FAQ 54 - Where in Africa did African American's Originate?

Kwame Bandele

Some people complain that the term "African American" is a little vague because it refers to such a huge and diverse continent. The question is sometimes asked, "From where in Africa did African Americans come?" Many people in my parents generation (born 1920-40) thought that this question could not be answered. Then came "Roots." Here is some more information that might help African Americans develop a more personal connection with the regions and peoples of Africa.

This information comes from P.D. Curtin's book, "Atlantic Slave Trade" p. 221. Obviously, this is not the only version available, but Curtin is a heavyweight on the subject (along with W.E.B. DuBois, R.R. Kuczynski, E. Donnan, Davies, H.S. Klein, etc) and I like the way the data is presented:


Senegambia (Senegal-Gambia)* 5.8%
Sierra Leone 3.4%
Windward Coast (Ivory Coast)* 12.1%
Gold Coast (Ghana)* 14.4%
Bight of Benin (Nigeria)* 14.5
Bight of Biafra (Nigeria)* 25.1%
Central and Southeast
Africa (Cameroon- N.Angola)* 24.7%

* The countries in parentheses are rough approximations to help you find
the location on a modern map.

Now I will try to relate the above regions to selected ethnic groups. I've collected this data from a variety of sources, and I can't vouch for all of them. The central question for me is always, "Were these people
called by that name during that time in that place?" I don't know how to show the nomadic and semi-nomadic groups, but I included several below anyway. Please post suggestions to improve what follows:

SENEGAMBIA: Wolof, Mandingo, Malinke, Bambara, Papel, Limba,
Bola, Balante, Serer, Fula, Tucolor

SIERRA LEONE: Temne, Mende, Kisi, Goree, Kru.

WINDWARD COAST (incl. Liberia): Baoule, Vai, De, Gola (Gullah), Bassa,

GOLD COAST: Ewe, Ga, Fante, Ashante, Twi, Brong

BIGHT OF BENIN & BIGHT OF BIAFRA Combined (sorry): Yoruba, Nupe, Benin,
Dahomean (Fon), Edo-Bini, Allada, Efik, Ibibio, Ijaw, Ibani,Igbo(Calabar)

CENTRAL & SOUTHEAST AFRICA: BaKongo, MaLimbo, Ndungo, BaMbo, BaLimbe,
BaDongo, Luba, Loanga, Ovimbundu, Cabinda, Pembe, Imbangala, Mbundu,

Please send comments on whether the following groups should be included as
a "Ancestral group" of African Americans, and in what region:

Fulani, Tuareg, Dialonke, Massina, Dogon, Songhay, Jekri, Jukun, Domaa,
Tallensi, Mossi, Nzima, Akwamu, Egba, Fang, and Ge.

I've long associated some of the above names with political divisions, cultures, regions, languages, and/or dialects. If you have information that would remove, add, or move one of the above, please post it and we'll all be better informed.

I'll admit some of my biases and motives now. I hope this discussion will lead many African American to feel proud of the achievements of these groups, to feel angry towards governments and agencies that exploit them, and to feel symphathy towards their suffering. If that leads to political action and realignment of American resources and polices towards the region, then it could become important for some groups to get on this list. Nevertheless, I hope that accuracy will win the day.

Best regards,

Kwame -- 4/95