Our “Kunta Kinte”: The Search for Our African Ancestor’s Origins

West Africa

In 2011, as my cousin, Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar, and I were discussing our family connection via my maternal grandmother, he told me how his Edwards family knew the name of their “Kunta Kinte.” In the 1970s, down in Panola County (Como), Mississippi, his great-uncle, the late Rev. Sidney Edwards, interviewed family elders. They shared with him how the first Edwards was a man named Luke Edwards, who was from Africa and brought to Virginia. Not only that, family elders had knowledge of his true African name – OGBAR OGUMBA.

I was fascinated to hear this! I was also “green with envy” because this was the type of family history that many African Americans long to have. I exclaimed to Cousin Jeff, “Wow! You all are so blessed to have this kind of family history. This is rare!” He changed his last name from Green to Ogbar to reflect his African roots.

EarlyEdwardsHistory
The oral history that the late Rev. Sidney Edwards typed in the early 1970s.
(Courtesy of Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar)

Fast forward to four years later. In 2015, I finally learned that a man named Prince Edwards, who was born c. 1830, was the father of my mother’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Partee Reed (1852-1923) of Tate County, Mississippi. This 20-year mystery was solved by revealing, close DNA matches to my mother, her sister and brother, and their first cousin, coupled with valuable clues from oral history told by late family elders.

Excited about the discovery, I soon called Cousin Jeff, whose great great grandfather, Jerry Edwards, was said to be Ogbar Ogumba’s son. Lo and behold, I soon discovered a preponderance of evidence, including naming patterns, that Prince and his brother, Peter Edwards, were likely the sons of Ogbar, too. When Cousin Jeff was relaying his Edwards history to me, it was my history, too! But I didn’t know it at the time. I have been able to determine from genealogy research that Ogbar was born around 1790.

Based on prior Y-DNA testing, the family had speculated that Ogbar Ogumba may have been from the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). The Bight of Biafra region (present-day Nigeria, specifically) was also speculated. Both of them were good possibilities. But our ancestor’s name turned out to be the best clue.

While my cousins and I were in Ghana in December 2016, I asked several people about the name. To my surprise, they all proclaimed that “Ogumba” was not a familiar name to Ghana. They claimed its origins to be from the Igbo people of Nigeria. Here’s one of the persons I interviewed, as we were standing at Elmina Slave Castle. Samuel Siaw of Cape Coast, Ghana also immediately linked the name to the Igbo people of Nigeria, instead of Ghana. He gave us some great insight!

Disclaimer: Any comments regarding Samuel’s shirt will be deleted. He is a very nice guy, who worked tirelessly to show us a great time in Ghana. He was very in tune to our American history after listening to us. He did not know that the shirt was offensive.

Naja Chinyere Njoku, the founder and moderator of the DNA Tested African Descendants Facebook groups, read one of my postings about Ogbar Ogumba and immediately contacted a Nigerian chief (Igbo) for more information about my ancestor’s name. Chief Okorie Mba (Eze Amufi) of Asaga Ohafia, Nigeria (Abia State) was very familiar with the name. He relayed the following information:

There are two meanings of the name, (1) As a place, it means town or village, (2) the name Mba means the braggart, big mouth, admonisher, showoff, backer or bouncer of the family…. or a fighter. Ogu Mba means righteousness of a town. Ogba as a name is rampant in my village. It is a short cut to the name Ogbanta, which used to be an honorary name given to a great hunter.

For example:
Ogba Anu means animal shooter.
Ogba Agu means lion shooter.
Ogbu Agu means lion killer.
Ogba (r) means shooter.
Ogbu (h) means killer.

The correct name should be Ogba as in Mba. The (r) and (h) were added by colonial masters for easier pronunciation. Please note that the O will have a dot under.

While recording the oral history from family elders in the 1970s, the late Cousin Rev. Sidney Edwards also wrote the following about Grandpa Ogba Ogumba, “He had a high-pitched voice and never let up during a conversation.” Compare this piece of oral history to the meaning of the name from Chief Okorie Mba that is highlighted above. I am astounded! This appears to be more than coincidental to me.

To date, this is by far the most compelling piece of linguistic evidence we have gotten. To add, nearly all of the males with the surname OGUMBA on Facebook are from Nigeria. We are getting closer! We are still seeking absolute DNA proof of Ogba Ogumba’s origins. The chances of finding a “paper trail” are extremely slim . . . a miracle. Nonetheless, the Igbo people of Nigeria strongly appear to be his ancestral origins.

EdwardInvFinal
Combined snapshots from the 1855 slave inventory of William Edwards’s estate, Panola County, Mississippi, taken on December 15, 1855: At the end of the inventory, placed at the top of this image, Luke Sr. (Ogba Ogumba) was inventoried with a value of $150. At the top of the inventory, there’s another Luke, who was Luke Edwards, Jr., born around 1815. Luke Edwards, Jr. died after 1900 in Panola County, Mississippi. Prince Edwards was my mother’s great grandfather.

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