Little is known of the ancestry of Africans pulled into the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but a new website, launched at Emory University in the United States this week, aims to change that.
The African-Origins website provides a rare glimpse of the identities of Africans aboard early nineteenth-century slaving vessels, and through this information, the possibility of tracing the origins of millions of other Africans forcibly transported to the Americas. Public participation will be critical to piecing together this missing history.
According to a statement volunteer assistance is needed from Africans, African Diaspora and scholars.
Visitors to African-Origins can search an online database of Africans liberated from slaving vessels, with such details as gender, age, African port of departure, and, most importantly, an African name. 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.
Scholars are now looking for help in identifying the modern counterparts of these names and the languages and ethnicities with which they are likely associated. Through the African-Origins website, those with knowledge of African languages and cultural naming practices can suggest these links. By taking a few minutes to search and listen for familiar names and contribute a modern counterpart, language, and ethnic group, members of the public can help identify the language, ethnic and geographic origins of people listed in these registers, and subsequently the likely origins of millions of other unnamed Africans enslaved during this period.
With these insights, scholars serving as editors of the database can consider the range of possible languages and groups affiliated with a name alongside historical research of peoples’ locations and movements across Africa. As contributions are received and analyzed, new information will be added to the African-Origins database on the likely language and ethnicity of each individual. Visitors to the site will eventually be able to search for Africans by linguistic group and view maps of the historical locations of people pulled into the trans-Atlantic slave trade.