12 March, 2008 | 6 comments | Category: ethnicity, I.dentity, peace & conflict
(…a tangential continuation of a piece on the rightful owners of ethiopia…)
Ethnic groups bicker about their entitlement to a state, their rightful ownership of land, their rightful access to opportunities, their ownership of history, intellectual property…At the root of these ethnic conflicts, individuals ascribing to ethnic group membership feel deep grievances at being denied what they feel entitlement toward.
The hutu felt entitled to the land and resources they had been denied for years. Kenyans are recently fighting over issues of land entitlement . Chechniyans claim to be the first inhabitants of Europe and thus rightful owners of the land. The Oromo claim to be the original inhabitants of the Ethiopian plains and furrows. The inhabitants of the Basque Country make the same claim about being the first Europeans…ever! Many of these groups are pulling out the secession card. Typically, a seemingly never-ending battle is waged between:
the settlers vs. the natives. ‘I got here first, I have the right to the resource.’
These type of arguments are waged across the world in many conflicts of identity. The claims and bickering seem infinitesimal because…history does not recount the past to exact precisions, and there have been migrations, intermarriages for thousands of years. Legends and stories of ancestors wade in the consciousness of current groups – written records, oral traditions, folktales, art, books, media…Claims… Different groups write different tales to gain validation – they selectively forget parts of history.
Here is the hole:
History is not the past. And bickerings would continue.
Here is the news:
New technologies would drastically change all of this by reading the past!
Nowadays the likes of genetic technology are allowing us to read the PAST. Can you believe it? The recent unveiling of the origin of human migration in the vicinities of Addis Ababa is a testament to the power of the scientific advances. Now, bio-historic books built from variation within genes (aka SNPS) are becoming open access. By tracking SNPs in different populations across the world we can track migration, make the bridge between history and biology solid!
I can’t begin to imagine the political connotations, the many proclamations of entitlement that are sure to ensue! This is going to be beyond regular levels of curiosity- It is going to be big! What could it mean? A typical reading of our past would come fresh out of the sequencing machine in this format:
“Genetically, in terms of Y-chromosomes and Mt-DNA, inhabitants of Britain and Ireland are closely related to the Basques, reflecting their common origin in this refugial area. Basques, along with Irish, show the highest frequency of the Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup R1b in Western Europe; some 95% of native Basque men have this haplogroup. The rest is mainly I and a minimal presense of E3b. The Y-chromosome and MtDNA relationship between Basques and people of Ireland and Wales is of equal ratios than to neighbouring areas of Spain, where similar ethnically “Spanish” people now live in close proximity to the Basques, although this genetic relationship is also very strong among Basques and other Spaniards. In fact, as Stephen Oppenheimer has stated in The Origins of the British (2006), although Basques have been more isolated than other Iberians, they are a population representative of south western Europe.
How is this going to change the the fight between the settler and the native? And how will that shape ethnic conflicts which have comprised the large majority of all the conflicts that have taken place since the 90ies??
Your call is as good as mine…But I am beyond hooked, waiting for the next developments!
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6 comments to “no more historybooks, ever?: Ethnic Genetics”
[...] hear the sound of clashes? contradictions? or mere trombones ringing in the history books? [...]
nyalasmoke, June 10th, 2008 at 11:16 am:
great post! it seems very likely that this question will rage on until the end of humanity. Anyways we were having a similar discussion at the ethio-history class at Sankofa started by some motivated dudes… we reached a conclusion the further back you look not only does the story get murkier the definition of things/words that give a grasp on reality retrospectively can mean something all together different or might have no meaning at all.
Like take the concept of national boarders. It is something us modern ppl understand us something concrete but in reality it is entirely imaginary. It is an agreement between the ppl that defines spaces. Without that agreement the boards do not exist. Therefore the concept itself is pure abstraction that we all brainwashed to recognize as something real/physical. But how ridiculous may that seem to nomadic ppl who feel land is something with no bounds just like air. Nor do animals, the wind and the rivers that recognize no such mentally fabricated fences. That is one explanation that the natives ppl of North America warmly received and shared their lands with the devious and territorial Europeans to sad result (for the natives that is).
But ultimately the need to draw them arise from the scarcity of resources. and as populations continues to grow and resources continue to dwindle those conflicts will surely grow worse, and boarders will continue to be re-drawn and ethnicity will be one factor out of many that will contribute to the redesigning of maps. But I don’t see how these DNA studies will help but compound the situation. It will be one more tool to be selectively used to confirm human arrogance that we are more significant than all other things that are different from us.
thanks for the visit nyala and the insightful, thoughtful comment! come again
regarding the point you made about borders continuing to be drawn, i think it will be interesting to see what happens…Though I doubt we can predict that with a lot of precision. I think conflicts will continue with regards to identity. But when it comes to borders, I suspect the dynamic is different now in the age of information and globalization…. Distances, space and resources are seen differently. I think space as a bouty of resources will continue to be underminded by intellectual and industrial resource (outside of the 3rd world that is) consider singapore for instance – tiny country with a ton of potential!
nyalasmoke, June 18th, 2008 at 1:45 pm:
Yeah the next evolution of the idea of property, ownership, limitations, boarders etc should be interesting in light of all the growing challenges that accompanies finite resource for an ever growing population.
By the way, last night, after watching a great documentary entitled , “Journey of Man.” Here is the Youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV6A8oGtPc4
I am here to take back my last statements in my previous post. Study of DNA might turn out to be helpful after all. According to this geneticist Dr. Spencer Wells, through DNA analysis he claims that all human being alive today are descendants of a small band of Africans who migrated out of Africa (maybe from near Addis Abeba, as the article u posted) some 50,000 yrs ago actually he goes further and claims that all humans alive today are direct descends of a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 yrs ago — what they call the Y-chromosomal Adam… I am not into biology but this some fascinating stuff. To be simplistic, maybe genetics might help us understanding that we are all related and with that we can argue that we have to share this planet well amongst ourselves. No human can be more significant than another…. that just reminded me… historically kings and conquerers did what they did claiming divine right to maintain their dominion over others. (Like Alexander the great claiming to be descendant of Achilles and Zeus, while Ethiopian kings claiming relation to King Solomon etc…) It turn our ancestor was a simple hunter gatherer nomad who wondered around the glob searching of food.
gin I have a question for u, is there a similar study about us, the current inhabitants of Ethiopia. Are we descendants of ppl who stayed behind or of ppl who went and came back?
You have a good point. This article illustrates your point. But, its a matter of perspective isn’t it? Regardless of whether we are from one descendant or not (this has been common scientific knowledge for many years now) the main issue is going to be the migration trends. After all, who really goes after the myths to legislate power anymore?
It will be a question of who was where first, who can claim a certain land or resource. The research then has the ability to be argued and used for ‘turf fighting’ just like historic records can be. Because, really how precise is the research going to get? There are no absolutes in this as well. An Afar clan may find connections with a Fulani tribe in western africa, but then the Fulani tribe may be found to have migrated from the regions of morocco. How far back are going to go? where will you find a static ‘origin’ for any group? How to define a ‘group’? especially when its known that the ”African genome pool” is the most diverse one compared to other ‘races’? So it can easily be more fuel for the fire than a solution, imo.
bout your question: as far as I am aware, these studies of tracing Ethiopian lineage are not being conducted for different groups within Ethiopia. There may be be some scattered sampling I am not aware of but the larger HapMap project which was collecting variation within the human genome from different regions got samples from Japan, United Kingdom, Canada, China, Nigeria (Yorouba tribe), and the United States. It is not impossible to do this research for Ethiopian groups because only the sampling needs to be done in Ethio then brought to labs within the “developed” world to do the sequencing of DNA (cos I’m very certain there are no sequencing plants in Ethiopia). Though, it would be difficult to do scientifically viable sampling within Ethiopia if funding comes from US or EU because, there are ethical/legal issues regarding correct sampling that would be stipulated: volunteer ‘consent’, legal definitions of scientific samples in Ethiopia, legislation protecting against ‘abuse’/bad sampling practices, consistent sampling protocol use etc. Plus, we need all the Ethiopian and African Geneticists to step UP and apply for grants to do this sort of work!! Also the obvious questions: do we have the interest level, and the resource for this kind of sampling from Ethiopia? Or the interest of research labs/sequencing centers in EU/US to do this? What would their payoff be? If they can find a more accommodating scientific environment anywhere in the world, why would they pick Ethiopia? I don’t know, unless someone decides to start solving ethnic disputes using genetic data. lol
The larger human genome hap-map project got samples from populations in the Yorouba tribe of Nigeria within Africa primarily because of a pioneer amongst his peers – A nigerian american man who is respected in the field of human genetics (Charles Rotimi). He’s just recently started the African Society of Human Genetics. . He is now heading up a ‘Center for Genomics and Health Disparities’ within the National Institutes of Health so we might be seeing some good progress in the future! …I hope…
nyalasmoke, June 20th, 2008 at 3:26 pm:
Yes u are right, anything can pretty much be used to add fuel to the fire, but what this Spencer dude is arguing I suppose is as responsible scientists/citizens etc we have to stress the part that gives us common grounds. We have to use science, history or for that matter myth to bring us together and to promote our common interests. This idea of this shared gentic ancestory might have been common scientific knowledge for many years but is yet to be in the general lexicon. In other words, it is not advertised/publicized/discussed enough. So maybe if more ppl are aware of that fact, is it too much of a fantasy to hope that the world would be better? But u are right again, there are no absolutes in this genetic narrative.
Thanx for the info, Hapman etc, I will try to check em out..
BTW I found out that this same dude is now heading the Genographic project at National Geographics. They are collecting sample from all over the world. And the nice thing about is that anyone can participate. U can submit your dna sample and contribute to the scientific study and u also get a trace of your ancestral “genographic” map. I am trying to get over my privacy paranoia and I am considering submitting a sample. Here is the website.