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Man achieves royalty
At a Stafford County ceremony, a Memphis man meets an African chief who shares his blood

 As a customary sign of appreciation, the Rev. Jarvis Bailey (center) places a dollar bill on the head of musician Okyerema Asante.
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Date published: 11/17/2008

Amid the beating of bongo drums and audience members dressed in colorful African outfits, Howard Robertson of Memphis walked into a ceremony Saturday night as a public relations executive--and emerged a king.

He recently discovered through DNA testing that he shares the same blood as a chief from the West African country of Ghana. That makes him an heir to the throne of the Nzema tribe, according to those at a Stafford County ceremony Saturday.

Robertson shares a common female ancestor with Chief Nana Ndama Kundumuah IV of Princes Town, a sister city to Fredericksburg.

Their connection may go back 28 generations before families were separated by the slave trade, said Paula Royster, a genealogist who organized the reunion.

"What slavery tore apart 400 years ago, we are going to put back together today," she announced.

Worldwide, there has been a push in recent years for people to use DNA technology to trace their roots to a particular part of the world. The kit costs about $100. Participants swipe a swab inside their cheek, then mail it back.

Robertson did that two years ago, assuming he'd discover in what part of Africa his ancestors lived. "I had no idea it would lead to an individual," he said Saturday. "This is most amazing."

Royster said Saturday's reunion marks the first time people from two continents have been matched by DNA. She said it also was the first time an African chief performed this ceremony on America soil, although the chief did a similar ritual last week at a slave burial ground in Richmond.

"We're on the threshold of history," she told those at the event.

Royster is founder of the Center for African American Genealogical Research, a free online service that helps black families learn about their ancestors.

She's also president of the Fredericksburg-Princes Town Sister City Association.

At Saturday's event, Robertson and four men from Ghana gathered in an indoor pavilion at Gary Melchers Home & Studio at Belmont.

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