News & Current Affairs

July 2, 2009

Americans seek their African roots

Americans seek their African roots

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey originally thought her ancestors were Zulu

First it was Oprah Winfrey’s wistful reach for the continent, now other prominent African Americans are finding their roots.

In 2005 Oprah Winfrey underwent DNA testing in an effort to determine the genetic make-up of her body’s cells.

The popular American talk show host wanted to know where her ancestors, taken as slaves to the United States, had come from.

Famous genes

Since then thousands of other African Americans have followed suit, many of them household names in the US.

Comedian Chris Rock discovered that he was descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock is descended from the Udeme people of northern Cameroon

LeVar Burton, an actor who played the slave Kunta Kinte in the TV drama Roots, linked himself up genetically with the Hausa in Nigeria.

Civil rights leader Andrew Young traced his lineage to the Mende people of Sierra Leone and is also believed to be a distant relative of one of the leaders of the 1839 Amistad slave ship mutiny.

DNA testing has also resulted in some African Americans being bestowed with honorary African titles.

The Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker, who portrayed the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, was made an honorary chief of Igboland in south-eastern Nigeria.

He was given the title of Nwannedinambar of Nkwerre which means “brother in a foreign land”, during a visit to Nigeria in April.

Getting results

There are more than two dozen genealogy organisations in the US selling genetic ancestry tests but African Ancestry is the only black-owned firm.

It is also the first to cater specifically to African Americans. Of the half a million Americans who have purchased DNA tests, around 35,000 of them are African American.

African Ancestry charges $349 to test either a person’s maternal or paternal lineage.

Once the fee is paid, swabs used to collect a DNA sample from the inside of the cheek are sent to the customer and then back to African Ancestry’s laboratory.

We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up
Lyndra Marshall

The DNA’s genetic sequence is extracted and compared to others in the firm’s database.

The company claims this contains 25,000 samples from 30 countries and 200 ethnic groups, and is the largest collection of African lineages in the world.

African Ancestry say that they are very precise in tracing where a person’s ancestors originate from.

Once this is known, a “results package” is sent out, including a print-out of a person’s DNA sequence, a certificate of ancestry and a map of Africa.

“It’s a kind of welcome to Africa package,” said Ghanaian-born Ofori Anor, editor of the African expatriate magazine, Asante.

Transformation

Gina Paige, a founder of African Ancestry, wants to transform the way people view themselves and the way they view Africa.

When many African Americans visited Africa in the past, they were interested mostly in kente cloths and masks, nowadays they want to know more about the country they are visiting.

A poster for African Ancestry

The company has been accused by critics of being inaccurate

Although they still visit the slave castles, they are now also interested in the price of property.

Purchasing a townhouse in the Ghanaian capital Accra or a commercial property in Sierra Leone’s Freetown feels less implausible.

“What we need now is for people to get deeply involved in one particular country or region or culture,” said Andrew Young, the civil rights leader whose consulting firm acts as a liaison for American companies wanting to do business in Africa.

There has been a change too in the way Africans see African Americans and claims of kinship that were once viewed with amusement are now embraced.

This is partly due to the emergence of President Barack Obama and because of the role played by African Americans in his historic election.

As a result, African politicians and businessmen want African Americans to lobby in the US on the continent’s behalf.

Traditional African rulers have also been busy handing out honorary chieftaincies to African Americans in the hope it will lead to an increase in investment and a boost in tourism.

With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from
Lyndra Marshall

Guinea-Bissau’s Tourism Ministry encouraged comedian Whoopi Goldberg to visit when in 2007, DNA tests showed she was descended from the Papel and Bayote people of the country.

Unfortunately, Goldberg has not taken up the offer as she has a fear of flying and has not been in an aeroplane for 20 years.

Unlike the Hollywood actress, as soon as Lyndra Marshall, a 56-year-old retiree from Maryland near Washington DC discovered her African heritage, she immediately boarded a plane for Ghana’s Ashanti region.

“We did not talk about where we came from when I was growing up,” said Ms Marshall.

Since she found out she was of Ashanti descent, she has been trying to get other people to visit and invest in the country.

Along with DNA technology, Ms Marshall credits President Obama with kindling an interest in Africa.

“With Obama being both African and American, and our president, this has made many of us interested in where we came from, too.”

Getting it right

Although many people are excited about the prospect of tracing their ancestry, critics say the work of America’s genealogy companies is far from accurate.

African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world
Ofori Anor
Editor, Asante magazine

On a visit to South Africa in 2005, Oprah Winfrey said that DNA testing had conclusively revealed where she is from. She thought she was Zulu but subsequent DNA testing showed she was a descendent of the Kpelle people of Liberia.

Professor Deborah Bolnick of the University of Texas is particularly critical of African Ancestry.

She says its database is too small to fulfil its marketing promise that it is “the only company whose tests will place your African ancestry in a present day country or region in Africa”.

“Consumers should know the limitations and complexities before they spend hundreds of dollars thinking they’re going to find an answer to who they really are,” said Professor Bolnick.

“It’s really much more uncertain than the testing companies make out.”

Despite these limitations, African Ancestry customers like Ms Marshall are convinced her results are correct.

“I have lots of family that look very Ghanaian, they are short like them, dark like them and I have a cousin that looks just like the Ashanti king.”

However, comments like this offend the Editor of Asante magazine.

“African Americans just want to be able to say they were once kings and once ruled the world,” said Mr Anor.

He feels that African governments and traditional rulers should stop the practice of granting citizenship and chieftaincies to African Americans.

“Just because your genetics show you came from a place, should that mean you can lay claim to that group of people or place now?”

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November 25, 2008

Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 3:47 pm

Bangkok protesters fire on rivals

Thai anti-government protesters have opened fire on government supporters during clashes in Bangkok which left at least 11 people injured, officials say.

The incident came after the People’s Alliance for Democracy blocked the road to the city’s old airport in a renewed attempt to unseat the government.

The PAD said on Sunday it had begun a “final battle” to achieve the goal.

Meanwhile, PAD supporters have stormed Bangkok’s main international airport, leading it to suspend outgoing flights.

Witnesses said hundreds of yellow-shirted members of the group managed to break through police lines and enter the main terminal of Suvarnabhumi airport, to the bewilderment of passengers.

Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat

The airport’s manager, Serirat Prasutanon, said the authorities had tried to negotiate with the protesters, “but to no avail”.

“For the safety of passengers, we have to stop flights out of the airport temporarily until the situation returns to normal,” he told the Associated Press.

Exactly what the protesters hope to do there is not clear, the BBC’s Jonathan Head in Bangkok says, but they may be hoping to prevent Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from returning from the Apec summit in Peru on Wednesday.

Mr Somchai told reporters in Lima: “Anyone who wants to overthrow or resist the government is attempting a rebellion.”

‘Final battle’

Earlier, Thai TPBS television broadcast pictures of the violence on the main road to the capital’s old airport. The footage showed shots being fired from a truck into crowds after rocks were thrown.

Protesters block the road to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport (25 November 2008)

Thousands of people are taking part in anti-government protests

At least two handguns could be seen and people standing with the gunmen raised up a picture of the revered Thai king, whom the PAD claim to be supporting.

Protesters could be seen running across the empty multi-lane road and setting fire to a motorbike.

A man was also seized by pro-government supporters and what appeared to be a large knife was held to his throat.

TPBS said its cameraman had been threatened at the scene and that PAD personnel attempted to seize his tape.

On Monday, PAD protesters converged on Bangkok’s old Don Muang international airport, from where the cabinet has been operating since its offices were occupied three months ago.

Organisers say the protest is a “final battle” to bring down the government.

Our correspondent says the government appears to have followed a strategy of allowing PAD to attack government buildings while avoiding clashes, in the hope that it will wear the protesters down.

The government has so far resisted calling in the army. Analysts says it is a thinly disguised aim of the PAD to provoke such a move.

The PAD are determined to create drama but many ordinary Thais are sick of the unrest and the protesters appear to be losing steam, says our correspondent.

September 22, 2008

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Murder trial for Sopranos actor

Lillo Brancato Jr

Lillo Brancato Jr is due to go on trial on 28 October

Sopranos actor Lillo Brancato Jr will go on trial next month charged with the murder of an off-duty police officer shot dead in New York in 2005.

A judge has ruled that the actor, who played Matt Bevilacqua in the drama’s second series, will be tried separately from co-defendant Steven Armento.

The two men were allegedly carrying out a burglary at the time of the killing.

Mr Armento is accused of firing the fatal shot. Mr Brancato, 32, says he did not know Mr Armento had a gun.

Prosecutors had wanted the two of them tried together.

They say that, on 10 December, the two defendants broke into an apartment in search of prescription drugs after visiting a strip club together.

They were then confronted by off-duty officer Daniel Enchautegui who was killed in an alley after a shoot-out, prosecutors add.

Mr Brancato made his screen debut opposite Robert De Niro in 1993’s A Bronx Tale and appeared in a number of other films before appearing in The Sopranos.

Mr Armento will go on trial on 29 September while Mr Brancato’s trial date has been set for 28 October.

August 8, 2008

Freeman discharged from hospital

Freeman discharged from hospital

Morgan Freeman (file photo)

Morgan Freeman received an Oscar for Million Dollar Baby in 2005

Hollywood star Morgan Freeman has been discharged from a  hospital where he was recovering after a car crash.

In a short statement issued after his release, Freeman said that he was well.

He suffered a broken arm and had to undergo surgery after his car overturned and landed in a ditch near his home in Mississippi on Sunday.

A female passenger was also injured. On Wednesday Freeman’s lawyer said the 71-year-old actor and his wife of 24 years, were getting divorced.

Bill Luckett said: “And for legal and practical purposes the pair have been separated since December 2007.”

Freeman married costume designer Myrna Colley-Lee in June 1984.

The cause of the accident is unclear. Police said it was possible that the actor had fallen asleep at the wheel.

There is no word on the condition of his passenger, Demaris Meter of Memphis.

Freeman won a best-supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

August 5, 2008

Morgan Freeman hurt in car crash

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in hospital after being injured in a car accident near his Mississippi home.

The 71-year-old Dark Knight star is in a serious condition, according to staff at Memphis’s Regional Medical Center.

The accident happened shortly before midnight on Sunday outside Charleston in the Mississippi Delta.

A Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman told the that Mr Freeman’s car left the road and “began to flip several times” before landing in a ditch.

Mr Freeman – who had been driving the car – and a female passenger were airlifted to the Memphis hospital, about 145km (90 miles) north of where the accident occurred in Tallahatchie County.

Talking at the scene

Both the actor and the woman, Demaris Meyer of Memphis, had been wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident, said Sergeant Ben Williams.

“There’s no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved,” he added.

Mr Freeman was conscious and talking at the scene, he said, but the extent of his injuries was unclear.

There were “no other vehicles or pedestrians involved”, he said.

An investigation into the accident is currently under way.

Clay McFerrin, editor of local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel, told the Associated Press news agency he had been at the scene on Mississippi Highway 32, not far from where Mr Freeman owns a home with his wife.

“He was lucid, conscious,” Mr McFerrin said. “He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point.”

When one person tried to take a photo with a mobile phone, Mr Freeman joked, “no freebies, no freebies,” Mr McFerrin said.

FREEMAN FACTS
Born 1 June 1937, in Memphis, Tennessee
He spent several years in the US Air Force as a mechanic
Freeman started acting in the 1960s, appearing a couple of off-Broadway shows
His first credited film appearance was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!
Freeman starred in some of the biggest films of the 1990s, including The Shawshank Redemption, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Se7en, and Deep Impact
He won an Oscar in 2005 for the film Million Dollar Baby
Freeman plays Lucius Fox in this summer’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight (pictured)

Mechanic

Morgan Freeman is one of Hollywood’s best loved and busiest actors.

Mr Freeman won a best supporting actor Oscar for boxing drama Million Dollar Baby in 2005.

He has twice been nominated in the leading actor category – for The Shawshank Redemption in 1995 and Driving Miss Daisy in 1990.

Last year it was announced the actor would play former South African president Nelson Mandela in forthcoming film The Human Factor.

His first credited film appearance was in the 1971 movie Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!

Prior to that, he had worked as a mechanic in the US Air Force.

His film appearances include Se7en, Unforgiven and the rebooted Batman franchise.

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