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Blacks, Nubians and New Guinea
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

I would like to ask you this, would you consider folks from New Guinea, Nubians and other East Africans, in fact Blacks? Do you think some Pan-African American groups are right to consider New Guineans & other groups "blacks" because of their physical features?

I have also read about the Portuguese presence In Ethiopia during the 15th & 16th centuries. I'm curious to know if they had intermixed with local women, especially Portuguese soldiers who were sent to fight for the Ethiopian emperor.

You seem to be using the term "Black" in some technical manner that assumes a clearly-definied category.  Do I consider them "Blacks"?  I'm not sure what you mean.  The question seems to entail a truism.  You seem to be distinguishing between "black" as a color and "Black" as some pre-defined category.

The question obviously comes up due to the dark tone of the skin of each of these groups you mention.  So, yes, the term "black" has been used to note their skin color.  But "Blacks"?  What does that mean?  What is the prior definition of such a category?

The common grouping of the various black people around the world into one group is considered by anthropologists to be a superficial and unreliable categorization.  Recent DNA comparative studies have confirmed that the lines of descent and kinship are more complicated than simple skin color indicates.  DNA comaprisons have shown that there are a number of genetic mecahnisms that determine or affect skin color.

Having relatively dark skin tone is no basis for grouping people together.  Look also at the character and range of "blackness" in human skin color, more gray, more charcoal shade, more reddish, more brownish-black – what is "Black"?  Some people are "blacker" than others.  The same thing applies to "White."  A general term.  Some people are "whiter" than others.  How "white" is "White"?

Not Definitive
The term "black" does not really tell us anything definitive about a people.  The term is undefinable beyond very general popular terms, and remains a relative term.  Saying some population is "black" does not tell us much.  Genetic studies in recent decades have confirmed that there are various genetic mechanisms that affect skin color.  Genes that primarily control other factors incidentally affect skin color.  I'd suggest some searches for technical sources reporting on this factor.

Not Similar
There is not much similarity in appearance between a Nubian and a New Guinean, or a Somali (who has generally "European" features) and a Kikuyu or Luhya.  Consider my article "Italians and Race," where I mention the Dravidian black people, whose facial features are like those of lighter-skinned Europeans.  Black remains a broad, general term for only a relative shade of colouring, not a consistent "racial" or genetic connection.

The article has links to several other essays on my website discussing this topic, as well as other online sources.  One of these is the excellent analysis provided by Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project on National Geographic in his excellent book The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey.  See my review essay on the topic.  See also a similar but somewhat different analysis and reconstruction of genetic history in Out of Africa's Eden by Stephen Oppenheimer.  My various articles link to additional Internet resources on the topic.

I have tried to keep up with the genetic studies, but the analysis is very complex, and comparative sampling and analysis continue worldwide, so updates are always needed and forthcoming periodically.

I have referred to some sources that discuss the relative kinship of the various peoples of the world.  I recommend you refer directly to these.  Check the Genographic Project online at National Geographic to get an idea of the sequential relationship of human populations historically.

Artificial Categories
The main problem with categorizing populations by visual characteristics is that the "edges" of the groupings are made to appear more firm than they are.  They tend to be arbitrary and artificial.  Check references to "facile" or "robust" facial features, for instance.  An alternative comparison can easily give us alternative groupings.  Robust features, generally considered to represent older genetic strains from the original human origins, occur among native Americans on the tip of South America, the Melanesians of Australia and the Pacific Islands like New Guinea.  Africans, generally, have a more "facile" cranial and facial structure.

Each population grouping of humans has developed distinct characteristics during their extensive long separation in prehistory after migrating away from the original human populations.  This progress has been mapped and continues to be refined as DNA samplings grow.  Each population develops some new characteristics due largely to what is called "genetic drift."  You can do a search on this term on my website to find references to this and links to the technical sources discussing this genetic mechanism.

The Portuguese have left a considerable genetic legacy in Africa, but that is farther south in Mozambique and Angola.  I am not aware of any long-term genetic contribution to the Ethiopian population or any cultural contributions.  It was fairly temporary and formal, as far as I can tell.

Along the East African coast, however, among the Swahili peoples and their languages, there is much cultural influence from the 400 years of so of Portuguese domination of the Indian Ocean.  The Swahili language which we used as the primary language over the 25 years I lived in Kenya, has borrowed many Portuguese word, alongside many Hindi and Arabic words, and more recently English words.

There is an identifiable "mestišo" population in Mozambique, whose native language is Portuguese.  I understand a similar situation obtains in Angola, but am less familiar with that situation.  I am uncertain of the relative sizes of these populations.  The Portuguese language is also the national language of the countries of Mozambique and Angola.

The cultural influences of European culture in these countries reflects the Portuguese pattern, in contrast to the British, Dutch, French or Belgian patterns in their respective former colonies.  The cultural characteristics are much more important than the genetic ones in these African situations.  In some cases, there is more of a racist view, but in general colour is only incidental to how people relate.

Also related:
Appreciating Differences
Assimilation:  How Ethnic Groups Develop and Change
Colour, Race and Genetics in the Horn of Africa
Ethnicity, Ancestors and Society:  Self- Identification in the US
Italians and Race
Genetics Out of Africa
How We Define Ethnicity
What Makes a People Distinct?

Related Powerpoint presentation on this site:
Models of Assimilation
Describing a People Group

Related on the Internet:
Africa's Genetic Secrets Unlocked – BBC
Blood of the IslesBritish Genetics Website by Bryan Sykes
A Brief Genetic History of Man
European Genetic History – Wikipedia
     Includes excellent and extensive references to authorities
Genographic Project
National Geographic
Out of Africa's Eden by Stephen Oppenheimer
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland by Bryan Sykes (UK Title: Blood of the Isles)


First written in answer to an email query 05 January 2010
Developed as an article for OJTR 22 December 2011
Last edited 25 February 2022

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2012, 2022 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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