Ivory Coast/Ghana Ethnicity

Lands of Tropical Forest and Sparse Savannah

Discover more about your ethnicity with AncestryDNA. By comparing your genetic signature to the DNA of people from the Ivory Coast/Ghana region, AncestryDNA can give you a clearer picture of your ethnic origins.

People in this DNA ethnicity group may identify as:
Ivorian, Ghanaian

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Ivory Coast and Ghana Ethnicity

Early French and Portuguese explorers identified sections of the West African coast by the area’s resources, which is how Côte d'Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, got its name. Neighboring Ghana was known as the Gold Coast until it won independence from colonial rule in 1957 and renamed itself after a medieval West African empire. Today, more than 46 million people live in the two countries, which depend less on gold and ivory than they do chocolate: Ivory Coast and Ghana produce more than half of the world’s cocoa.

History of Ivory Coast and Ghana

There is evidence of human activity in the area of modern-day Ivory Coast and Ghana going back millennia. Some groups, such as the Akan, trace their history in the region to at least the 11th century. Historians believe that most current populations were in place by the 16th century after absorbing or displacing previous inhabitants. Ghana and Ivory Coast are each home to more than 60 different ethnic groups today.

Geography played an influential role on the populations of Ghana and Ivory Coast. In both countries, the terrain ranges from savanna in the north to forest in the south. The dense forests acted as partial barriers to trade, migration and forming large, centralized societies like those that appeared farther north, where vast empires rose and fell for more than a millennium. The north-south divide is also evident in religion: Islam came to West Africa with the trans-Saharan trade and is more prevalent in the north; Christianity, introduced by Europeans, gained a foothold in the south.

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Migrations into Ivory Coast and Ghana

Modern Ivory Coast and Ghana lie on the periphery of the great empires of Mali (ca. 1230–1550) and Songhai (ca. 1375–1591), and the region’s population felt their influence. As empires rose and fell, people pushed into new lands or fled old ones. Dyula (or Juula) traders, a merchant class of Mandé people from Mali, made their way south, introducing goods, inhabitants and Islam to the northern edges of modern-day Ghana. They later established the Kong Empire (1710–1898) in northeastern Ivory Coast. Other Mandé groups settled in western Ivory Coast, where they make up almost 25% of the population today.

According to their own oral tradition, the Dagomba people came from the area northeast of Lake Chad, finally settling in northern Ghana. The Senufo came south from Mali into Ivory Coast in about the 15th century. The Ewe people migrated from the east, from the areas now making up Togo and Benin.

The most significant migration for Ghana and Ivory Coast, however, began with the arrival of the Akan people. The Akan had established the state of Bonoman—a center of trade for gold, salt, kola nuts, ivory and leather—in western Ghana/eastern Ivory Coast. From Bonoman, they spread out looking for gold.

The Akan

With a population of 20 million, the Akan represent the largest ethnic group in Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Akan are a matrilineal society believed to have originated in the Sahel region and who then traveled south into Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The Ashanti, a subgroup of the Akan, formed a number of states in Ghana built around trade and gold. They traded with the Songhai and Hausa along traditional inland routes and also with European partners, starting with the Portuguese, who arrived on the coast in 1482. New crops, such as maize and cassava, and slave labor allowed them to push farther into the forests, clearing land to farm and mining gold. In fact, before the transatlantic slave trade began in earnest, the Ashanti bought slaves from the Portuguese.

The Ashanti Empire was established in 1701 by Osei Tutu, who began unifying Ashanti states around the city of Kumasi. The Ashanti continued to expand, through diplomacy and military conquest, building one of the most advanced and powerful empires in sub-Saharan Africa. Not all Akan people wanted part in the empire, and some fled west into modern-day Ivory Coast. These included the Abron, the Baoulé and the Agni. In the 19th century, the Ashanti fought a series of wars with British troops, as England tried to firm up its hold over Ghana. Eventually, the Ashanti kingdom, known as Asanteman, became a British protectorate in 1902 and today is a state within modern Ghana.

French sovereignty over Ivory Coast was recognized by the British in 1889, and the country became a French colony in 1893. Ivory Coast continued to attract new immigrants in the 20th century when two decades of prosperity and relative peace followed independence in 1960.

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