Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Ancestors from St. Helena, La to Niger, West Africa

Antoinette Harrell in Ingall, West Africa
 Sitting at home and gazing out of the window, I found myself reflecting on my ancestral trip to Niger, West Africa. I asked myself today, what is so special about this moment that reminded me of Niger, West Africa? A country that is landlocked in Western Africa, and named after the Niger River. The Sahara desert covers eighty percent of the land area.  Niger is surrounded by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. Niger was colonized by the French and gained it independence from France in 1960.

 After spending several years conducting genealogy research in Tangipahoa and St. Helena, I ran into a brick wall and I couldn’t go any further, that's when I turned to African Ancestry for their help.  I was hoping that their records would lead me to some knowledge of where my maternal female ancestors came from. “The chances of me finding the records were slim to none.”  I took the African Ancestry DNA test on July 4th in Kentwood while visiting with friends. I waited patiently for my test results to come back. Three weeks later—I received my test results and found that my maternal lineage matched with the Tuareg people in Niger.
Moussa Albaka and Antoinette Harrell
The Tuaregs are nomadic people who were the first inhabitants of the Sahara region.   The Tuareg, Fulani and Hausa people established themselves in the region that is now called Niger.  In the hot summer of 2004, I set out on my maternal ancestral expedition. I wanted to explore Niger to learn about the people, history and culture— in the two short weeks I was there. 

The first day I arrived in Niamey, the family of Moussa Albaka, greeted me with opened arms and lots of hugs.  I did not feel like a stranger in a land that maternally connected to.   Moussa and the governor of Niger, appointed a translator to help me communicated with the people. French is the official language of Niger. The following day, the governor made arrangements for me to come to his office for a history lesson about Niger, the people and culture. 
The Niger River

The Governor and Moussa arranged for me to travel to nine regions in Niger. Ingall and Agadez were two of the main regions I visited. The region where the annual Cure Salee festival of Tuareg and Wodaabe celebrate the end of the rainy season every September.  This festival attracts thousands of nomads, officials, and tourists every year. 

One of the main attractions in Ingall are the paleontological digs and the remains of Petrified Forest dating back 135 million years. Jobaria tiguidensis was a genus of sauropod dinosaur that lived in the current day Niger during the middle Jurassic period. The native people of Ingall greeted me with; songs of welcome home long lost daughter, the sound of Tuareg music, food, dance and conversation.  The people of Ingall and Agadez are beautiful people.  The Governor arranged for the Wodaabe men to give me a concert. The very men I saw on National Geographic mesmerized me.  This was one of the fascinating travel experiences I’ve had.