Where in pre-colonial Africa are African Americans from?

The vast majority of Africans in bondage were imported to North America from seven general regions of Africa. The list below includes the region name, estimated percentage of Africans from each region, and location description based on current day national borders:

  1. Senegambia-15% (coast between present day Senegal and Gambia)
  2. Sierra Leone/Winward Coast-16% (most of present day Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast)
  3. Gold Coast-13% (most of present day Ghana)
  4. Bight of Benin-5% (Togo, Benin, and southwestern Nigeria)
  5. Bight of Biafra-24% (most of present day Nigeria and Cameroon)
  6. West Central Africa-26% (present day Congo, Zaire, Angola, Namibia)
  7. Mozambique–Madagascar Swahili States/Southeast Africa (not included in below map)-2%

Senegambia (15%)
Senegambia includes that stretch of coast encompassing the present day nations of Senegal and Gambia.  Captives from as far away as the upper and middle Niger valleys (present day Niger and Mali) were transported from this coast. Senegambia represented approximately 15% of All African captives transported to North America including: 17 to 19% of the captives sold in South Carolina/Georgia15% that were sold in Virginia, and possibly 65% of those sold in Louisiana

City of Timbuktu of the ancient Mali Empire.
City of Timbuktu of the ancient Mali Empire.

Pre-colonial kingdoms of Senegambia include: 
Tichitt-Walata Civilization (2000 BC- 500 BC)
Ghana Empire (300-1200 CE)
Mali Empire (1235-1600 CE)
Songhai Empire (1464-1591 CE)
Mossi Kingdoms (11th century–1896 CE)
Jolof/Wolof Empire (1350-1889 CE)
Kingdom of Sine (14th-19th century CE)
Empire of Great Fulo (1490-1776 CE)
Kingdom of Saloum (1494-1969 CE)
Kaabu Empire (1537-1867 CE)
Kingdom of Cayor (1549-1879 CE)
Kingdom of Baol (1555-1874 CE)

Ethnic groups in Senegambia include:
The Mande ethnic branch known as Malinke/Mandinko/Mandingo and the non-Mende Wolof were mainly coastal populations. Further inland were other Mande ethnic groups such as the SereerFulbe/Fulani/FulaSoninke/Serrakole from the central and upper valleys of the Senegal River. Also the Mande groups of the Bambara and the Fulbe located even further inland in what is now Mali in the floodplain of the upper Niger river. 

Sierra Leone/Winward Coast (16%)
Sierra Leone, includes the territory from the Casamance to Assini, or what is now Guinea–Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Sierra Leone/Winward Coast represented approximately 16% of All African captives transported to North America including: 16 percent who went to South Carolina/Georgia and 12% of captives sent to Virginia.

Ethnic groups in Sierra Leone include:
Mande ethnic groups included the Malinke/Mandinko/MandingoSusuJallonke/YalunkaLokoKorankoVai, and Kono.  The closely related non-Mande were groups were Temne, Landuma, Bulom, Sherbro , and Krim. Other non Mende groups included the KissiGolaBaga, and Limba. And further inland the Fulbe/Fulani/Fula and Jallonke were also in this region.

Gold Coast (13%)
Adjoining Sierra Leone is the Gold Coast, occupying what is essentially contemporary Ghana. African captives from the Gold Coast represent approximately 13% of all African captives sold in North America including: 13% of captives sold in South Carolina, and 16% of captives sold in Virginia.

Ashanti Palace as depicted in 1819
Ashanti Palace as depicted in 1819

Pre-colonial kingdoms in the Gold Coast include:
Kingdom of Dagbon
 (1409- Ce?)
Mamprussi (16th century CE – ?)
Ashanti Empire (1701–1894 CE)
Kong Empire (1710–1894 CE)

Ethnic groups in the Gold Coast include:
The southern half of the Gold Coast was dominated by the Akan ethic groups which include: Asante/Ashanti, Akuapem and Akyem (together known as Twi), AgonaKwahuWassaFante (Fanti or Mfantse: Anomabo, Abura, Gomua) and Bono. Subgroups of the Bia-speaking groups include: the AnyinBaouléChakosi (Anufo), Sefwi (Sehwi), NzemaAhanta and Jwira-Pepesa. The Akan subgroups have cultural attributes in common, notably the tracing of descent, inheritance of property, and succession to high political office.

Bight of Benin (5%)
Further east the fourth region, the Bight of Benin, consists of what is now the nations of Togo, Benin, and southwestern Nigeria. African captives from the Bight of Benin represent approximately 5% of all African captives transported to North America including: 30% of the captives sold in Louisiana but not in significant numbers to other American ports. 

Original Benin Empire brass art looted by the British depicts three high ranking Benin officials during ceremony
Original Benin Empire brass art looted by the British depicts three high ranking Benin officials during ceremony

Pre-colonial kingdoms in Bight of Benin include:
Nok Culture (1,000 BC–300 CE)
Benin Empire (1180 CE–1897 CE)
Bonoman (11th–19th century CE)
Oyo Empire (1400–1895 CE)
Kingdom of Dahomey (1600–1900 CE)

Bight of Biafra (24%)
The Bight of Biafra is comprised contemporary southeastern Nigeria, Cameroon, and Gabon. African captives from the Bight of Biafra represent approximately 24-26% of All African Captives sold in North America including: 37%-40% of Africans sold in Virginia9% sold in Louisiana. and 2% sold in South Carolina/Georgia.

Pre-colonial kingdoms in Bight of Biafra include:
Sao Civilization
 (6th century BCE-16th century CE)
Kanem Empire (c. 700–1376)
Kingdom of Nri (948–1911 CE)
Bornu Empire (1380-1893 CE)
Sultanate of Bagirmi (1522-1897 CE)
Aro Confederacy (1690-1902 CE)

West Central Africa (26%)
includes Congo and Angola, and the. African captives from the West Central Africa represent approximately 40% of Africans sold in South Carolina, 16% – 17% sold in Virginia, and anywhere from 5% – 36% sold in Louisiana. Also more than 90% of those who came from West Central Africa to Louisiana were from Congo, whereas less than 10% percent were from Angola.

City of Louango the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo
City of Louango the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo

Pre-colonial kingdoms in West Central Africa  include:
Kingdom of Kongo (1400–1888 CE)
Kingdom of Ndongo (16th century-? CE)
Kingdom of Loango (1550- 1883 CE)
Kingdom of Matamba (1631-1744 CE)

Ethnic groups in West Central Africa include:
The Kongo/Bakongo/Kikongo speakers, founders of the kingdom of Kongo, include subgroups such as the Sundi, Bwende, Kamba, and Dondo, who can be further divided into the Mpangu, Ladi, Bembu, Kunyi, Yombe, Lumbu, Bussi, Puno, and Tsangui. Other ethnic groups in West Central Africa include the Bushoong, Ngunde, Pyaang, Bulaang, Bieeng, Ilebo, Idiing, Kaam, Ngongo, Kayuweeng, Kel, Shoowa, Bokila, Ngoombe, Maluk, Kete, Coofa, Cwa, Mbeengi, Leele, and the southern Mongo.

Mozambique–Madagascar (2%)
Mozambique–Madagascar, refers to the southern most region of the Swahili coast on the Indian Ocean in southeastern Africa. Captives from this region may have constituted only 2% of all African captives transported to North America including about 4% of Africans sold in Virginia.

Slave Trade Map
Bentley/Ziegler. Traditiona and Encounters: A Global Perspevtive on the Past.NY, McGraw Hill.

Sources: (1) The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (http://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates) accessed 8/3/16. (2) Gomez, Michael A.. Exchanging Our Country Marks: The Transformation of African Identities in the Colonial and Antebellum South (p. 141). The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition. (3) familysearch.org (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/African_American_Place_of_Origin) accessed 8/14/2016 (4)Dee Parmer Wootor’s comprehensive book Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African American Genealogy and Historical Identity, especially chapter 14, “The Last African and the First American” (New York: Random House, 1999). (5) Wikipedia (links, images, and some content that is linked to).


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