Dear Teacher Gates:
I have actually been watching your show and can not remember anybody having Melanesian in their DNA ethnicity results. I did the Ancestry.com DNA test and it showed 1 percent Pacific Islander-Trace Area: Melanesia. I just wondered how typically this comes up in people from the West Indies. My mom is Trinidadian and my daddy is Jamaican. I will send you the outcomes of the DNA test.– Karen Davis
The short answer to your question is that it turns up in people from the West Indies more typically than you might believe. First, for those who are not clear about what the term West Indies refers to, we asked Steven Niven, executive editor of the Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Bio (of which I am co-editor-in-chief with Franklin W. Knight), for an excellent definition. He told us in an email, “The West Indies once referred to all of the Caribbean islands invaded and inhabited by various European nations from the 15th century onwards. By the mid-to-late 20th century the term came primarily to describe the English-speaking island countries of the Caribbean, plus Guyana in South America, which shared cultural, political, and financial links to the British Caribbean.”
Having that in hand, we connected to Ancestry.com with your question and received this reply by email from Yong Wang, a research study researcher there:
The short answer is that Karens outcomes are not uncommon for somebody with ancestry from the West Indies. Usually, AncestryDNA clients born in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are anticipated to have 0.26% and 0.98% of origins from Melanesia, respectively. So it is not uncommon for Karen to have about 1% predicted Melanesian origins provided that her parents were born in these 2 countries. Additionally, people born in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have the tendency to carry South Asian origins which is highly associated to Melanesian origins, and right in line with Karens results showing South Asian origins.
When somebody has substantial ancestry from one population or area, it is not unusual to estimate a little (and even large) quantity of ancestry from several nearby populations or areas. Throughout history, individuals have moved between populations and have actually intermarried; which is why, for example, we notice clients born in South Asia have the tendency to have small amount of forecasted Melanesian origins.
About 2,000 islands comprise Melanesia, extending from the Eastern Pacific Ocean to the Arafura Sea north and northeast of Australia and west of Indonesia. Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are among the countries of the Melanesian area. Inning accordance with Ancestry.com’s website on Melanesia, “Ancestors of the area’s native populations was available in two waves, the first from Southeast Asia some 40,000 to 60,000 years earlier. They consist of the Papuans and aboriginal Australians. The second wave, the Austronesians, arrived 3,500 to 3,000 years back.”
You likely already know that indentured servants from India in South Asia were brought to Trinidad and other Caribbean countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and your DNA report (“Asia South: Range 15 percent to 23 percent”) suggests that amongst them were likely a few of your ancestors. According to anthropologist Viranjini Munasinghe in an interview published on the Asia Society site:
When the servants were emancipated in the British Caribbean in 1838, the planters looked for alternative products of docile and servile labor that might replace the labor of the previous servants …
India was an appropriate source because Indias population was vast, the bulk accustomed to agricultural labor under tropical conditions, and due to the fact that the country was under British control there was no requirement for settlements with foreign authorities. Living conditions were also grim for many Indians in the 19th century due to starvation, illness, overpopulation and the increasing encroachment of the East India Business. As a result, numerous Indians were destitute and wanted to opportunities beyond India in order to improve their impoverished lives. In between 1845 and 1917 (when indenture was eliminated due to push from Indian nationalists) around 143,939 Indians concerned Trinidad.
Suriname and British Guiana in South America (the latter now understoodreferred to as Guyana), as well as Jamaica, were other top destinations for Indian labor in the Caribbean and Americas.
As of 2011, the “East Indian”/ South Asian population of Trinidad and Tobago was 35 percent, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Thirty-four percent were of African descent, and nearly 8 percent of blended African and South Asian descent. Jamaica’s “East Indian”/ South Asian population is less than 1 percent.
So rest assured that your DNA outcomes were not uncommon at all!
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Facebook and twitter.
Send your concerns about tracing your very own roots to TracingYourRoots@theroot.com.