No single human being is today geographically settled in a place where he used to be in 500 years ago. I was told this by my respected elder man, Professor Ibrahim Noor Sharif, some two years ago. He was trying to argue against those who opt for racial politics in Zanzibar, where the question of heritage and identity has been misused even in today´s politics.
But, even far from this context, his argument does still hold water. Human origin is like a dodder, a parasitic plant that grows on big trees and in the process of developing, it looses its original stem. In my home village, it was believed that anyone who might find the roots of the dodder, he would find a treasure of gold coins beneath it!
Professor Ibrahim’s argument sparked some elements in my brain that called for a self-searching. Asking myself where I was in 16th century seemed overtly strange question. I have just been in this world for four decades, what a hell to look for me in five centuries? But, in reality, every single human being is a result of thousands of human beings who had lived before him and left their marks on his existing set-up. We, who believe in God’s creation and not in human evolution, understand His Words that He created us from one man and one woman and from them came variety of nations, races and languages. So as much as you, as a mankind, takes a journey back to your origin, you will find other people in you – thousands of them – before you reach our Father Adam and Mother Eve.
A Journey To Myself
This curiosity made me to look for online tools that could help in my search. After having seen some of them, I chose MyHeritage last year in June, due to its experience in analysing DNAs and some users’ comments. I registered.
But as soon as I was logged in, I found myself hesitant to embarking on a journey into the inner-me. “So, what!?” I asked myself. What if I knew the origins of my biological set-up? It is enough that I am a Swahili man from Zanzibar, whose parents and their parents were born in Pemba. If before them, their ancestors migrated to the Indian Ocean Islet from anywhere in the world, how and why should it matter to me? After this intra-personal conversation, I just became a dormant member. Not active one.
Then one year later, the urge to search for myself came back to me. I went again online searching for stories of DNAs, watching some films on the issue and even participated in some discussions on origins, heritage and humanity. The more I learned about it, the more interested I became and, at last, I ordered my DNA kit from MyHeritage.
In three week time, the results are now here. According to some of those who have embarked on the same journey, the results are 99.99 percent accurate. And as it happened to them, to me as well these results are full of surprises as well as normalcies. There are findings that I never expected, there are those that I was sort of guessing and those that are already known to me.
The Expected vs the Unexpected
It was not a surprise to me that I am a son of mixed ethnicities. That I knew earlier. But I did not expect at all that 10 different streams of blood are running daily into my veins. I expected my Africanness to dominate other heritages in my DNA, which happened to be 76.2 percent true. But the fact that almost 30 percent of it is West African, I still wonder how and why!
It is 100 percent known that I am an East African and, as the DNA shows, 45.4 percent of my heritage can be traced to there. A little controversy that I saw is that, my East Africanness is associated to Kenya. I had to call the hotline for some clarifications. Not that I do not want to be a Kenyan, but for two good reasons: one, the country that is known today as Kenya did not exist some two centuries ago and, two (which was confirmed in my call), MyHeritage’s mapping puts almost the whole northern part of the East African Coast into Kenya boundaries. This starts from Mogadishu to Pemba Island. All this area, was once a part of the Great Zanzibar, the place I proudly claim to be the origin of my forefathers from my both sides.
But showing me as a 23.8 percent Nigerian, 3.9 percent Sierra Leonian and 2.2 simply West African will never stop to be amusing. Of course, there was no country known as Nigeria or Sierra Leone some century ago. So this percentage might refer to one of 250 nations of current Nigeria and 16 of them in today’s Sierra Leone. But my curiosity is: from which – among those 266 small nations – did my ancestors originate? Am I from Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo, Mende or Temne? If you take a map of Africa and measure a distance between West to East, it is almost 6,000 kilometers. Who travelled from which point to the other? East to the West and then back, or West to the East and then settle?
Yes, I can easily understand my almost 1 percent of my Central African ancentry as at least I was told by my late father that my gradfather’s grandmother was from the land of Manyema in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.
My Asian Connections
There are also some surprises and normalcies in my connectivity to the Asian continent. I knew earlier of my Omani roots as this has been preserved into my family tree, though I did not know where exactly in Oman my forefathers came from. But at least my DNA results show that I have remained with 9.5 percent of traces from Western Asia – the place which now hosts huge area from Oman, United Arab Emirates to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and might cover the upper side of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
But what about the peoples from the Central Asia with whom I share 8.2 percent of my genes? The area which is now covering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Krygyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan used to be known as Silk Road and its people were great conquerers of their time. They used to rule all over the area and even beyond. Is it possible that through their connection with the western neighbours, they ended up mixing and then the genes travelled all the way through Indian Ocean to East Africa where my immediate relatives can be traced?
Me and Europe?
Of all the surprises, I do still have my mouth open on the findings that I hold 4.3 percent of South European genes from Iberian people, who were mainly found in current Portugal and Spain as well as Malta and Italy. It seems an unlikely match and satirically that I have been living in Europe for almost a decade now, so close to my cousins.
This reminds me a scenario back in 2005, when I was in the UNESCO youth group attending a seminar in Catalonia, Spain. One of the participants, Wahib Ayoub from Lebanon, was so harsh to me for asking how should I possess Arabic names while I am a black person from Africa! That came after he learnt that all my known names are Arabic in nature. Little did I know that I was in the land that shared 3.3 of my genes!!!
During 1000 CE, Spain was under the Golden Islamic Iberian Era which is associated with many technological inventions, among them is modern surgery. If I had this DNA result in 2005 during my unfriendly conversation with Wahib, I would have had many astonishing answers to him on the very land that we both stood and were invited.
Of my European connections, there is something that is even more interesting, though I have to admit that it was not my first time to hear about it. Some twenty years ago, I was living with Sheikh Salum Msabbah Mbarouk, an Islamic scholar who once turned into politics in Zanzibar. By our family line, he is a son of my cousin, whic makes me his uncle (ami as we call it in Swahili).
He told me that during his religious studies in Medina, Saudi Arabia, he came in contact with one Jewish scholar who – after some test performances – told him (Sheikh Salim) that he has some Jewish blood. That is to say, a son of my cousin, has Jewish heritage! I have discussed this story with some relatives but we did not give it any extra look. Now, the DNA says that I have 1.0 percent of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in me? Was Sheikh Salim told the truth almost three decades ago in Medina? Ashkenazi Jews are originated in today’s eastern Europe.
I was not surprised, however, with my 1.8 percent of Middle Eastern heritage. If you look closely into the monsoon wind connectivity between Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula, it is easy to conclude the oneness of peoples around the nations across the area.
Some Important Missing Links
Some important information is somehow missed in MyHeritage DNA analysis so far – at least in my case. While they show me these traits, they don’t give them in detail. Even after being upgraded into premium, the 24-Hour-assistant cannot give me detailed information of, for example, where exactly does my Western Asia origin come from!
They also did not know that putting the whole coast of East Africa into Kenya does not fit the current definition of the region. When a person embraces this adventure to find themselves, they need accuracies – which means facts and details.
However, I must say that it has been amazing to see how these genes had travelled all the way from different parts of the world just to connect to each other and form another human being far away from where they started. Just as the dodder plant does, this is how our life as human beings is.
We are coming from somewhere unknown to us and we live and even die to somewhere that could be very strange to our coming generations. I imagine the surprise on the face of a granddaughter of my grandson some hundred years to come!!!