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Indigenous Vincies to trace heritage

Indigenous Vincies to trace heritage


St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has been included in a worldwide effort to track the migration of the world’s indigenous peoples.{{more}}

Beginning on Tuesday this week, the husband and wife team of doctors Gabriel Torres and Jada Benn-Torres are here in SVG, in conjunction with the Garifuna Heritage Foundation, as well as the Ministries of Health and Culture, on a data gathering mission, as part of the Genographic Project, sponsored by National Geographic, IBM, and a number of universities in the United States.

Benn-Torres, explaining the purpose of the exercise, said that there are three main goals behind the project, one of which is to learn more about human origins, as well as where mankind travelled from.

“What we know from other lines of evidence, archeology, linguistics, and genetics, show all species have an African origin and that’s where the story starts, but from there, people began to leave.

“The second goal of the study is to understand more about the paths that people took out of Africa into the world, so we want to learn about human migration and how we populated the globe.

“The final leg of our study is really interested in more of the local levels; understanding more about how the Caribbean was peopled by the very first communities.”

According to Benn-Torres, only members of indigenous communities here in St Vincent are invited to participate.

Participants are expected to sign a consent form, which gives the details of the project. This is followed by the participant taking a cheek swab, to collect the DNA samples of cheek cells.

This is followed by an interview with the participant, in an effort to collect data such as family history.

The samples are then taken back to laboratories in Pennsylvania for analysis.

“That information will be then put into a database at which point nobody’s name is attached to the genetics; each person is given a code,” Benn-Torres said.

“We make comparison between all the data, and that allows us to see the relationships between people in terms of what region of the world they have ancestry or origin,” she added.

The results of the study will be made available online, and participants will be free to gather their information and share with others if they wish.

A study of this kind may have some benefits to individuals and communities, says Benn-Torres’ husband Gabriel.

“Individuals who participate will receive a code and they get to use this code to go online and individually look at their genetic ancestry; you get to learn something about your own past in relation to the other peoples of the world,” he explained.

“It allows indigenous communities to link up to figure out how they are related to one another, because when we look at the peopling of the world, it’s not just one single stream of people moving through the continents and populating it. It turns out that there were different people taking different migration paths over the last 15 to 20 thousand years.

“This gives the community the opportunity to understand their relationships to other indigenous groups in the area, and the Americas, and ultimately Asia and moving back all the way to Africa,” he said.

The researchers pointed out that colleagues are also doing similar work in about ten communities around the world, including Brazil, France, Lebanon, Spain, Russia, Australia, China, India and New Zealand.

The doctors collected samples from persons in the communities of Sandy Bay and Fancy, with hopes of doing the same in Rose Bank and Greiggs in potential future visits.(JJ)