Friday, 25 September 2009

Venezuelan colours


We have always known Venezuela has a great ethnic variety. The admixture is not just at the level of groups ("there are lots of people from all over the world", but at the level of most families, at the level of all of us:
most Venezuelans have a very varied ethnic background. I have written a bit about this here.

Alexander von Humboldt wrote about the proportion of different ethnic groups in Venezuela during his times there. He estimated that at the start of the XIX century some 800000 people were living in Venezuela. Some 12000 were "European born whites", 200000 were American whites (people like Miranda or Bolívar), 406000 were "mixed", 62000 were black slaves and 120000 were "pure Indians". The German Wikipedia as well as many other European or US American reference books now say things like this: "67 % of Venezuelans are Mestizos, 21% are of European, 10% of African and 2% of Indian origin". Humboldt was more or less on the right track back then, but modern encyclopaedias from the North are definitely not: the great majority of Venezuelans have European, African and Indian origins and there is little use in putting people in one box only.

In recent years geneticists have carried out very interesting resear
ch work on the Venezuelan population. Results have confirmed what most Venezuelans thought. Still, the new studies give us more details about how we, Venezuelans, came to be. I will comment about those studies here and in later posts.

A particular study carried out by Rodríguez-Larrade and others in 2007 on the population of Caracas (abstract here) shows interesting patterns. Scientists performed tests with blood samples from patients in private or public hospitals of the capital. They analysed autosomal markers (based on genetic information that comes from both father and mother), markers transmitted through the Y chromosome only (and thus only inherited from fathers to sons) and markers transmitted through the mitochondria (given from mothers to all their children).

The tests on autosomal markers for people in private hospitals show this: 75% of the autosomal markers were of European origin, 17 were of Indian origin and 8 of sub-Saharan provenance. People in public hospitals had the following pattern: 32.8% were European markers, 39.7% were native Ameri
can and 27.5% sub-Saharan.

Sadly but not surprisingly, even in Venezuela people with a darker skin tend to be poorer and go to publi
c and very overcrowded hospitals with little resources. People with a recent European background (parents are European) tend to be better off and they go to private institutions. The situation is not as bad in in many other countries, even if racism is still very present in Venezuela. Still, it is a big problem. This issue is mostly based on the fact people with poor education earn less and find it more difficult to provide for a better environment. The State has never done its homework as it should.

In spite of this division, a big admixture is present in both private and public hospitals.

Now, autosomal studies are not the whole story. They just give us some glimpse about the geneti
c contributions of people in general. It gets more interesting. Genetics can tell us a little bit more than what we knew from recorded history. It can help us broaden our picture of how we came to be Venezuelan. I will write about that in a future post.

Ps. Multiply the column value by 100 to get the percentage.

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