Anthropology

A Pakistani ethnic group traces its roots to eastern Africa

The Makrani of Pakistan are descended from Africans forced into slavery.

Members of a Pakistani ethnic group called the Makrani are descendants of enslaved East Africans.

According to the Makranis’ oral tradition, their ancestors include Ethiopians transported to Pakistan as part of the Indian Ocean slave trade, which forced an estimated 4 million Africans into captivity in Asia between the eighth and nineteenth centuries. To learn more about the Makranis’ African roots, a team led by Etienne Patin and Lluis Quintana-Murci at the Pasteur Institute in Paris analysed the genomes of 24 members of the group, as well as genomes from other ethnic groups.

The analysis found that the Makranis studied share ancestry with peoples living in modern Kenya and South Africa, and with members of the Baluch ethnic group, who, like the Makrani, live in southwestern Pakistan. The Asian and African ancestral groups began mixing genetically about 300 years ago, the researchers estimate. Owing to their African ancestry, a large proportion of Makranis carry DNA variants common in Africa that protect against malaria infection.