In this case, on his paternal side, his results showed Yoruba from Nigeria; on his maternal side, a mixture of Mandinka from Senegal, Fula from Guinea-Bissau, Temne and Mende from Sierra Leone and Kpelle from Liberia.
“I went on Instagram and posted my results with a picture of my certificate of ancestry and a couple of hashtags,” he said. “In less than a day, people — particularly, those of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria — started reaching out to me, encouraging me to learn more and visit.”
Jumping on the Heritage Travel Trend
Flash forward to summer of 2019 and Clayton was boarding a flight to Nigeria to connect with the dozens of Yoruba friends he had forged relationships with after a year of video calls and WhatsApp texting. In 2020, even amidst the global pandemic, he returned to Nigeria and again in 2021, where he also visited Sierra Leone, getting his dual-citizenship (thanks to his Temne and Mende descent).
In total, he’s traveled to Nigeria three times, most recently in May of 2022 to visit his now-fiancée — one of the many Yoruba friends he first connected with online after discovering his ancestry. “If I had more vacation time and a bigger travel budget, I’d be going back every couple of weeks,” he laughed.
Currently, Clayton’s making big travel plans for 2023, of course including visits back to Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea Bissau, Tanzania, Liberia and maybe Ghana. To say he’s a fan of heritage travel — a trending type of travel to places of your ancestral roots — would be an understatement. And for anyone else looking to take the plunge, he says go for it — particularly African Americans.
“It’s no secret our ancestors didn’t come here with papers, like so many other cultures,” Clayton said. “But thanks to DNA testing, we can learn precisely where we came from and we can connect with it in a way our grandparents and their parents (and so on) could never before.”
Here are a handful of heritage travel tips from the now-seasoned pro.
The Benefits of Heritage Travel
- Better Sense of Self. “Growing up, I never really felt like I had a culture to claim as my own because I didn’t know much about African culture overall. But when I traveled there, I got a personal crash course in the history of the Yoruba people from the Yoruba people. Knowing who you are gives you more confidence in life, and confidence to navigate through the future.”
- Break Down Stereotypes. “I always had this idea that Nigeria, in particular, was a dangerous and underdeveloped place. My family and colleagues thought that, too. They’d make jokes while I was planning my trip, like ‘How are you going to get around out there? A zebra?’ But Nigeria — particularly the city of Lagos — has all the same amenities as the U.S., technology and infrastructure: the internet (it’s faster than what I have in South Carolina!), movie theaters, VR arcades, a music and entertainment industry. Not to mention, Nigeria is also Africa’s biggest economy.”
- Better the Country (or Countries). “When travelers establish meaningful connections with a place, they’re all the more eager to see those countries thrive. When I visited Sierra Leone, I fell in love with Rogbonko, a little village of my Temne descent in the countryside. To benefit the local school, the villagers make hats and book bags from dried grass to sell, but they really only relied on donations and people buying the products while they were there. I helped them find a payment processer online (things like Venmo or PayPal don’t work there), so they could expand their business and sell further.”
- Form Bonds. “I formed some of the most valuable friendships of my life with those I’ve met through heritage travel. My fiancée is just one — but, of course, the most important — example. I had communicated with her for a year over FaceTime before traveling there, then, once there, we became very good friends right away. She’s extremely intelligent and beautiful; I asked her out several times before she finally agreed to dating a ‘crazy American.’ I proposed to her on a trip together in Dubai in 2020.”