September 29, 2008

Y chromosomes of the Ruling Dynasty of the Nso' in Cameroon

From the paper:
The groups are (1) the won nto', descendants of a fon down to the third or fourth generation; (2) the duy, descendants of a fon who ruled more than three or four generations ago together with, according to Chem-Langhëë and Fanso (1997), some members of commoner lineages whose heads are descendants of princesses and members of associated patriclans or clan segments, allegedly founded by immigrant royals, that provide state counselors; (3) the nshiylav, subjects born or recruited2 into palace service (patrilineally inherited); and (4) the mtaar, commoners (patrilineally inherited). Although the majority of the Nso' are self-identifying Christians of the Roman Catholic denomination, the fon has, through the generations, maintained a polygynous household, which in 2005 numbered over 70 women.3


The most common NRY haplogroup in the won nto' was Y*(xBR,A3b2), with a frequency of 55.6% ( ; table 1). This haplogroup was also found at a frequency of 17.6% in the duy. Furthermore, all Y*(xBR,A3b2) chromosomes had the same microsatellite haplotype (14-12-20-11-14-14; ... For convenience only we refer to Y*(xBR,A3b2) and the associated microsatellite haplotype as the won nto' modal haplotype (WMH); it had ten representatives, while the next most frequent haplotype in the won nto' had only two. The modal NRY haplogroup in the non–won nto' social classes was E3a, with a diverse range of NRY types at the microsatellite haplotype level


A principal coordinates analysis plot (fig. 2) based on a pairwise FST distance matrix calculated using NRY haplogroup frequencies (see table F1 for genetic distances and associated P values) clearly distanced the won nto' from both the other Nso' social classes and other ethnic groups, demonstrating that high frequencies of Y*(xBR,A3b2) are not typical of Grassfields and Tikar Plain NRY profiles. Accordingly, because Y*(xBR,A3b2) is typical of a hunter-gatherer population and the WMH is the most likely candidate to be the NRY type of the father of the first Nso' fon, the NRY data favor the oral tradition that the princess married an indigenous Visale, from whom all subsequent fons descend.

Current Anthropology doi: 10.1086/590119

Sex-Specific Genetic Data Support One of Two Alternative Versions of the Foundation of the Ruling Dynasty of the Nso' in Cameroon

Krishna R. Veeramah et al.


Sex-specific genetic data favor a specific variant of the oral history of the kingdom of Nso' (a Grassfields city-state in Cameroon) in which the royal family traces its descent from a founding ancestress who married into an autochthonous hunter-gatherer group. The distributions of Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA variation in the Nso' in general and in the ruling dynasty in particular are consistent with specific Nso' marriage practices, suggesting strict conservation of the royal social class along agnatic lines. This study demonstrates the efficacy of using genetics to augment other sources of information (e.g., oral histories, archaeology, and linguistics) when seeking to recover the histories of African peoples.



  1. Which A subhaplogroup is this family? It is quite annoying that they only tested A3b2. In Western Africa, the most obvious haplogroup is A1, which is West African but not hunter-gatherer. As far as I know, the other A subgroups A3b1 and A2 are from hunter gatherers, but in South Africa.


  2. Which A subhaplogroup is this family?

    We don't even know that it's an A, it could even be a separate clade from AT. Is the listed haplotype suggestive of haplogroup A?

  3. If they tested for B (which they seem to imply), then it must be an A - I don't think anything outside A has ever been found (though of course anything is possible).

    Of course, a test mistake is also possible. I'm not familiar with A STRs, so it would be good if anybody could comment on them.



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