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West Asian Ancestry in Knanaya greater than “Nasrani” which is greater than Mappila

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unsupervised

Since I last blogged about the Knanaya Christians of Kerala my collaborator has gotten me more samples from this southern state. I decided to look at all the Knanaya (I’m nearly 20 samples now), the 5 Nasrani I have, and 2 Nairs and 2 Mappila.

I’m running some more detailed analyses, but I thought I would pass on what I’ve found out so far. You can see in the PCA and in the unsupervised admixture plot to the right and the supervised plot to the left that Knanaya are enriched for West Asian ancestry. I included Yemeni Jews since they are one end of the “pole.” The Middle Eastern ancestry of the Knanaya are likely to be Semitic, not Iran. These results confirm it.

supervised

The Nasrani samples I have also show this pattern. But it is attenuated. Finally, the two Mappila, Muslims from Kerala, do not show a shift at all. The two Nair are in the same place as South Indian Brahmins. This is likely the consequence of sambandam.

All that being said, I feel that the Kerala populations as a whole are often “west-shifted.” Why? My hunch is that the seaborn trade with the “west” was long-standing and pretty extensive.

Finally, I’m always struck by how some North Indian groups have more “steppe” ancestry than Iranians.

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23 thoughts on “West Asian Ancestry in Knanaya greater than “Nasrani” which is greater than Mappila

  1. Are the Kshatriya samples in the figures those of Malayali Kshatriyas?

  2. “Nasrani” is a Quranic term. Knanaya is pure Syriac, meaning “from Canaan” like Pankaye means “from Panek”. The Knanaya held their own name rather than submitting to getting one foisted upon them.

    This and the genetics suggest that the Knanaya got there first, in greater numbers, with more power.

  3. “This is likely the consequence of sambandam.” Per the link, this form of informal marriage had all but ended ca. 1930.

    But, that isn’t all that long ago, something middle aged people’s grandparents would have done. How do people feel about it today?

    The link suggests that the fathers provided little economic support to the family. Was that something made possible by substantial income from property?

  4. @Ohwilleke

    Nair society was matrilineal and matrilocal, so the upbringing of children was conducted by maternal uncles, not their biological fathers.

    It is a complex issue even today. My great-great Grandfather was a Kerala Iyer. He had his official Brahmin wife, but also a relationship with a Nair woman, with whom he had several children.

    Depending on who you ask in my family, the Nair woman is alternately described as a secondary consort, concubine (though she had her own household), or mistress.

    Similarly the view of my Grandfather ranges from “he has a weakness for women” and some moral disapproval, all the way to “this was what was done” and him being virtually absolved.

  5. Glad to see more data about my community. I didn’t think we Nasranis would have any Middle Eastern ancestry just like we don’t have any Brahmin ancestry. I was of the opinion that these exotic origin stories were used to hide our lower caste ancestry. But maybe I am wrong.

  6. I was of the opinion that these exotic origin stories were used to hide our lower caste ancestry.

    yeah, the stories seem true. perhaps not all nasranis. but a lot have western-shift. and it’s toward southern midwest, not iran or central asia

  7. @Harry Jecs

    “Glad to see more data about my community. I didn’t think we Nasranis would have any Middle Eastern ancestry just like we don’t have any Brahmin ancestry. I was of the opinion that these exotic origin stories were used to hide our lower caste ancestry. But maybe I am wrong.”

    My family maybe different from yours (and I’m not sure how recent they started thinking this) have always told me, we were a mix of different castes in Kerala, including brahmins, nairs as well as those deemed “lower castes”, and also we had “syriac” ancestry as well. I’m Nasrani (not Knanaya) and according to 23&me more fine graining of ancestry results, I’m:

    68% Malayalee subgroup (based on the malayalee christians in the US)
    12 % Southern Indian & Sri Lankan
    8.4% Southern Indian Subgroup (southern indian brahmins).

    The last one, Southern Indian Subgroup is based on people in the USA that said they were from south india and say they are brahmin. I think Razib had a previous article as well where he said there was a little shift towards brahmins as well. So the problem with our community is that quite a few of them were claiming exclusive brahmin ancestry, or exclusive “upper caste” ancestry that is incorrect (One of the orthodox thirumenis recently exasperatedly chastised his flock for this lie). Genetics has shown though there was a contribution of so called “brahmin” ancestry, but it is only a very small part of our overall ancestry. On the other hand there were those that were claiming exclusive Jewish ancestries as well, which also turned out be false or a very miniscule ancestry if any. Thanks to Razib and other geneticists we get a clearer picture of historical populations and get a better understanding of part if not the whole story.

  8. @JJ

    I was told that Saint Thomas came to India in AD 52 and converted seven Brahmin families and all the Nasranis are descended from those families. This is the story I have heard from both my paternal(Orthodox) and maternal(Protestant) side of the family. They told the same story in my church so it seems widespread. I have never heard anyone in real life talk about the Middle Eastern/Jewish ancestry, only online.

    But it is interesting to see your genetic results. I thought it would be a waste for us Indians because it would say 100% Indian and not break it down further. Maybe I should take it. Also if you don’t mind me asking what are your haplogroups?

  9. @Razib
    ““Malayalee subgroup ” masks the reality of mideast shift tho”

    Really?! That is so interesting, I had no idea the “Malayalee subgroup” might contain any other ancestries, other than local origin. I didn’t mention it but my ancestry report also mentioned 0.2% “Broadly Western Asian & North African” trace ancestry so I just assumed that what you were referring to has “western shifted”, did not realize there might be more than that. Thanks Razib!

  10. @Harry Jecs

    Yes, I heard the same stories about St. Thomas, but my family, never told me we are “brahmins” or “Jews”, my mom always told me we were a mix or should be mix of all communities, according to the biblical adage of “No Jew or Greek”. She did also tell us that “Persian”/”Syriac” christians came and formed a connection with the original St. Thomas christians. One of the Nasrani folktales about Kadamathu Kathanar talk of him learning his “magic” or special knowledge from a “Persian” bishop or priest, my memory escapes me now.

    “I thought it would be a waste for us Indians because it would say 100% Indian and not break it down further. Maybe I should take it. Also if you don’t mind me asking what are your haplogroups?”

    It seemed a lot of malayalees, especially christian background in the USA are on 23andme, which is how they were able to come up with the “Malayalee subgroup”. Initially 23&me would give only a generic 99% south asian ancestry. It’s changed and now they seemed to have updated the ancestry reports as they acquired the capabilities and continued to delve down into the ancestries of their participants.

    My paternal haplogroup is “R-M512” on 23&me, and my maternal haplogroup is “M3” which is ancient south asian, AASI ancestors most definitely.

  11. I have a friend from Thrissur with mtDNA haplogroup H20. I am curious how it ended up in Kerala, did some traders from the west bring their wives with them? Or did it arrive earlier. I think the friends family are nambudiri not kerala christians. My mediocre google skills did not turn up any helpful papers to answer this question

  12. @JJ

    R-M512 could indicate that you are descended from Brahmins. The maternal line is most like AASI. The Middle Eastern ancestry we might have would also be male mediated.

    But yeah I remember watching a tv serial about Kadamatathu Kathanar as a kid in the early 2000s. I was really scared of the “yakshis” in that show. I imagine the Persian priest and the “historical” Kathanar were actually Nestorians even though the show portrayed him as Catholic. Its a shame that very few people in our community know that Nasranis were actually Nestorians prior to 1500s. I don’t think much academic research has been conducted on Nasrani history either. If you know any good books/sources let me know.

  13. @ VS

    That is quite strange. But in the story of Thomas of Cana, he came with his wife so that might indicate a few Middle Eastern women might have come over.

  14. I don’t think Iranians have 20% steppe ancestry. Probably 10% or less (They score about 5-6% Northern European usually). Its kind of crazy how little steppe ancestry they have given they not only saw migrations from Andronovo but likely Yamnaya (http://eurogenes.blogspot.com/2018/06/a-potentially-violent-end-to-kura.html) as indicated the frequency of R1b-Z2103 in Northern/Northwest Iran and obviously the Hajji Firuz sample. I’m also not buying the idea that Arab and Turkic invasions changed the genetics of Iran. Or the idea that Indians only have high steppe because of later Scythian Invasions given that compared to Sintashta/Andronovo Scythians seemed to have more R1b among them as well as an East Asian shift that doesn’t occur in Indians with high steppe ancestry.

  15. Knanaya Christians are extremely endogamous. I think the west asian ancestry could also be due to a strong founder effect. In fact, genetic counseling is common in the community.

    This is personal experience as a Nasrani, but Knanaya Christian men tend to be very tribal, violent, and large.

  16. Interesting!

    Would love to know the genetic composition of Nasranis! There is an age-old tradition which states that St Thomas came to Kerala (heavily criticised from within and outside the community) and cherry-picked Brahmins for conversion! The same too is widely disputed. This assertion can be seen from songs like Rabban Pattu ( at least dated to 1601 AD ) which expresses the self-identity of Nasranis! The song mentions the conversion of 6,850 brahmins,2590 kshatriyas and 3780 vaishyas ( No jews). This was the widely circulated historical version till 20th century. Almost all Nasrani historical books mentioned the same. (I was even taught the same for catechism). From the beginning of 20th century, with wide criticism on Brahmin conversion, a new narrative of Jewish conversion was formulated! I believe Cheeran( a Kerala orthodox historian) was the first one to make this hypothesis! ( his reason being brahmins were mistaken for jews ). Now everybody seems to believe that Nasranis are Jewish converts!

    Can you run Nasrani samples against a more robust Nair and Ezhava samples? I believe Nasranis might be more connected to them!

  17. @Harry Jecs

    “Its a shame that very few people in our community know that Nasranis were actually Nestorians prior to 1500s. I don’t think much academic research has been conducted on Nasrani history either. If you know any good books/sources let me know.”

    Yes it’s a shame that more of this history is not known, it really fascinating.

    There didn’t seem to be much research done on history of St. Thomas christians until recently, one of the 1st books I have found on the subject was:

    The Christians of Kerala: History, Belief and Ritual among the Yakoba by Susan Visvanathan

    This was fascinating in examining some of the roles of St. Thomas
    christians in Kerala society and what their lives were like
    living in the various kingdoms there. Basically it seemed she
    collected different family historical memories and sifted through
    them to try to get a glimpse into the past.

    One of the best scholarly works I come across, one Razib has recommended on this blog before:

    Lost Christianities by Philip Jenkins

    This book really opened my eyes to how old and how extensive the
    Nestorian church was in Asia. There are quite a few interesting
    stories. One of how the Patriarch Timothy writing in a letter about
    Indian “numbers”. Another is of a Indian buddhist monk (who I think
    was from South India, maybe even Kerala?) getting help to translate
    buddhist sutras into Mandrain(?) from a Nestorian priest Alopen in
    China which might of added a “christian” flavour, and these copies
    were what was taken to Japan and possibly formed the foundation of
    Zen Buddhism. This book also talk about the St. Thomas christians,
    and if memory serves correctly talks about nestorian graveyards in
    central asia with Indian nestorians buried there.

    Also just on the website academia.edu, website where all sorts of articles can be searched, I found quite a few talking about different aspects history related to Kerala christians, from the trade network with the middle east to different cultural practices. They sometimes makes for interesting reads.

    Those few are what come to mind, but I know there are more than that, let me know if you come across any others.

  18. @ JJ

    Thanks for the suggestions. Lost Christianities seems like a very interesting book. I will check it out.

  19. @Harry Jecs

    My apologies, one correction, it’s not Lost Christianities, it’s: The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died by Philip Jenkins

    Razib has it correct on this book list, great book highly recommend.

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