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From Royalty to Captive, and Back to Cameroon

The story of Prince William D. Holland, an African-American who returned to his roots

Prince William D. Hollan

Prince William D. Holland, Member of the Oku Tribe

Follow me back in time, back to Cameroon in the 1770’s. Just imagine what chaos was endured at that time, I mean in eighteenth-century Cameroon.  Or can you imagine a family who was still under the slave/plantation system in America until 1992?  I, Prince William D. Holland will give a synopsis about my ancestral journey back to Cameroon.

After spending over a decade researching my origins, I came to Cameroon in March 2010 after taking several DNA tests that began in 2004. The companies used, which are based in the US, give individuals a beginning point for their quest. In order for an African-American to reach a finalized conclusion, he or she has to undergo DNA testing and equally research the Caucasian side of his or her ancestry. The reason for this is simple: because of the family names that we were given in the US, one has to look at their origin and migration pattern to figure out how the ancestor was moving.

My ancestor who was taken from Cameroon was shipped directly to Virginia and purchased by a member of the Hatcher family, prominent Virginia land owners of British origin. Already, his name was stripped away in Africa. Upon arrival, he was given a new name of Glasgow.  Glasgow was then taken through the counties of Chesterfield, Cumberland and finally to Bedford County, Virginia. Glasgow’s son was Peter, whose son was Stephen, my great-great grandfather. Stephen was purchased as a boy by a member of another prominent family–the Holland’s–who had several plantations in neighboring Franklin County, Virginia.  When Stephen was sold away, he lost any chance of learning any of the stories on life before captivity in his native land.  Creed, Stephen’s son and my great-grandfather would also have difficulties knowing about his family origins back in Africa.  One can imagine, with the passage of generations, that an African-American male would have a complicated research project on his hands. Also, keep in mind that when captives were sold in America, it was for money and not for cowrie shells, beads, manila bars or cloth as it was in Africa.

Cameroon is a mysterious place, full of culture, excitement and has a strong link back to a long and lengthy past.

In 2004, I sent my first DNA sample for analysis and the closest match given was that of the Igbo people in present day Nigeria. As the database of West Africans grew, testing became more accurate in narrowing down my origin to the Grassfields of Cameroon.

While DNA can give you a match to a particular tribe, that was not enough to satisfy my ultimate quest. The emphasis of ancestral research must be placed on having a family name to satisfy a link in a patrilineal based society. Another DNA company that has now been absorbed provided me with family names to which I had a close genetic match.  In order to trace those family names, I had to travel to Cameroon and find out for myself who was captured, and where their ancestors would currently be.  The tribes of Tikar/Tikari/Tikali, Bamileke, Bamoun, Banso, Voute, Mboum/Mbum, Mambila and Jukun are of the same stock. After having been to Cameroon more than five times, I’m now able to understand the relationship between the previously mentioned groups.  Also, there are American DNA companies that would tell individuals after testing that they are of Tikar or Bamileke origins. The fact that they do not mention to the tested individuals is that the Tikar and the Bamileke are the same people.

I found out that my male ancestor left the Grassfields region of Oku because he and his brothers were charged with a “crime.”  My ancestor’s father was a Prince who had a lot of land and many children near the Palace of Oku. Fon Ney, who was the King at the time, was suspicious that Bailack (Glasgow’s father) and his family would overthrow him, thus becoming the next Fon of Oku.

The crime element was only a ruse to capture and transfer needed males from the Northwest Region to Bimbia, where English captors were waiting due to orders given from Virginia. Along the way, various sons passed through several hands and communities. For instance, during the slave trade, my ancestor passed through the communities of Mankon, Bali, and Tinto, and down to the Mungo River. My other males relatives left from:  Foumban, Banka and Bafang to Fontem or Bangangte and Bana to Yabassi and then to Bimbia. Upon reaching Bimbia, it was the last time the ancestor would see his native land. How did he survive a journey of 3 months that would take 16 hours by plane in this day and age? Imagine my ancestor seeing others on board a ship that looked like him but spoke different dialects?

William Holland

William Holland (middle) in Oku with his “local” relatives

According to the Slavevoyage datatbase, there were 250 survivors out of 282 from the ship called the Fox sailing in 1772.  Many Cameroonians were taken by other ships to places that we know today as Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, and St. Kitts. I have accounting documents detailing the ships’ journeys during the 1770’s that landed directly from Cameroon to the respective islands. One can guess that there are other Cameroonians waiting to find out their ancestral links, but don’t know the historical facts of the slave trade. Even in Cameroon, there are families both in Francophone and Anglophone regions that do not know they share the same DNA with families in the other region. I have family names that I have been in contact with and plan to unite them shortly, as they are unaware of their ancestral relationships.

Cameroon is a mysterious place, full of culture, excitement and has a strong link back to a long and lengthy past. Any casual or first-time traveler will get a full plate of information by coming to Cameroon and experiencing what the country has to offer. One must realize while tracing his or her roots that their origins began from a highly organized and complicated society. In my case I did not descend from slaves, but my family came from the Palace!

Read this story and others in the Cameroon Traveler Magazine online.

 

About Cameroon Traveler (65 Articles)
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1 Comment on From Royalty to Captive, and Back to Cameroon

  1. If some one needs expert view about blogging then i suggest
    him/her to pay a visit this website, Keep up the nice work.

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