Black History Month

It’s October, which can only mean one thing – it’s Black History Month! It’s a month which makes us reflect upon our ancestral roots and the journeys our ancestors took that brought us here. To celebrate this momentous occasion, we worked with three of the UK’s top Black models, taking DNA samples from each model to uncover their genealogy and inspire the narrative for each of the shoots. From the French colonisation of Africa, to trades with the Portuguese, each genetic marker augurs at the wealth of diversity that typifies Africa’s trademark.

Photography: James Fickling
Retouching: Svetlomir Tsvetanov
Make-up: Kite Chuang
Hair: Miley Chi
Stylist: Afton Ayache
Videographer: Boss Concept

LULU @ LENI’S MODEL MANAGEMENT

REGION APPROXIMATE AMOUNT
Africa 44%
Africa Southeastern Bantu 14%
Benin/Togo 13%
Ivory Coast/Ghana 11%
Trace Regions 6%
Europe 56%
Ireland 28%
Great Britain 21%
Western Europe 5%
Trace Regions 2%

Being the most genetically mixed model, Lulu is nearly an equal mix between European and African, with most of the African genetic markers associated to Southeastern Bantu. The earliest Bantu people arose in modern-day Cameroon and Nigeria. A Neolithic people who farmed yams and oil palms (but not grains), they lived on the edges of forests where resources were richer and they could supplement their diet with bushmeat. Bantu communities flourished and became powerful over time as people began to specialize in trades, engage in commerce with Arabs and other merchants, and develop standing armies.

The most significant migration for Ghana and Ivory Coast, however, began with the arrival of the Akan people. The Akan had established the state of Bonoman—a center of trade for gold, salt, kola nuts, ivory and leather—in western Ghana/eastern Ivory Coast. From Bonoman, they spread out looking for gold. The Ashanti, a subgroup of the Akan, formed a number of states in Ghana built around trade and gold. They traded with the Songhai and Hausa along traditional inland routes and also with European partners, starting with the Portuguese, who arrived on the coast in 1482.

The Ashanti had their own telegraph long before American inventor Samuel Morse patented his (in 1847). The Ashanti people sent messages through the forest via drum. The tones of their famous “talking drums” mimic their own tonal language.

CHRIS REID @ NEVS MODELS

REGION APPROXIMATE AMOUNT
Africa 82%
Ivory Coast/Ghana 42%
Cameroon/Congo 18%
Mali 8%
Trace Regions 14%
Asia 15%
South Asia 14%
East Asia 1%
Europe 2%
Pacific Islander <1%

Like Lulu, Chris descends from Ivory Coast/Ghanaian blood. Since the 15th Century these areas have traded with multiple areas of Europe, including France and Portugal. The Ashanti’s, a subgroup of the Akan people, formed a number of states in Ghana built around farming and gold mining. This was traded with the Portuguese for slaves in order to further grow their colonies. Chris has traces from Iberian Peninsula in his DNA, which could be linked to the ethnic mixing of natives with Portuguese slaves or the French colonisation in 19th century.

Chris’s second highest DNA markers relate to the region of Cameroon & Congo. Many of the ethnic groups found in the two Congos are of Bantu origin, meaning they share a common ancestral language and an ancestral homeland on the western border of modern Cameroon and Nigeria. The Bantu peoples began migrating from Cameroon in about 1000 B.C. Some went east across Africa and then south; some settled the Congo River Basin; and some went south along the coast to Angola. These Bantu groups have a genetic ethnicity better represented by the Southeastern Bantu region profile.

Chris was told by his parents that somewhere in his family he had Indian descent, which we were also able to associate approximately 15% of his DNA markers. As a nod to both the African gold trade and Hinduism practices, we added a bindi to Chris’s headpiece.

TUNDE OMOTAYO @ WILHELMINA MODELS

REGION APPROXIMATE AMOUNT
Africa 100%
Benin/Togo 59%
Nigeria 36%
Trace Regions 5%
Mali 3%
Ivory Coast/Ghana 2%

Tunde is the only model we tested that had 100% African DNA markers, with all of the main regions being situated side by side.

Considering their small size, Benin & Togo have great ethnic diversity, especially in the north. Some populations there are related to ethnic groups farther north in Burkina Faso, and the small but influential Hausa population is largely responsible for bringing Islam to Togo. In the south of Benin, the Fon people are dominant. They are descendants from the powerful African kingdom of Dahomey that ruled the region from about 1600 to 1900.

Most northern Beninese and Togolese practice herding, fishing and subsistence farming. Trade is limited in the north, where neither country has much in the way of navigable waterways or viable roads. In the more urbanized south, however, people have greater social and physical mobility. Most urban Africans in the Benin/Togo region work at a trade or sell goods at local markets. In the past, the proximity to the coast spawned trade relationships with Europeans, other Africans and with slave traders. The countries on the Bight of Benin were part of the so-called “Slave Coast” and in the late 1600s became the top suppliers of slaves to the New World. As a result, the genetic footprint of the Benin/Togo region can be found across much of the Western Hemisphere.

In the south of Nigeria, the Edo people established the Kingdom of Benin, which expanded from a magnificent city into a powerful empire during the 15th century. When Portuguese traders first visited the city, they were impressed by its size and splendor, and Benin sent an ambassador to Lisbon in the early 16th century. Benin is known for its carvings and its “bronzes” (which are actually brass), which are referenced to in the jewellery that adorns Tunde in his shoot.

A big thank you to Pebble London for allowing Haphazard access to their amazing collection of authentic ethnic jewellery and Official Black History Month Magazine for their support.

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