Website traces African origins

Educational website calls on public to help trace origins of Africans abducted for slavery

Technology trends and news by Faith Merino
April 27, 2011
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/19bf

Emory University is undertaking an exciting new project to trace the origins of some 9,000 Africans who were kidnapped in the nineteenth century as part of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The project will rely on participation from the public, including scholars and African citizens and immigrants to provide information on the cultural and geographic origins of specific names—which could help identify the other millions of Africans who were kidnapped and sold as slaves.

The project, called African Origins, currently has basic information on over 9,000 African slaves who were liberated by the Courts of Mixed Commission, including name, age, sex, the name of the ship that the individual was forced onto, the embarkation point (the African port of departure), and the disembarkation point (the location that the individual was transported to).

For example, one record is for that of an eleven-year-old girl named Usaba who was loaded onto the slave ship Intrepido in 1828, embarked from the port of Bonny (which is somewhere between modern day Nigeria and Cameroon), and taken to Havana, Cuba. What the African Origins website is looking for is where she came from—her place of origin, her language group, and her exact ethnicity (since slaves were often kidnapped from central and sub-Saharan Africa and transported to the western coast).

The individual profiles of each of the 9,453 Africans documented on the African Origins website also come with audio pronunciation guides so that visitors to the sites can listen for aural similarities.

“Because names used within African languages and social groups have remained fairly consistent over the last two centuries, the thousands of names listed in this database are clues to the linguistic and ethnic origins of the Africans on board these vessels,” the university stated in its announcement.

To locate the exact origins of the Africans on board the slave ships, scholars will need to identify the names’ modern counterparts. But in order to build up its knowledge base, the site is casting a wide net to find individuals with knowledge of African names. When the project got its start in 2002, researchers played audio clips of the names for individual informants in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Angola. While the informants were often successfully able to locate the origins of the names and the ethnic groups to which they belonged, the process was slow and time consuming. The researchers realized they stood a better chance of getting more results if they opened the project up to the public so that--like a Wikipedia page--anyone with knowledge of African names and their origins can add their knowledge to the project. 

It’s the university’s hope that visitors will one day be able to search for African names by linguistic group and view a map of the possible locations where they originated. 

Image source: African-Origins.org

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