Monday, February 26, 2018

A Blog Interview with my African DNA Cousin

Maame Durowah Okai
(Used per permission)

I am elated and honored to feature one of my African DNA cousins, Maame Durowah Okai of Amsterdam, Netherlands, on my blog. If someone had told me five years ago that I will be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them. DNA technology has allowed many of us to learn something about our African ancestry and connect with African cousins.

Many geneticists recommend that one of the best ways to get a glimpse of our African roots utilizing DNA is through DNA matches to living Africans who have also taken one of the autosomal DNA tests – AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, and Family Tree DNA. Many African Americans and Afro-Caribbeans are matching people from the Motherland, and these matches are celebrated. This is to be expected since we are the descendants of many Africans who were taken from an area of West Africa, stretching from present-day Senegal to Angola, as well as from present-day Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Madagascar. Check out Fonte Felipe’s insightful blog post, “How to find those elusive African DNA matches on Ancestry.”

Maame Durowah Okai’s family roots are from Ghana. Her father is Ashanti and her mother is from the Obo Kwahu people, who descends from the Ashanti Empire. Interestingly, historians believe that Harriet Tubman’s African maternal grandmother, Modesty, descends from the Ashanti people. Cousin Maame Durowah took the AncestryDNA test last year, which identified her as 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali.

Incredibly, she is a DNA match to both my father and me at 13 cM (centimorgans). According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), that amount of DNA is in the range of a fourth cousin or further. My chances of figuring out exactly how Cousin Maame Durowah is related on my father's side is astronomically slim. But that's OK. It doesn't matter. What matters greatly is that we carry an identical strand of DNA that originated from a common African ancestor, who was most probably from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana).

Cousin Maame Durowah is doing wonderful works in the Netherlands, and I am proud that she is my African cousin. To spotlight her, I asked her the following four questions about herself, her family, and her thoughts about DNA testing. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to e-mail me the answers to them.

Question 1. What are your current endeavors in Europe?

I was born in the 80s in the Netherlands on a Sunday morning. I was raised in Amsterdam South East by my Ghanaian parents, Nana Yaw Okai & Mercy Ayirebi. I had influences by my Dutch grandma, who is from the Netherlands, named Will Ottens. She lived downstairs and helped my mom out when she rang the bell and when nobody wanted to open the door (due to the Sunday morning). It was only my Dutch grandma that opened the door; this was in the 80's, and knowing the time in the Netherlands with the migrants. My grandma took the chance and helped my mom out and I become part of the family. She had an amazing influence in my life (learning about the Dutch culture up close - best of both worlds). This also gives me the chance to teach and educate people on diversity in the Netherlands; currently writing a project on that.

I am a social worker and a family coach. I have been active in social work and community development. I am the founder and project manager of the Brighter Day Foundation, an international social and community development organization. The Brighter Day Foundation develops creative, social, and community projects to raise awareness, impact, and speak out on social issues.

I am working as a family coach/counselor in a youth team (9-5 job). I don't see it as a 9-5 job. My purpose in being there is to break generational trends by helping people to think beyond the “system” and be self-reliant. My main statement when it comes to my work is, “No one can pay you for the job you do because we give more than we are paid for.’’

In 2018, I will be starting a tour called “The Kingdom Citizen: I Have Never Become Who I Am,” which is based on my book. The aim is to share my story on how I discovered purpose by highlighting different life stories. The teaching element at hand is to show how one can creatively discover purpose through the obstacles in life and maximize their potential by making their “stories” known. This will take place in five major cities in Europe. I am not all knowing, letting one know their Purpose that is in God's hands yet being a tool to discover is a calling. I accepted my calling as a pastor at the age of 30. Before that, I was actively involved in ministry from age 23, becoming serious in the Faith when I was 19. I was raised by a Christian mom; my Dad joined the faith in a later stage.

My faith in God is my foundation and my source of success in life I can proudly proclaim. I travel around as an international speaker, teaching and sharing about the full gospel of Jesus Christ. Kingdom-minded and focused on missions around the world, I mentor the broken and rejected and raise up leaders. I am a woman wearing a mantle of many colors; a signature that reveals myself via my various activities. I am a 'Kingdom' representative breaking the status quo!

(Used per permission)

Question 2.    Why did you take the DNA test and what are your thoughts about it?

On February 15, 2017, I decided to do an Ancestry DNA test just out of curiosity. I saw it several years ago when the African Ancestry DNA stories came out on the internet. My curiosity was about how God can create us with such an amazing DNA and link us to a specific country, yet all being connected some way. I knew I was full Ghanaian, but I was still curious what could come out of it. I had heard about Mali being a part of the history of the Ashanti Empire from my Dad but to know that there is a Mali percentage in my DNA was fascinating!

One thing is for sure, I am a Kingdom Child of God, and I know where I come from. Yet I was given a nation in the land of the living. While sitting on the bus on my way home from London, I received an email with my DNA results. “Well, well,” I exclaimed. This was an interesting combo! Being 97% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 2% Benin/Togo, and 1% Mali was interesting! What made the story more interesting were the 15 people who were directly connected to my DNA, surprisingly.

Question 3.    Tell me something about your family roots in Ghana?

Mercy Ayirebi Kwahu (Obo Kwahu) is my mom’s name. She was born to Mr. Alfred Kofi Ayirebi & Mrs. Alice Abena Owarewah (daughter of Kwaku Nyame Danquah and Akosua Tiwah Donkor). My Dad is Nana Yaw Okai - Ashanti (Bonwire). My Dad’s lineage can be traced to Yaa Asantewaa. (Read more about Yaa Asantewaa here). I was told this as a young girl. Grandpa Afrani, we are still on the trace. Mrs. Yaa Durowah, who I was named after, is the daughter of Mrs. Efua Brempomaa & Nana Kwaku.

I was introduced to Ghana at age 10 and fell in love. I celebrated my 11th birthday in Ghana and the plan was for me to stay in Ghana and go to school. But my parents decided to keep me in the Netherlands. That one trip changed my life – my people, the food, the language. I became more interested about my background. We spoke Dutch, English and Twi at home, but learning my dialect became more of interest when I got to age 15. Forcing my parents to teach me the right way, I got myself into the culture, traditions, languages, food, my tribes…everything. I started going there every year, to even twice a year. The vision of the Brighter Day Foundation was born in Ghana. I lived in Ghana while doing my thesis but I had to come back to the Netherlands to finish school. I made up my mind 4 years ago to move to Ghana for a period of 5 years to build up a youth center, but my ways got an encounter, and I came back to the Netherlands to say yes to my calling.

I don’t have an English name. I was named after my Dad’s mother, Maame Durowah. I was born on Sunday - Akosua. In Ghana, they call me Ako or Akosua Durowah. Maame means lady or mother, so that is a general name before your name, which is Durowah (female) in my case. Durowah means medicine which comes from the word Oduro (male version). I was named after my Dad's mother out of love and respect. Okai is my paternal grandfather’s name. I do a lot of first and second generation analogy at work, but lately I am trying to do one of my own family genealogy, and every time I do it, I get to know more.

Maame Durowah Okai’s paternal ancestor, Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa

Question 4.    How do you feel knowing that many people of African descent in America are your distant cousins?

It was really surprising when you sent me a private message saying that I was your DNA cousin in America. Even though it’s a small percentage, it is still a match. I have family members by marriage who are African-American, but knowing that, through the DNA test, many others are DNA matches is an eye opener. It opens another chapter of your life; you hear the voices of the unheard and share stories untold.

Maame Durowah Okai in Malta in 2017.


  1.! I love every bit of this!

  2. Hello Melvin, My name is Franklin Carter Smith, I'm the co-author of, "A Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors". I work at the Clayton Genealogy Library in Houston Texas. Not only do we share a love of genealogy but Mississippi roots. I admire the work you're doing in African-American genetic genealogy. I started my journey into DNA and like you have had some exciting finds, My most prized connection is an DNA match my brother share with cousin that lives in The Gambia. I share 29 cM's with her and my brother 17 cM's, she is of the Jola ethnic group. We talk several times a week and I hope to visit her soon. I know of how excited you are and feel and feel the same way.



    1. Wow! 29 cM is one of the highest I've seen. That's amazing! My mother shares 24 cM with another person from Ghana, who lives in London. Thanks for your message.

    2. By the way, I purchased your great book several years ago!

  3. Hi Melvin maybe you will be able to answer this question. Recently on, i discovered i had a distance cousin in the (5-8) range from the country South Africa. She is from a area called Thaba 'Nchu or Free State. The thing is, i was always taught or from my studies, that no slaves were taken from Southern Africa, hence the Oprah Winfrey debacle. She thought she was Zulu, but she was corrected by DNA and the facts of our history by professor Henry Skipp Gates. My question is there historical evidence of people taken from South Africa? I ask her about her DNA, she said nearly all her regions is Central and Southern Eastern Bantu and Hunter and gathers. I know Cameroon/Congo is a proxy for bantu speakers throughout Eastern and Southern Africa, because many Southern Africans, and people from Madagascar get that in their results. I know she has Mali as her trace region, which is 1 percent. What is interesting enough Mali is one of my highest regions about 11 percent which is followed by North Africa which is a mere trace region about 1 percent.(i think that a indication of fula ancestry) However the Cameroon and Congo is the bulk of my ancestry 33percent, followed by South Eastern Bantu only 3 percent. I wonder where me and my African match meet, Is it from her trace region "Mali" or the other possibility the bulk of my ancestry is from Southern Africa. What do you think?

    1. My Mom also has a match from Lesotho, three from Uganda, and one from Zimbabwe. Since a small percentage of Africans were taken from Mozambique/Zimbabwe, my guess is that an ancestor may have been taken from there, and the ethnic group is related to people in southern Africa....or someone in your match's family was from Zimbabwe/Mozambique.

  4. That's pretty cool! I made a similar discovery. One of my greatest discoveries was me discovering a common African ancestor who arrived in the French colony of Louisiana from the Senegambian region in the early 18th century. Her name was Marie and she was born around 1698. Through combining DNA research and an extensive paper trail, I was able to discover her as the common ancestor of my dna cousins on gedmatch and 23andme. I had two things on my side: Marie was emancipated by the 1770s, she lived a long time and was part of a Catholic culture that valued record keeping. The original French language of her baptism in 1756 gives her nation as "Nation de Senegal".

    What's amazing is that a new match sharing the same segment I was able to determine likely came from Marie is from a Belgium woman. She told me her mother is Moroccan. Turns out her Moroccan grandfather was the descendant of a freed Saharan slave who married a Berber woman! We share 9.2 cms with 1,115 SNP. That at least tells me our MRCA existed before 1698 on the continent of Africa(likely in the Senegambian region). We'll never know the identity of the shared ancestor, but they could have been either a Saharan African or even a Berber tribesmen whose family were sold in slavery at some point in history. Funny how history repeats itself on two different continents.

    Rodney Sam


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