I Knew It! I'm Really a Nubian Princess (Well, in a Previous Life); Angella Johnson Takes a DNA Test to Reveal the Secrets of Her Genetic Makeup - and Discovers an Extraordinary Tale of Kidnap, Slavery and Rape .

By Johnson, Angella | The Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

I Knew It! I'm Really a Nubian Princess (Well, in a Previous Life); Angella Johnson Takes a DNA Test to Reveal the Secrets of Her Genetic Makeup - and Discovers an Extraordinary Tale of Kidnap, Slavery and Rape .


Johnson, Angella, The Mail on Sunday (London, England)


Byline: ANGELLA JOHNSON

I always thought I knew exactly who I was and where I came from. I was born on the Caribbean island of Jamaica, so were my parents and their parents before them. But having come to Britain at the age of seven and spent virtually all of my life since then in this country, I have always considered myself to be British-Jamaican.

Last week I learned differently. After sending a sample of my DNA to a laboratory in Oxfordshire, a geneticist informed me that I am, in fact, an L3F Lalameka. This revelation meant nothing to me, but after further investigation it seems I belong to a rare and precise genetic group. Lalameka is found in only one million of the planet's six billion people - which makes me pretty special.

But even more remarkable was the analysis of my DNA which showed that I share genetic material with people from Nubia, Egypt, Somalia, Iraq, the nomadic Tuaregs of West Africa and the Islamic Fulbe tribe of Nigeria.

That is a fascinating geographical cocktail whose ingredients tell an extraordinary story of slavery, kidnap-and rape spanning thousands of years.

The test I took to discover this could not have been simpler. I took a swab of skin tissue, delicately extracted from inside my cheeks with a toothbrush (taking care to avoid the teeth, otherwise there was a danger of discovering the DNA of what I ate for lunch), put it in an envelope and sent it off to the laboratory.

Just two weeks later I had before me a map of my DNA, a document that told me not just what I was now but where I had come from over thousands of years.

The test, by a company called Oxford Ancestors, based in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, used my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) - genetic information passed exclusively through the female line. This gives, in effect, a clearer picture than tracing the DNA through the paternal line, which contains more mutations.

The analysis begins from the premise that about 150,000 years ago there was a single human female, 'Eve', from whom we are all directly descended. As human DNA diversified and the population grew, particular strains of DNA developed and these have been identified by scientists and divided into 36 clans. My Lalameka clan is an offshoot from Lara, the dominant clan of Africa and west Eurasia.

As it happens, relatively little is known about Lalameka because of its rarity. But DNA samples appear to show that the type never strayed far from Africa, unlike other descendants of Eve who went on to populate the rest of the world. For example, Helena - another clan - accounts for 47 per cent of native Europeans. She is the most common of European clan mothers and can be traced all over the world.

But my roots are a good deal more complicated and surprising.

About 20,000 years ago my ancestors were, according to my DNA, from Nubia, one of Africa's first developed black cultures whose history was charted from 3,100 BC onwards by written records from Egypt and Rome. Geographically, it covered a 500-mile stretch of land along the river Nile, which on today's map is one-third in southern Egypt and the rest in northern Sudan. It was once a land boasting great natural wealth in the form of gold, ebony, ivory and incense.

Evidence suggests that around 900 BC, a Nubian monarchy began to emerge with an unusually high number of ruling queens and princesses.

Their physical characteristics of darker skin colour, Mediterranean facial features and frizzy hair meant they stood out from neighbouring Arabs to the north.

The Egyptian Pharaohs coveted Nubia's wealth and colonised the area at various times in its history - and they weren't the only ones.

During the slave trade, between the 15th and 19th Centuries, Nubians often became victims of raiding parties of Abyssinians who attacked their villages at night and kidnapped young men and women.

The young women were frequently raped. …

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