & Ivory Coast this region also potentially covers ancestry from Liberia and parts of Sierra Leone (see African Results). This category has shown the lowest average sofar among my Puerto Rican samples. However for Puerto Ricans with higher than average African amounts it is featured prominently several times. As is also the case for the person below. Possibly suggestive of relatively more recent African geneflow (1700’s/1800’s instead of 1500’s/1600’s), likely also by way of neighbouring Caribbean islands.

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GHAPR

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A rather similar breakdown below, also notice how consistent the Amerindian scores are even for Puerto Ricans with above average African amounts.

ghana9

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The breakdown below features the highest relative contribution from “Ivory Coast/Ghana” i have seen sofar among Puerto Ricans. With 17% out of total African 31% it represents a share of about 55% (17/31). Also noteworthy that this person obtained the highest Native American percentage i have observed sofar for Puerto Ricans.

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ghana8

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The result below  belongs to a person with partial distant roots from the Virgin Islands. Migration from these neighbouring islands (by runaway slaves) is known to have occurred already during the 1600’s. It could very well be the indirect source of Ghanaian ancestry for many Puerto Ricans. See also Virgin Islands Roots (part 2).

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Ghana (3)

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GHANA (1)

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Very evenly divided breakdown showing equal shares of 10% for each of the African top 3 regions, incl. “Southeastern Bantu”! In fact even the Native American region is showing up with 10%. The “Ivory Coast/Ghana” score might not be predominant however when combined with “Benin/Togo” it does suggest a great chunk of Lower Guinean ancestry.

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Ghana7

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Another interesting combination with “Southeastern Bantu”.

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GHANA

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One of the few results i have seen of a Puerto Rican with only minor African ancestry (<25%) and “Ivory Coast/Ghana” being the biggest region. Also quite atypical that this person doesn’t have any “North African”.

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Ghanapr

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Ghana5

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High “Benin/Togo”

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It’s good to be aware that this region is not always pinpointing origins from strictly within Benin’s or Togo’s borders (see also “Benin/Togo” region) . However genuine Beninese origins have been recorded for Puerto Rico already in the 1500’s (“Arda”) and captives from this area might have been especially numerous during the late 1600’s/early 1700’s. In line with the general slave trade patterns of the English and Dutch at that time who were also among the major contraband traders for Puerto Rico. This was somewhat of an intermediate period within the colonial history of Puerto Rico. And perhaps this offers a (partial) explanation why this region is being reported as number 1 region for both people with lower and higher total amounts of African ancestry.

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This result shows the highest African amount i have observed sofar. Notice how the Native American % is still considerably high as well. The African breakdown is consisting mostly of “Benin/Togo” and “Nigeria”. Which might be suggestive of Yoruba lineage in this particular case even when it looks like the degree of Yoruba ancestry among Puerto Ricans in general might have been overstated. Also other ancestral options (Ewe, Igbo etc.) are still possible as well. Very fascinating how the possibly older portions of “Southeastern Bantu” and “Senegal” have been preserved at still noticeable level. Combined with the 8% Native American it seems to hint at deep colonial Boricua roots for this individual along atleast a section of his family tree.

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Benin6

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Interesting combination with “Ivory Coast/Ghana” showing up. Also the “North Africa” score is relatively quite high.

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Benin4

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BENIN

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Benin (2)

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Benin (3)

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Benin (5)

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High Nigeria

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This region has been showing up most  prominently for people of higher than average African descent. Which might imply relatively more recent origins for these lineages. However to add an intriguing twist it is also regularly reported as top region for people of minor African descent. I suppose in most cases this could also be dating from the 1700’s/1800’s. Nigerian origins from the 1500’s/1600’s are not very likely given that they formed a very small minority of the captives in that period, but still it might be possible too i suppose. As of yet it is uncertain which specific ethnic origins could be pinpointed,  either Yoruba or Igbo is most likely. From recent studies it appears that the Yoruba presence in Puerto Rico might have been overestimated though (see also section 5).

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This person’s African breakdown seems perfectly in line with the main patterns sofar of high “Nigeria” as well as high “Mali” for Puerto Ricans of above average African descent. Equally fascinating that in the Trace Regions “Senegal” and “Southeast Bantu” are still appearing strongly. Suggesting African ancestors to be dated from both earlier and later timeperiods. Also noteworthy for being rather elevated: the 3% “South-Central Hunter-Gatherer’s” and the 10% Native American. Similar to the Dominican AncestryDNA results i’ve seen also all of the Puerto Rican results in my survey show a visible degree of Native American ancestry regardless of total African amounts. Highlighting their essentially triracial genetic background.

NAIJA5

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This person had one of the highest total African amounts in my sample group. And also the “Nigeria” score is among the highest, both as original percentage as well as proportionally (24/53=45%). Even when the result above is slightly more pronounced on both counts.  Notice how “Senegal” is absent and “Southeast Bantu” at noise level, however “Mali” is showing up quite strongly.

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NAIJA1

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Strictly speaking this person is only half Puerto Rican, the other half being from the Virgin Islands. But because there’s been a century’s long tradition of migration from this island group to Puerto Rico, the result might still be quite typical for atleast a subset of Puerto Ricans.

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NAIJA (half VI)

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NAIJA

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NAIJA6

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Quite diverse breakdown. The pronounced presence of “South Central Hunter-Gatherers” is noteworthy too. It’s usually reported as Trace Region only and with 3% it’s in the higher range for these DNA markers, especially considering  the total African amount. But for Puerto Ricans this seems to occur quite regularly.

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NAIJA4

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High proportion of “Nigeria” but also otherwise  almost entirely Lower Guinean origins being mentioned in the African breakdown.

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Nigeria 1

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This result shows the highest relative contribution of “Nigeria” in my samplegroup, it’s almost 70% of total African (9/13). It could be an indication that it’s pinpointing one single African ancestor in particular.

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Nigeria2

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High “Cameroon/Congo”

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Might be just due to sampling limitations but sofar i haven’t really observed expectionally high relative proportions for this region. The maxium score being just below 45% of total African ancestry, while for the other regions i have seen maximum scores of above 60% or even 70% of total African ancestry. Possibily dating mostly from the late 1700’s/1800’s, and relating to mainly Congolese ancestry (Bakongo). In theory Cameroonian or Gabonese ancestry could also be possible but it’s not as much supported by historical evidence as is the case for the Congolese. People from the Congo would actually already have been present in Puerto Rico from the early 1500’s, often brought in via São Tomé. But it seems less likely that their genetic markers would have remained intact and concentrated after such a long period of time for persons with a more elavated African ancestry level.

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CONGO (1)

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Congo (4)

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CONGO

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High “Pygmy/San” or “South-Central Hunter-Gatherers”

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I have already pointed out several other results with 3% “Pygmy/San” however this result is exceptional in that it’s the only one i’ve seen to be listing this category as the only main region, while all other African origins are designated as Trace Regions. Even when actually “Senegal” and “Mali” show higher percentages. Perhaps just a fluke but still fascinating how such a score came to be. Especially since otherwise there’s little evidence of Central African ancestry, except the 2% “Southeast Bantu”.

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PYGMY

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High “Southeast Bantu”

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This region is quite likely to be picking up on Angolan origins from the early 1600’s in particular. Even when other ancestral options are also still possible. It’s remarkable how sofar only people of relatively minor African descent (<35%) show the highest scores for this region. Exception being the last screenshot who shows a total amount of 37% African. It seems to suggest an additional founding effect aside from the one from Upper Guinea but probably reinforced in the same manner that is by relative endogamy after initial African geneflow occurred. Only a larger samplesize might confirm this however.

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ANGOLA5

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Angola3

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ANGOLA

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Angola6

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Angola2

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ANGOLA (1)

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This result shows the highest total amount of African to still have “Southeast Bantu” convincingly  mentioned as top region. The remaining part of the breakdown is still suggestive though of early colonial roots, especially the 8% “Senegal”.

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Angola4

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High “North Africa”

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Most likely reflecting Canarian/Guanche origins, even when other ancestral options might also be possible. Also notice how for each result either “Senegal” or “Mali” is appearing in second position. The first result is also showing the highest Amerindian score i have observed in my samplegroup.

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CANARIO

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Another result with 10% “North Africa”, the highest amount i have observed for this region across the Diaspora in my survey. The other African regions also seem quite representative for what Puerto Ricans of minor African descent (<25%) tend to show in their results.

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Canario4

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CANARIO (1)

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Canario2

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Canario3

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Canario5

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YouTube Results

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Don’t be fooled by first appearances 😉

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Consulted Literature:

– Alvarez Nazario, Manuel (1974), El Elemento Afronegroide en el Español de Puerto Rico.
– Curtin, Phillip (1969), The Atlantic Slave Trade A Census.
– Diaz Soler, Luis M. (1953), Historia de la Esclavitud Negra en Puerto Rico. (available online)
– Dorsey, J. C. (2003). Slave traffic in the Age of Abolition: Puerto Rico, West Africa, and the non-Hispanic Caribbean, 1815-1859.
– Green, Toby (2012), The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300–1589.
– Stark, David (2007), The Afro-Puerto Ricans of Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century San Mateo de Cangrejos, Puerto Rico.
– Stark, David (2009), A New Look at the African Slave Trade in Puerto Rico Through the Use of Parish Registers 1660-1815.
– Sued Badillo, Jalil; López Canto, Angel (1986), Puerto Rico Negro.