I just recently heard that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was being made into a film. This perplexed me because I thought there was a film adaptation of that novel! Yes, there was, but that was a Swedish production, and the new film is “made in America.” Fair enough.
What does this have to do with this weblog? The actress who plays the protagonist in the Swedish film, Noomi Rapace, had a father who was a Gitano, a Spanish Romani (the term “Roma” is really an ethnonym for the eastern Romani). In case you don’t know, the Romani language is clearly Indo-Aryan. Its closeness to Indo-Aryan dialects of the Indian subcontinent is such that the story goes that Indian sailors who were stationed in Britain overheard, and understood, much of the conversation of local British Gypsies.
The origin of this population in the Indian subcontinent is evident through multiple lines of inquiry. Both in terms of culture, and genetics. Most of the genetic results focus on paternal and maternal lineages, but some “genome bloggers” have obtained samples from people with Roma background, and they clearly have distinctive South Asian ancestry. Because of intermarriage obviously this is not always visibly salient. How many people are aware that Charlie Chaplin was 1/4 Romanichal?But this post isn’t about Romani, but another group of brown folk who have forgotten about being brown. I’m talking about the Cape Coloureds of South Africa. It is well known that this population has ancestry form local Africans, whether Khoisan or Bantu, as well as a Northern European heritage shared with Afrikaners (culturally they are somewhat interchangeable with their Afrikaner “cousins” in language and religion). Often there is also an awareness that the Cape Coloureds have some Southeast Asian ancestry, because of the ubiquity of slaves and servants from this region of the world across the Dutch colonial empire (e.g., Suriname), as well as the existence of the Cape Malays.
But what about the Indian ancestors of the Cape Coloureds? This is not so well known, despite the fact that the Dutch brought many Indian servants and slaves to South Africa as well. Simon van der Stel, the first governor of the Cape Colony and for whom the city of Stellenbosch is named, had a maternal grandmother who was an enslaved Indian.
A few years ago a paper came out which quantified the extent of Indian ancestry in a set of 20 Cape Coloureds. It looks to be about ~10 percent. More recently I obtained 3 samples of Cape Coloured origin (unrelated). I “ran” them through the program ADMIXTURE. My results were in line with what the earlier team had found. I used my “Gujarati_B” reference sample, which seems to be Patels, to explore for any South Asian ancestry. I also compared the Cape Coloureds to Chinese, a set of San (Bushmen), Bantu Africans, and white Americans, and Yemeni Jews. The Cape Coloureds had contributions from all the groups. The Chinese are a reasonable proxy for Southeast Asians on a continental scale. South Asian ancestry for the Cape Coloureds was clearly outside of the margin of error. The fact that it was approximately the same in all three individuals suggests that it this absorption of Indian ancestry occurred early on in the ethnogenesis of the community, as there is not much intra-population variance..
Cape Coloureds are 8.8% of South African’s population. Indians are 2.6%. Assuming that Cape Coloureds are ~10% Indian, one can infer that around ~1/3 of the distinctive South Asian ancestry among South Africans is actually not within the enumerated Indian population.
This is to some extent all ancient history, though I suspect people will find it moderately interesting. But, it perhaps points us to possibilities in the global future, as identities, self-conceptions, are mixed & matched, and combinations generate novel startling configurations.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons