The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Genetics and identity: ethnogenesis in a Jamaican Maroon community


1Department of Anthropology, University of Notre Dame, 2Department of Physics, University of Notre Dame

Thursday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

In this study, the biological relationship between an ethnic minority, Accompong Maroons, and majority Jamaican population are accessed using genetic data. Accompong Maroons reside within St. Elizabeth parish in western Jamaica. They are the descendants of the island’s indigenous population, known as Taíno and escaped enslaved Africans. Due to their physical location in the hinterlands of the island and a series of wars with the British, the Maroons developed into an isolated semi-autonomous community on the outskirts of colonial society. This isolation seeded the beginnings of a subpopulation with distinct linguistic and cultural traits, and land inheritance patterns that differed from the larger population. With the abolition of slavery in 1834, isolation became less of a factor and inter-marriage between Maroons and other Jamaicans occurred. According to 19th century ethnohistorians, Maroons appeared both culturally and phenotypically different than the general Jamaican population. These distinctions, however, were not visible to later researchers. In spite of such assertions, Maroon identity remains strong within the community reinforced by annual rituals and access to un-taxed land.

To address the question of Maroon distinctiveness, the CODIS panel was genotyped in a sample of 53 Accompong residents and compared to other Caribbean populations. Summary statistics and multidimensional scaling plots based on genetic distances indicate that the Accompong Maroons are not distinct from other Caribbean populations. Though further studies are needed to corroborate these findings, this study contributes to the general body of knowledge regarding the process of ethnogenesis as it occurred in the Americas.

This project was funded with an Annual Pilot Grant for Social Science Research supported by the Institute of Scholarship and Learning, College of Arts and Letters at the University of Notre Dame. Additional support was received from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and the Balfour Hesburgh Schoalrs Program in conjunction with the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement also at the University of Notre Dame.

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