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The non-European admixture in Afrikaners

About seven years ago I got my hands on some white South African individuals from the Family Tree DNA database. It was immediately clear that a subset of them had clear and consistent non-European ancestry. More precisely, this ancestry was a mix of African and Asian. In contrast, some of the other white South Africans were Ashkenazi Jews, and others seemed to be English with no African ancestry.

Last year the paper, Patterns of African and Asian admixture in the Afrikaner population of South Africa, investigated the issue thoroughly. The authors investigated 77 Afrikaners on high density chips, and they found ubiquitous ancestry from non-European population groups:

1) Likely Khoi ancestry related to the ǂKhomani
2) Sub-Saharan African ancestry, but closer West Africans and even East Africans than neighboring Bantu
3) Indian ancestry
4) East Asian ancestry

The East Asian ancestry is almost certainly from what is today Indonesia. The ubiquity of Indian slaves in the 17th century should make #3 unsurprising. And the Khoi people were indigenous to the Cape when the Dutch arrived.

The second component is harder to parse. But, it seems that the arrival of a few external slave ships was critical. The non-European admixture into the Afrikaners dates to the earliest period of settlement, not to later centuries when there was much more ubiquitous contact with Bantu-speaking populations. By then the whites were endogamous. Or, the mixed offspring were being assimilated into the Coloured community, rather than into the whites.

Curiously, the European ancestry of the Afrikaners was not subject to a strong bottleneck. Perhaps this is due to the heterogeneity of its source? Dutch, French Huguenots, and Germans, all played a role.*

* Not an apples-to-apples comparison, but it is clear that self-identified non-Hispanic whites of European heritage have a much lower proportion of non-European ancestry than Afrikaners.

9 thoughts on “The non-European admixture in Afrikaners

  1. Early marriages of white males to freed slave girls from Guinea and Angola (as well as Asia) are well documented in the parish books. It was harder for the genealogists to come in terms with the Khoe San ancestry because there is virtually no record of such marriages in the same books.

  2. The marriage of whites with Bushmen/Hottentot happened through trekboere. That is a portion of the Afrikaner that were at the forfront of the border but not organised like the great trek.The neares parish records were probably 200k away. KhoiSan by the way literally means racist men(others are not human)eg Khoi thieves and murdererseg San. The khoi did not think highly of Bushmen but very highly of themselves

  3. The West and East African ancestry could also have been introduced by people who served in Dutch trading posts on the African coast. Early WIC personnel there married locally. Also, the VOC picked up personnel from the African coast to make up for the immense loss of Europeans during travel to the East Indies. The Cape Colony was an VOC endeavour.

  4. I am a white English South African with the mtDNA haplotype L3d1a1a, which is an East African lineage.

    When I did genetic ancestry testing I already knew that there was some Cape Coloured ancestry in my maternal grandmother’s family. My results showed 1% East African and 3% South Asian.

    Later I convinced my mother to test. She is 6% South Asian, 4% Arabian Peninsula, 4% Central Asian, 3% Southern African Bantu and 1% East African. Surpringly, no SE Asian or Khoisan.

  5. The paper suggests that the local African (“Khoi San”) ancestry is largely not mediated by the Trekboere; their conclusion is that in such marriages, the local African brides were euphemistically called “van de Kaap”, “from the Cape”, and that the meaning of this category has been lost, or hidden, from the contemporary genealogists. But the fraction of such marriages is comparable to the median fraction of old Khoi/San-like ancestry in the Afrikaners. Of course there are occasional outliers with higher African ancestry, since a low-level intermarriage continued well into early XX century, when it required a difficult official process of reclassification of a Colored bride as White. I know a South African whose grandmother was reclassified in the 1920s; their parish petitioned for reclassification, and the family stayed in touch with their Colored cousins through the Apartheid years, although the exact nature of the relation was often hidden from the younger generation “for their own safety”

  6. This is an interesting contrast to non-Hispanic whites in the USA, who have very very little to no non-European ancestry.

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