Tag: South African Genetics

The Cape Coloureds are a mix of everything

By Razib Khan | June 16, 2011 12:34 am

A Cape Coloured family


I’ve mentioned the Cape Coloureds of South Africa on this weblog before. Culturally they’re Afrikaans in language and Dutch Reformed in religion (the possibly related Cape Malay group is Muslim, though also Afrikaans speaking traditionally). But racially they’re a very diverse lot. In this way they can be analogized to black Americans, who are about ~75% West African and ~25% Northern European, with the variance in ancestral proportions being such that ~10% are ~50% or more European in ancestry. The Cape Coloureds though are much more complex. Some of their ancestry is almost certainly Bantu African. This element is related to the West African affinities of black Americans. And, they have a Northern European element, which likely came in via the Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers (mostly males). But the Cape Coloureds also have other contributions to their genetic heritage. Firstly, they have Khoisan ancestry, whether from Bushmen or Khoi. This is well known in their oral memory. The the hinterlands of the Cape of Good Hope are beyond the ecological range of the Bantu agricultural toolkit, so the region was still dominated by the Khoisan when the Europeans arrived. But there are also other suggestions of ancestry from Asia. The existence of the Cape Malays, whose adherence to Islam derives from the Muslims slaves brought by the Dutch, hints at likely relationships to the populations of maritime Southeast Asia. Finally, there are the Indians. This element is not too well recalled in cultural memory. But the Dutch brought many slaves from India as well as Southeast Asia. The Dutch first governor of the Cape Colony had a maternal grandmother who was an Indian slave, by various accounts Goan or Bengali (the town of Stellensbosch is named for him). No doubt it was far more likely that the usual lot of the descendants of Indian slaves during the Dutch era would be to be absorbed into the melange of the Coloured population than assimilated into what later became the Afrikaners.

Why is this aspect of Cape Coloured ancestry forgotten? I think part of the reason is that there is a large South African Indian community present today, but that community post-dates the Dutch period, and arrived with the British. When South Africans think of Indians they think of these people. Interestingly when the new genetic studies confirming Indian ancestry came on the scene I was “corrected” several times by Indians themselves when reporting this part of the Coloured heritage. They were under the impression I must be mistaken, as no one was familiar with the Cape Coloureds having Indian ancestry. Unfortunately pointing to PCA and STRUCTURE plots did not clear up the confusion.

In any case, thanks to the African Ancestry Project I now have three unrelated Coloured samples (I have more, but they are related). Since AAP is Afrocentric I thought it would be appropriate to run the Coloured samples separate first. So that’s what I did.

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