Mystery of two Obama's who arrived in US on slave ships


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The Independent US

They never got within a country mile of the White House, but some of Barack Obama's distant ancestors may very well have crossed the Atlantic about 130 years before his father, Barack Senior, first made it to the US.

Scholars from Emory University in Atlanta have discovered that two men with the surname "Obama" were on board illegal slave ships intercepted in the Caribbean and forced to dock in Cuba in the late 1820s.

Both Obamas turned up in registries of about 9,500 "freed" Africans who were processed in Havana. The university is currently building a database in an effort to map where the slaves originated and ended up.

The international slave trade was declared illegal in both the UK and the US in the early 1800s (although the use of existing slaves remained legal in America for decades), and Navy vessels from both nations patrolled the Carribean to enforce the law.

One of the Obamas turned up on a Spanish ship called the Xerxes, a 138-foot schooner whose captain, Felipe Rebel, purchased 429 slaves, a third of them children, on the Bight of Bonny in 1828. By the time the vessel had been intercepted in June that year, 26 slaves had died.

The other Obama, who measured 6ft 3in tall, was on the Midas, a vessel which set sail from Bonny in 1829, with 562 slaves on board. After it had been forced to dock in Cuba, no less than 162 of them had passed away.

David Eltis, the Emory professor leading the research, said he hoped that people who shared names with some of the men and women in his database would contact him to provide information about their origins.

"The whole point of the project is to ask the African diaspora, people with any African background, to help us identify the names because the names are so ethno-linguistically specific, we can actually locate the region in Africa to which the individual belonged," Mr Eltis said.

In the case of Obama, his donkey work has already been done: the President's ancestors, a nomadic people known as the River Lake Nilotes, migrated from Bahr-el-Ghazal Province in Sudan toward Uganda and into western Kenya. They were part of several clans and sub-clans that eventually became the Luo people.


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