When I first decided to trace my roots based on the results of my DNA test, I didn’t know what to expect. Knowing a bit of the history of the Caribbean where my family is from, and a fair share of African-American history, I had an idea that my results would point mostly to West Africa, a region that I had not yet visited. But even more exciting, was that my results were led by two countries that I had vaguely heard of before but didn’t know much about – Benin and Togo.
I documented my trip to Benin and Togo as the first episodes in my docu-series, Heritage Journey, where I’m diving head first into the culture, history and present-day lifestyle of the countries that I have ancestral ties to. Hanging with locals at beaches, bars, markets and restaurants, learning about African kings and queens, traditional religions like voodoo and so many untold stories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. These first two videos set the tone for this journey I’m embarking on to uncover my history and learn first-hand about the land that my ancestors were taken from. It’s a “journey” in terms of travel and culture, but also an internal journey of self-discovery.
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Here are three things I learned while starting my Heritage Journey, connecting with my ancestors based on DNA test results:
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Embrace the unknown
Whether through stories told from elders in your family, or assumptions based on your studies or facial/body features, you may have expectations in mind about where you’re from before you take a DNA test. I was told by some family that most of my maternal side was from Senegal, which turned out to be under 2% of my actual makeup according to my results. So I suggest taking a DNA test with an open mind and also the understanding that results are not finite and become more accurate with time and the more samples they receive.
Learning your history is empowering
In the United States we learn so much about White American and European history in our formal education but very little about African history and Black history before slavery. Even regarding our education on slavery, it’s limited and one sided. Taking this initial trip, I learned more about Black history than in all of my years of education. I couldn’t believe how many stories are untold on a large scale. Also, standing in slave quarters was equally inspiring as it was saddening. I didn’t anticipate the latter feeling. But you can’t help but think of how far we’ve come.
Be prepared for critical, emotional and spiritual challenges
For most Black people in the diaspora whose families didn’t willingly migrate from Africa, our history and the facts about the slave trade are complex and layered. It’s not as easy as being sad and mad at the Europeans who came in and conquered land and took our ancestors. You are forced to think about the Africans who worked with the Europeans in the slave trade, how Black people in the Caribbean, Americas and Europe are often so exclusive and marginalized yet we are literally all from the same place and time, and the intersectionality of religion and slavery – namely how Christianity was used to control Africans and how traditional African religions were belittled and demeaned. There was a church in the middle of every slave fort as mass was in order while Africans were being tortured just feet away. I still have yet to fully digest that.
There is so much more to share and yet to be discovered. But as you see in part two of my documentary above, my hope is that every Black person in the diaspora takes and intentional trip, a Heritage Journey, to unlock their history, connect with their roots and rebuild the bridge to present day Africa. After all, we are one people.
To follow Rondel’s Heritage Journey series in 2019 as he continues to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Congo, United Kingdom, Grenada, Jamaica and more, stay connected via his social media: @KingRonTheDon @SoulSociety
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