The Somali Bantu (Jareer, Gosha and Mushunguli) people are resourceful, humble, hospitable and predominantly Af  Maay-speaking minority ethnic group that primarily inhabit the interriverine area of southern Somalia, near the vicinity of the Shabelle and Juba Rivers. They are also found in the towns of Jamaame, Jilib, Bu’alle, Sakow and  Kamsuma.

                                Somali Bantu woman braiding a girl`s hair, Tanzania

 This amalgamated Bantoid group who now speaks a Cushitic language are descendants of Bantu people from Southeast African tribes who were abducted and sold into slavery in Somalia and other areas in Northeast Africa and Asia as part of the 18th and 19th century Arab slave trade, especially by agents of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

                                        Somali Bantu man and his mother

The ancestral tribes from Southeast Africa whose natives were captured and enslaved include, among others, the Makua and Yao of southern Tanzania and northern Mozambique; the Ngindo of southern Tanzania; the Nyasa of southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique, and northern Malawi; and the Zaramo and Zigua of northeast Tanzania. Other southeast African tribes represented among the Bantu refugees include the Digo, Makale, Manyawa, Nyamwezi, and Nyika.

                            Veiled Somali Bantu woman

The black-skin Somali Bantu people are given various names with serious derogatory slurs by the light-skin Somalis. The Somali Bantu people, especially those who fled the once forested Juba River valley, are politely referred to as Wagosha (“people of the forest”) or Jareer (term used to describe Africans with hard or kinky hair). Derogatory terms to describe the Somali Bantu include adoon and habash, which translate as “slave.” Some Somalis also call the Bantu ooji, which in Italian means “today”and refers to the Somali's perception of the Bantu as lacking the ability to think beyond the moment.

                                  Somali Bantu people In Tanzania

 The Somali Bantu generally refer to themselves simply as the Bantu. Those who trace their origins to an east African tribe refer to themselves collectively as Shanbara, Shangama, or Wagosha. Those Bantu people with very strong cultural and linguistic ties to southeast Africa refer to themselves as Mushunguli or according to their east African tribe, such as Zigua. In Bantu languages, such as Swahili, people from the Zigua tribe are called Wazigua, while a single person from that tribe is called Mzigua. The word Mushunguli evolved from the word Mzigua.

                                 Somali Bantu girl in Tanzania

Most scholars believe that the Wazigua are the founders of Goshaland along the Juba River, a safe haven for runaway slaves. Late in the 19th century, Egypt, Zanzibar, Italy, and Britain recognized this haven as an independent entity. Although other gama (autonomous communities) later existed in Goshaland, the Wazigua remained as an autonomous society with a distinct political structure.

                                       Somali Bantu girls in USA

That is probably why the Goshaland people are generally known by the name of their founders, the Wazigua. Until the 1920s, the Bantu people of Goshaland were divided into nine gama groups, which constituted the core of their confederation. They are Makale, Makua, Molema, Mushunguli (Zigua), Ngindo, Nyamwezi, Nyassa, Nyika, and Yao. Later, some of these groups were either assimilated into the indigenous Bantu/Jareer of the Shabelle River or incorporated into other Somali clans such as Biamal, Garre, Jiido, Shiqaal, and so on.

Bantu woman near Jamaame, southern Somalia
Bantu woman near Jamaame, southern Somalia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prior to the civil war in Somalia in the late 1980s, the Zigua (Wazigua), who have maintained their ancestral southeast African culture and language more than any other ex-slave Bantu group, were also referred to as the Mushunguli. Since many Bantu groups in pre-war Somalia wished to integrate into the dominant clan structure, identifying oneself as a Mushunguli was undesirable. Once in the refugee camps, however, being a Mushunguli became desirable as resettlement to Tanzania and Mozambique was predicated on proving a connection to an east African tribe. In this regard, some Bantu refugees with ex-slave ancestry, whether or not they maintained their ancestral language and culture, adopted Mushunguli identification and Swahili language use to differentiate themselves from the other Somali Bantu groups.
Since independence in 1960, Somali governments have promoted the false notion that Somalia is a homogeneous nation, a claim reinforced by some Somali nomadic scholars and non-Somalis as well. The myth of homogeneity falsely represents Somalia's dominant nomadic culture and tradition as the nation's only culture and tradition. Somalia, in fact, is made up of diverse communities. Indeed, some experts estimate that up to one-third of all Somalis are minorities, representing a variety of cultures, languages, and interpretations of the dominant Sunni Islamic religion.
The Bantu people's predominant Negroid physical features are distinct from thatof the Somali nomads and give them a unique identity. Among the physical features used to differentiate the nomads from the Bantu is hair texture—jareer (kinky hair for the Bantu people) and jilec (soft hair for the non-Bantu). People with such features are subjected to a variety of discriminatory practices. They are often excluded from political, economic, and educational advancement. The Bantu, therefore, have had to settle for the lowest and most undignified occupations

                             Somali Bantu people

Despite the abuses against them, the Bantu have been described as a resourceful people with many different skills. Bantu who have gone to the cities have worked in a variety of labor intensive occupations. Their resourcefulness and hard work is evident in the refugee camps as well, where the Bantu have been engaged in similar types of jobs as well as agricultural work. The Bantu have also been described as humble and hospitable. They are known for their capacity to easily adjust to any situation.

                                                 Somali Bantu girl carrying her sister
The name "Somali Bantu"
The term "Somali Bantu" is an ethnonym that was invented by humanitarian aid-supplying agencies shortly after the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in 1991. Its purpose was to help the staff of these aid agencies better distinguish between, on the one hand, Bantu minority groups hailing from Somalia and thus in need of immediate humanitarian attention, and on the other hand, other Bantu groups from elsewhere in Africa that did not require immediate humanitarian assistance.

                                                     Somali Bantu woman

 The neologism further spread through the media, which repeated verbatim what the aid agencies' increasingly began indicating in their reports as the new name for Somalia's ethnically Bantu minorities. Prior to the civil war, the Bantu were simply referred to in the literature as Bantu, Gosha, Mushunguli or Jareer, as they still, in fact, are within Somalia proper.

                                        Somali Bantu kids

Resettlement in the United States
In 1999, the United States classified the Bantu refugees from Somalia as a priority and the United States Department of State first began what has been described as the most ambitious resettlement plan ever from Africa, with thousands of Bantus scheduled for resettlement in America. In 2003, the first Bantu immigrants began to arrive in U.S. cities, and by 2007, around 13,000 had been resettled to cities throughout the United States with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the U.S. State Department, and refugee resettlement agencies across the country.

Among the resettlement destinations, it is known that Salt Lake City, Utah received about 1,000 Bantus. Other cities in the southwest such as Denver, Colorado, San Antonio, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona have received a few thousand as well. In New England, Manchester, New Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont were also destinations selected for resettlement of several hundred. Plans to resettle the Bantu in smaller towns, such as Holyoke, Massachusetts and Cayce, South Carolina, were scrapped after local protests. There are also communities of several hundred to a thousand Bantu people in cities that also have high concentrations of ethnic Somalis such as the Minneapolis-St. Paul area,Columbus, Ohio, Atlanta,San Diego, Boston,Pittsburgh, and Seattle, with a notable presence of about 1,000 Bantus in Lewiston, Maine.The documentary film Rain in a Dry Land chronicles this journey, with stories of Bantu refugees resettled in Springfield, Massachusetts and Atlanta, Georgia.

                                             Somali Bantu woman in USA

Location (Climate and environment)
Somali Bantu reside in the southern part of the country, near the Juba and Shabelle Rivers. These rivers originate in the Ethiopian highlands and generally run southwards through the bottom half of Somalia. The Juba River flows out to the Indian Ocean just north of Kismayu while the Shabelle River ends in a series of swamp basins. In years of high rainfall in Ethiopia, the Shabelle River may merge with the Juba River in the
far south of Somalia.

                                  Somali Bantu woman cultivating land in USA

It must be noted that about 10% of Somali`s territory is arable and irrigable. Out of this arable land, an estimated 1,729,000 acres is cultivated, and most of this cultivated land is located in Bantu-inhabited
regions. The entire southern region's climate can be categorized as semi-arid, with an average maximum temperature ranging between 85° F to 105° F and minimum temperatures between 68° F and 85° F.
The Bantu in the Juba River valley can be further divided between those living in the lower Juba River Valley (villages primarily south of Jilib) and those living in the middle Juba River valley (primarily villages from Jilib in the south to Buale in the north).

The Juba region is a fertile agricultural land mass stretching between the Kenyan border to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east. Unlike the Shabelle River, which usually dries up from January to March, the Juba River is permanent and is capable of irrigating about 150,000 ha (370,500 acres) of land. Land, particularly farmland, is the one of the most important possessions in the river valley and its environs. Farmland, known locally as dhooboy (muddy land), is the most arable land in Somalia.

                                      Somali Bantu man in Tanzania

Another source of water for farming is rainfall, which is scarce in some seasons. Most of the Juba River valley receives about 24 inches of rain per year. There are two rainy seasons in this region that correspond with the river's high points, which, combined with water from the Juba River, allows farmers to grow crops throughout the year. Most farmers in the region practice a mixed farming system, as rain-fed land mainly provides sorghum and beans. As a result, farmers tend to exploit the recession of river flooding from the adjoining dhesheeg, or depression, along the Juba River. This makes the Bantu-occupied areas of the
Juba River valley extremely productive—and valuable—and thus the backbone of agricultural production for national and international markets in southern Somalia.

                                   Somali bantu girl on her way to farm,Tanzania
Most of the Somali Bantu speak Af Maay (pronounced af my) language which belongs to Cushitic cluster of languages. Some of them also speak Af Maxaatiri or  Af Maxaa (roughly pronounced af mahaa). Af Maay, also know as Maay Maay, serves as the lingua franca in southern Somalia as an agropastoral language while Af Maxaa is spoken throughout the rest of Somalia and in neighboring countries, including Kenya, where the
refugee camps are located.

                                Somali Bantu kids

Both languages served as official languages until 1972 when the government determined that Af Maxaa would be the official written language in Somalia. This decision further isolated and hindered southerners, including the Bantu, from participating in mainstream Somali politics, government services, and education. Af Maay and Af Maxaa share some similarities in their written form but are different enough in their spoken forms as to be mutually unintelligible.

                                                 Somali Bantu kids

While the main language in the Juba River valley is Af Maay, some Bantu in traditional villages do not understand it at all. These Bantu still speak their ancestral tribal languages from Tanzania (primarily Zigua), with Swahili occasionally used as a common language. In the refugee camps, some Bantu adults have
taken it upon themselves to learn English while others have gained greater proficiency in Swahili in order to communicate with Kenyan aid workers, police, and government officials. A limited number of Bantu refugees are also able to speak and understand some Af Maxaa, which is predominantly spoken in the Dadaab refugee camps and in the surrounding districts of Kenya's Northeastern Province.
Here are some examples of Af Maay:
arring,       ‘matter,                                   ’ illing,       ‘kernel’
barbaar     ‘youth’                                      heped       ‘chest’
apaal,       ‘gratitude’                                  hopoog,    ‘scarf’
derdaar    ‘advice’                                      mathal      ‘appointment’
egding      ‘wrestling’                                  saghaal     ‘nine’
dhaghar,   ‘deceive’                                   shughul,    ‘job’
tinaar       ‘oven’                                        ungbeer    ‘dress’
angkaar,   'curse'                                        oong,        'thirst
jheer,       ‘shyness’                                     jhab,        ‘fracture’
ycaaycuur ‘cat’                                          maaycy     ‘ocean’
Ycuuycy   ‘name of a person’                     ycisaang   ’the youngest’
myyceeg   ‘feeble
Maghy     ‘Noun’                                       Misgy       ‘Sorghum’
Maaycy    ‘Ocean’                                     Jyny          ‘Heaven’
Shyny       ‘Bee’                                        Myfathaaw  ‘I do not want it’

                              Somali Bantu (Wazigua community)

Some Basic Af Maay Expressions
Af Maay                                                   English
Bariideena                                                Good morning.
Nepeda kabariini                                      Indeed, it's a good morning
Se lakabariyi?                                           How is everybody this morning?
Faayne                                                     We feel fine
Hergeleena?                                             How is your day?
See atiing?                                               How are you feeling?
Faayne                                                    Good
Nepeda kahergelni                                  We feel fine
Jirinya                                                      I'm sick
Dhuuri Ihaaye                                          I'm in pain
Mathy dhuury                                          Head ache
Alooly duury                                           Stomach ache
Gooy Dhuur                                            Tooth ache
Maghagha?                                             What is your name?
Maghaaghey Ali                                      My name is Ali
Meghaa Jarty                                          How old are you?
Kooy                                                      Come
Fadheew                                                Sit down
Fiiry                                                        Look
May subiyoyte?                                      What are you doing?
Walne                                                    Nothing
Inte anjeede?                                         Where are you going?
Suuktah anjeede                                     I'm going to the market
Hunguri amooye                                     I'm eating food
Inte kukoyti?                                          Where are you coming from?
Shuqul'aa kukooyi                                  I'm coming from work
harti                                                        husband
billan                                                       wife
llmoogey                                                my children
dhaloogey                                              my children
so'                                                          meat
wang                                                      milk
ming                                                       house
shir                                                         meeting
reer                                                       family
Aw                                                       Mr (for head of the household)
Ay                                                        Ms. (for an older women)
dab                                                       fire

                                      Somali Bantu kids

Maalmo Sitimaangk                             Days of the Week
Sabtih                                                  Saturday
Ehed                                                    Sunday
Isniing                                                   Monday
Talaadih                                               Tuesday
Arbaa                                                  Wednesday
Kamiis                                                 Thursday
Jumaa                                                  Friday

Qibliyaalkih                                         Directions
Barih                                                    East
Orsih (irre-dhiimih)                               West
Waaqow                                              North
Koonfur                                               South

1                                                         Kow (hal)                        1000                 Kung
2                                                         Lammih                            10,000             Tummung Kung
3                                                         Seddih                              50,000             Kontong Kun
4                                                        Afar                                  100,000            Bogol kung
5                                                        Shang                                1,000,000        Hal Milyang / malyuung
6                                                        Li
7                                                       Todobih
8                                                       Siyeed
9                                                       Sagaal
10                                                     Tummung
11                                                     Tummung I Kow
12                                                     Tummung i Lammih
13                                                     Tummung i Seddih
14                                                     Tummung i Afar
20                                                      Labaatung
30                                                      Soddong
40                                                     Afartung
50                                                     Kontong
60                                                     Lihdung
70                                                    Todobaatung
80                                                    Siyeetung
90                                                    Sagaalung
100                                                  Bogol

                              Somali Bantu woman
Their general exclusion from mainstream Somali society has hindered the Bantu from participating in the education system. The Somali government has established far fewer schools in Bantu regions than in towns inhabited by dominant clans. This denial of access to education represents one of the most egregious and
detrimental examples of Somali institutional discrimination against the Bantu.

                                   Somali Bantu man

Some Bantu children in Somalia did attend Koranic (religious education) schools. The lack of schools in Bantu residential areas, along with an unfamiliar language used as the medium of instruction, are among the obstacles to education faced by the rural Bantu. Those who can afford to send their children to a city to earn
a high school degree face discrimination against pursuing higher education. In general, Bantu students have been deliberately excluded from studying abroad on scholarships. In the past, the few Bantu students who did receive scholarships mainly went to the Soviet military academy because at the time there was very little interest among Somalis in studying in that country.

                        Somali Bantu graduates

General discrimination by the majority Somalis has further excluded the Bantu from virtually any but the most menial positions in Somali-run organizations. These positions generally do not require literacy, thus further decreasing the need for the Bantu to pursue formal education.

                                  Somali Bantu men

IOM officials report that while some Bantu children in the refugee camps attend primary and secondary school, only an estimated 5% of all Bantu refugees have been formally educated. Some Somali refugees refused to allow their children to study alongside Bantu children. This resulted in some Somali students attending separate classes, and, in some cases, separate schools, from the Bantu. Educating boys has been the priority for Bantu parents, although some female children attend primary school with a smaller number pursing secondary education.

                               Somali Bantu kids in school
Between 2500–3000 years ago, speakers of the original proto-Bantu language group began a millennia-long series of migrations eastward from their original homeland in the general Nigeria and Cameroon area of West Africa. This Bantu expansion first introduced Bantu peoples to central, southern and eastern Africa, regions where they had previously been absent from.
                                       Somali Bantu girl

Some Bantus in Somalia are believed to be direct descendants of these early migrants from West Africa. Most, however, are descended from Bantu groups that had settled in Southeast Africa after the initial expansion from Nigeria/Cameroon, and whose members were later captured and sold into the Arab slave trade.
Persian and Arab traders established business contacts with east Africans over 1,000 years ago. These relations, coupled with refugees who fled the turmoil in Arabia after the death of Muhammad in the 7th century, resulted in a significant number of Arab immigrants residing on the coast of east Africa. The mixing of the coastal Bantu-speaking African peoples with these Arab immigrants led to the emergence of the Swahili people and language. The Swahili people lived and worked for the next seven centuries with the indigenous African population. During this time, the Swahili people expanded their trade and communication
further inland and to the south with the other African groups, including ancestral tribes of the Somali Bantu.

                                      Somali Bantu women
Colonial Period
By the time the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, there existed a modern economy and advanced society on the east coast of Africa that some claim rivaled those in Europe. Portuguese colonial rule, however, disrupted the traditional local economic networks on the east African coast, resulting in a general
breakdown of the once prosperous Swahili economy.
The Portuguese were finally ousted in 1730 from the east African coast (north of Mozambique) by forces loyal to the Sultanate of Oman. Omani Arab dominion adversely affected the Swahili but was disastrous to the inland African tribes as slavery expanded to become a major economic enterprise of the Sultanate. While Somali coastal cities were included in the Sultanate, local clans there enjoyed greater freedom over their internal affairs than did the Swahili people in Kenya and Tanzania.
Industrialization in the 18th century increased the demand for cheap labor
around the world. However, in East Africa widespread plantation and industrial slave operations in the early 19th century increased the need for labor. To take advantage of this business opportunity, the Sultan of Oman, Sayyid Said, relocated his seat of power from Oman to the east African island of Zanzibar in 1840.

The Sultanate's sovereignty extended from northern Mozambique to southern Somalia. Africans from these
areas were abducted into the slave trade. Tanzania, which now includes Zanzibar, was particularly terrorized by the slave trade. A majority of the Somali Bantu refugees slated for resettlement to the United States trace their ancestral origins to Tanzania.
Somali Bantu woman

The slave trade from Mozambique and southern Tanzania was carried out by agents of the Sultanate of Zanzibar in cooperation with some African tribes. Raids and prisoners of war were the typical sources of slaves. Written accounts from the time describe how slave traders marched African slaves 400 miles from
the area around Lake Malawi in the interior to the Tanzanian coastal city of Kilwa Kivinje on the Indian Ocean. This written history corresponds exactly with the oral history of the Somali Bantu elders with origins in Mozambique. Bantu refugees with ancestral origins in northeast Tanzania, primarily the Zigua and Zaramo, similarly describe how their ancestors were transported by sea from the Tanzanian port city of Bagamoyo to southern Somalia.
Siomali Bantu people

Although many slaves were sold to European buyers with destinations beyond Africa, some slaves were sold to Africans to work on plantations on the continent. Some Africans slaves from Kilwa were transported to the Somali port cities of Merka and Brava where they were forced to work plantations near the Indian Ocean coast and in the Shabelle River valley.
The introduction of the modern cash economy at about the same time, and with it the practice of slavery, contributed to the breakdown of traditional intertribal economic and social safety networks. As a result, many indigenous Africans lost their customary coping methods that had formerly protected them in times
of severe drought. This was particularly true for tribes that were located near the Indian Ocean coast, such as the Zaramo and Zigua, both of which have descendants represented among the Somali Bantu refugees today. In the late 1830s, there were several years of consecutive drought in Tanzania that resulted in
widespread starvation and death. In the hope of averting their families’ starvation, Africans without means to weather this terrible period were reduced to accepting Omani Arab promises of wage labor in a distant land. The Bantu claim that once their ancestors landed in Somalia, they were sold as slaves on the Benediri coast and, later, to nomadic Somalis. The African slaves from northeast Tanzania generally worked in the same southeastern Somali regions as those slaves from Mozambique.
Between 25,000 and 50,000 slaves were absorbed into the Somali riverine areas from 1800 to 1890. During this period of expanded agricultural production in the Shabelle River valley, the more remote and forested Juba River valley remained largely uninhabited. In the 1840s, the first fugitive slaves from the Shabelle valley arrived and settled along the Juba River. By the early 1900s, an estimated 35,000 ex-slaves were living in communities in the Juba River valley, in many cases settling in villages according to their east African tribe.

                                 Somali Bantu woman

In the mid-19th century, an influential female Zigua leader, Wanankhucha, led many of her people out of slavery in a well-orchestrated escape aimed at returning to Tanzania. Upon arriving in the lower Juba River valley, where the fugitive slaves were eventually able to farm and protect themselves from hostile Somalis,
Wanankhucha determined that a recent earthquake in the valley was a sign that they should settle rather than continue their journey. Another factor hindering the ex-slaves return to southeast Africa was the perilous
social and physical environments in eastern Kenya and southern Somalia. At the time, the indigenous tribes of east Kenya were more hostile to runaway slaves than Arab slave owners. The physical landscape of the Kenyan frontier with Somalia is one of the more inhospitable areas in east Africa. Nonnatives trying to
cross this area by foot placed themselves at great physical risk.

                                    Somali Bantu family

In 1895, the first 45 slaves were freed by the Italian colonial authority under the administration of the chartered company, V. Filonardi. Massive emancipation of slaves in Somalia only began after the antislavery activist Robecchi Bricchetti informed the Italian public about the slave trade in Somalia and the indifferent
attitude of the Italian colonial government toward the trade. Slavery in southern Somalia lasted until early into the 20th century when it was abolished by the Italian colonial authority in accordance with the Belgium protocol. Some inland groups remained in slavery until the 1930s, however.

                                   Somali Bantu boy carrying firewood in Tanzania
After Slavery
Fugitive slaves who settled in the lower Juba River valley with others from their east African tribes were able to retain their ancestral languages and cultures. Later Bantu arrivals, who had begun to assimilate into Somali society while living in the Shabelle River valley, found the lower Juba River valley densely populated and were therefore forced to settle farther north to the middle Juba River valley. While the Bantu of the middle Juba River valley generally lost their ancestral languages and culture, they faced discrimination similar to that levelled against the Bantu living in the lower Juba River valley. Many of these Bantu adopted dominant Somali clan attachment and names as a means of social organization and identity.
Somali Bantu boy

While slavery in southern Somalia was abolished in the early part of the 20th century, the same Italian authority that had abolished slavery reintroduced coerced labor laws and the conscription of the freed slaves for economic purposes in the agricultural industry in the mid-1930s. Italy had established over 100 plantations in the river valleys, and an Italian official suggested to the Italian administration that it establish villages for emancipated slaves who would be organized into labor brigades to work on the Italian plantations.

                                     Somali Bantu woman

The emancipated Bantu were expected to work solely as farm laborers on plantations owned by the Italian colonial government. The Italian agricultural schemes would not have succeeded without the collaboration of individuals from non-Bantu ethnic groups who themselves were former slave owners. The Bantu were forced to abandon their own farms in order to dwell in the established villages around the Italian plantations. As a British official in east Africa noted, “The conception of these agricultural enterprises as exploitation concessions engendered under the [Italian] fascist regime a labour policy of considerable severity in theory and actual brutality in practice. It was in fact indistinguishable from slavery.”

                                    Somali bantu man
20th Century
In spite of attacks from rogue slave traders and coercive labor practices of the Italian colonial regime, the Bantu were able to establish themselves as farmers and live in a relatively stable manner. Over time, some Bantu migrated to large Somali cities where they found jobs as manual laborers and occasionally as semiskilled tradesman.
Bantu refugee elders recall the British occupation of Somalia between the early 1940s and 1950 as more just than either the Italian colonial regime or the independent Somali government. Bantu refugees complain that life became more difficult once Somalia became independent in 1960. Although the Somali government made declarations in the 1970s that tribalism and mention of clan differences should be abolished, overt discrimination against the Bantu continued.
From the late 1970s until the early 1980s, the Somali government forcibly conscripted Bantu into the military in its fight against Ethiopia. The Bantu made ideal soldiers because, as the scholar Catherine Besteman notes, they were visually identifiable as comrades by other government soldiers and they were more easily caught if they tried to escape in the northern countryside where they would clearly be out of place.

                                       Somali Bantu woman
Civil War 
Civil war broke out in the wake of the 1991 collapse of Siyaad Barre's regime, and clan competition for power had disastrous results for the civilian population in general and the Bantu people in particular. The Bantu were the backbone of agricultural production in southern Somalia, and consequently had large stocks
of food on their property. As Somali civil society broke down in 1991 and 1992, agricultural marketing networks also began to cease normal operations.

                                          Somali Bantu people in USA

As hunger among the Somali population increased, stocks of food gained value and importance among not only the starving populace but also the bandits and rogue militias. Because the Bantu were excluded from the traditional Somali clan protection network, bandits and militias were able to attack the Bantu with impunity. In the process of stealing food stocks, the bandits also robbed, raped, and murdered Bantu farmers.
As the war progressed, control of the lower Juba River valley shifted among various warlords, with each wreaking havoc on the Bantu farming communities.
In October of 1992, the Bantu began to flee southern Somalia en masse for refugee camps located approximately 40 miles from the Somali border in Kenya's arid and often hostile Northeastern Province. By January of 1994, an estimated 10,000 Bantu were living in the Dagahaley, Ifo, Liboi, and Hagadera Refugee
Camps; 75% of these refugees expressed the desire to resettle in Tanzania and to not return to Somalia. Several thousand Bantu refugees also fled Somalia directly by sea to the Marafa refugee camp near Malindi, Kenya, and also to the Mkuyu refugee camp near Handeni in northern Tanzania.

                                    Somali Bantu kids
In Refugee Camps 
Refugees from southern Somalia, especially those who originated west of the Indian Ocean coastal cities, sought refuge by crossing into Kenya at the border town of Liboi (roughly located on the equator 10 miles west of the KenyaSomalia frontier). Most refugees in Dadaab (located another 30 miles west of Liboi) today were received at Liboi, which also served as the original United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in this area.

As Liboi grew to over 40,000 refugees, the UNHCR established additional camps: first Ifo, then Dagahaley, and, lastly, Hagadera, all of which are located in the Dadaab Division of Garissa District in Northeastern Province. The three camps are situated within 10 miles of the Dadaab Division town center, which is also called Dadaab. At its height, the four refugee camps in Kenya held over 160,000 refugees. With the closing of Liboi, the UNHCR estimates in 2002 that approximately 135,000 refugees remain in the three Dadaab camps.

The Dadaab camps are administered by the UNHCR with the main implementing partners, CARE International and Doctors Without Borders, providing general camp support and medical care respectively. A number of other nongovernmental agencies such as Caritas, UNICEF, and local Kenyan groups have also provided support. The Government of Kenya (GOK) established police posts in each camp and, occasionally, provides security backup through the Kenyan Army. Dadaab is located in Kenya's inhospitable north. The area's flat, semi-arid, and sandy terrain supports mostly scrub brush and is home to an array of wildlife including giraffe, small antelope known as Dik Dik, various cats such as the East African Serval, hyena, the carnivorous Marabou stork, and Vulterine guinea fowl. The Somali Wild Ass is also prevalent in and around the refugee camps. Both flora and fauna in the Dadaab refugee area have suffered due to habitat destruction, mainly from the cutting and collection of firewood.
Dadaab is a small frontier town with sandy streets, some concrete buildings, and erratic water and electrical service. Along with refugees and the local Kenyan Somali inhabitants, nomads and bandits use Dadaab as a rest and resupply destination. Caution must be used when walking through town at night. Gunfire and banditry in Dadaab force aid workers to live in secure compounds.

In the refugee camps, the Bantu settled in the most distant locations (blocks or sections housing approximately 600 people each) where they, along with other refugees on the periphery of the camp, are more vulnerable to bandit attacks than refugees living near the center of the camps. Settlement of the Bantu in
these camp locations was partly a result of their date of arrival in the camps and partly a result of the discrimination against them by the other Somali refugees.

                       Somali Bantu refugees in Tanzania

Each refugee family in the Dadaab camps is issued a large canvas tent, basic cooking utensils, and a jerry can for collecting potable water from spigots located throughout the camps. Cooking of UNHCR-supplied wheat, beans, salt, sugar, and oil (which are distributed once every two weeks), along with various produce and canned food available in the refugee camp markets, is usually done over an open fire. Refugees dig their own latrines with UNHCR-supplied building materials and supervision. Doctors Without Borders runs the hospitals and many health posts that are located in each refugee camp. They, along with CARE International social workers, provide various forms of outreach to the refugees.

In order to protect themselves against nighttime bandit attacks, the Bantu have constructed fortified compounds guarded by armed sentries. Since security for all people living in the refugee camps is inadequate, other refugees have also built protective fencing around their sections. In the first years of the camp, the Bantu suffered violent attacks at a rate that was disproportionate to their population in the wider refugee camp community.

Before a U.S.-sponsored firewood collection program was established, refugee women were particularly vulnerable to rape while collecting firewood in the surrounding bush. Rape was often committed by men from one clan against women from a different clan. In some cases, refugees who were raped claimed that their attackers first asked them what clan they belonged to. Bantu women were especially vulnerable. Rapists could be virtually assured that they were not attacking a fellow clan member or even someone who belonged
to a clan that had a security agreement with their clan. In the ensuing anger and confusion of these rapes, the Bantu accused the dominant clans of this crime. When women from the dominant clans were raped, they sometimes accused Bantu men as the attackers. With accusations being hurled against each community, hostilities occasionally broke out.
About 300 Bantu gathered this week for an Iftar - the nightly breaking of the fast during Ramadan - sponsored by the Islamic Society of Milwaukee.
Despite this difficult environment, the Bantu have managed to carve out a niche for themselves in small-scale agriculture, operating a tree nursery at one camp and growing produce for local markets in and outside of the refugee camps. The Bantu have also been employed by nongovernmental organizations in the building trades and as laborers. In 2002, over 12,000 Somali Bantu were moved to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya to be interviewed by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

                        Somali Bantu girl holding her dish
Post-Civil War
As militia fighting in southern Somalia stabilized in the mid-1990s, the Bantu who remained in Somalia were once again able to resume farming. Since this time, however, armed dominant clan bandits have taken control of the valuable agricultural regions of southern Somalia. These bandits extort protection money from the Bantu in return for not harming them or allowing other bandits to harm them. Today, the Bantu in Somalia again exist in a state someplace between sharecropping and slavery. Here is how Cassanelli describes the

The war is now concentrated in key resource areas of the south, which are largely, although not exclusively, inhabited by minorities. While planting and harvesting have resumed in many districts of the south, the larger economy is one based on extortion of surpluses from the unarmed to the armed. Because no social contract based on clan affiliation exists between the occupying forces and the villagers, there is no assurance that benefits in the form of relief aid will reach the villagers themselves.

Economically, the Juba River valley in southern Somalia has a special status as it is one of only a few zones where irrigated agriculture is practiced and surplus production is common. Since the yields of other regions, which depend on rainwater, are rarely sufficient to satisfy local markets, it is the settlements in the Juba River valley that supply the coastal and interior towns with agricultural products.
The Bantu manned the caravans, which crossed this region in considerable numbers, in order to transship their goods to the nearby villages and cities.

Most Bantu farmers in the region are small holders, restricted to either low-level jobs or farming on land cultivated by family members and, occasionally, by a few hired workers. The average land area owned by each family ranges between 1 and 10 acres. This type of farming can provide subsistence and limited surpluses to the commercial market. Nevertheless, these farmers contribute the highest percentage to Somalia's staple food stocks, which include maize, millet, sorghum, sesame, beans, cotton, rice, vegetables, and fruits.

Crops grown for commercial export markets include bananas, citrus, and vegetables.  Stagnant economic development among the Bantu people in southern Somalia probably has its roots in the Italian colonial period. Colonial officials confiscated the Bantu's arable farms, which were their only means of subsistence and economic advancement. Between 1935 and 1940, the Italian colonial authority also forcibly conscripted the Bantu into slave-like labor in order to establish large plantations to exploit the agricultural potential in the Juba River valley. This practice ended once the British Army in Somalia defeated the Italians in 1941. The
1940s until the early 1960s were predominantly peaceful years for the Bantu, who were free to farm with little interference from government authorities or hostile neighbors.
After independence, Somali authorities adopted a policy designed to prevent Bantu people from social, political, and economic development. Over the course of the late Siyaad Barre’s military regime in the 1980s, more and more Bantu farmers became landless as large government-owned agricultural enterprises
and members of the political elite used unjust land registration laws to displace the smallholder Bantu from their farms. Expropriation of this valuable arable and irrigable farmland from the Bantu allowed the new “owners” to exploit the land for cash crops.
Somali Bantu girls at a farm in Tanzania

Some of the Bantu have managed to move to urban areas in order to improve their lives. The Bantu in the cities work in building trades, woodworking, vehicle repair, tailoring, and electric machine maintenance. In the refugee camps, the Bantu have engaged in construction, manual labor, tree farming and nurseries, and vegetable gardening.

The staple food for the Bantu is maize, locally known as soor, which is a thick porridge. Other foods are beans, sorghum, vegetables, and fruits. Through outside influences, additional foods such as rice and spaghetti have become common. The Bantu catch fish for themselves from the Juba River and occasionally
buy or trade for ghee, milk, and meat in the market from the nomads. They normally eat three meals a day. Breakfast often includes coffee with bananas, sweet potatoes, or yam. For lunch, they may eat boiled corn and beans mixed with sesame oil and tea. Dinner could be soor with mboga (cooked vegetables), fish or meat, and milk.
The Bantu eat halaal meat—that is, meat that comes from animals slaughtered by a Muslim—and are not permitted to eat pork and lard. Some Bantu also hunt wild game to supplement their diets. Although the Bantu follow restrictions against alcohol, a few brew local drinks made of maize and honey, which is consumed during the traditional ritual dance gatherings. Bantu also eat bread and cereal (hot and cold), the fruit and vegetables listed above, and milk and loose leaf tea to drink. The Bantu have learned to make and cook spaghetti and flat bread (similar to a tortilla) in the refugee camps from their rations of wheat, cooking oil, sugar, and salt. They have also grown tomatoes, onions, papaya, and watermelons in the camps

Community Life
Public life in Bantu villages is similar to that in other African societies where people know and interact with each other to provide for their sustenance and protection. Primarily for security reasons, some Bantus have attempted to attach themselves to groups within the Somalis' indigenous patrilineal clan system of social stratification.

 These Bantus are referred to by the Somalis as sheegato or sheegad (literally "pretenders", meaning they are not ethnically Somali and are attached to a Somali group on an adoptive, client basis. Daily life for most men is consumed by either working on private farms or at wage earning jobs.

Most women play the role of the head of the household, while also being responsible for food preparation and farming tasks. This social structure was recreated in the refugee camps, where the Bantu settled into several community sections or blocks. They quickly organized themselves into functioning communities with gardens for supplemental food, appointed elders and leaders to conduct ceremonies, and built fencing with guards to protect themselves against bandit attacks.
Somali Bantu girl in a veil

Social Structures
Some Bantu populations still maintain the tribal identities of their ancestral country of origin. However, unlike the nomadic Somalis, who consider clan affiliation and tribal identification sacrosanct and critical to survival, most Bantu people identify themselves by their place of residence, which, for those with strong cultural ties to Tanzania, often corresponds to their ceremonial kin grouping. The Bantu slated for resettlement in the United States, therefore, place much less emphasis on Somali clan and tribal affiliations than do the non-Bantu Somalis who have been resettled in the United States. Other Bantu who lived in the vicinity of nomadic Somali clans (particularly those residing outside of the lower Juba River valley) integrated into the Somali nomadic clan system, which provided the Bantu with protection and a sense of identity with the nomads
Discrimination against the Bantu in Somalia largely prevented them from intermarrying with other Somali groups and thus receiving the protection those clan affiliations normally bring. As the scholar Lee Cassanelli explains,
" In Somali society, married women traditionally have served to link the clans of
their fathers and brothers, to whom they always belong, with their husbands, to
whom the children always belong. Most of the nomadic clans practiced some form
of exogamy—marriage outside the clan—to help strengthen alliances with ”outsiders.”
Wives were exchanged even between clans and clan sections that were prone to fight
over water and pasture. These ties helped mediate disputes between clans, since there
 were always families with in-laws on the other side who would have an interest in the
 peaceful resolution of conflicts."

Discrimination against the Bantu was not confined to marriage alone, but engulfed every aspect of their lives. As a marginalized group, the Bantu lacked true representation in politics and access to government services, educational opportunities, and professional positions in the private sector. This exclusion also resulted in economic development policies and resource allocations that didn’t take into account Bantu wishes and priorities. The Bantu’s lineage to slavery relegated them to second-class status—or worse—in pre-war Somalia. This overt discrimination also carried over to the Kenyan refugee camps where the Bantu continued to experience discrimination from the other Somali groups.

Excluded from mainstream Somali society, many Bantu have retained ancestral social structures. For many of the Bantu from the lower Juba River valley, this means that their east African tribe of origin is the main form of social organization. For these Bantu, smaller units of social organization are broken down according to matrilineal kin groupings, which are often synonymous with ceremonial dance groupings. Bantu village and community composition normally follows the Bantu's east African tribal and kin groupings.
Many Bantu from the middle Juba River valley lost their east African language and culture. These Bantu have attempted to integrate, usually as inferior members, into a local dominant Somali clan social structure. Like the Bantu from the lower Juba River valley, the Bantu from the middle Juba River valley also regard their village as an important form of social organization. Although Bantu with strong cultural and linguistic links to southeast Africa have been known to level sarcasm against those who attempted to assimilate into the dominant Somali clan culture and language, there is no real hostility between them. In fact, the war and refugee experience have worked to strengthen relationships between the various Bantu subgroups.

                                      Somali Bantu women`s activist

Marriage and Children
Marriage among the Bantu people can be divided into two types. The first, known as aroos fadhi, is consensual and arranged by the parents. The second, known as msafa, is not approved by the parents and involves the couple running away together to the house of a local sheikh to be married.

Before performing the wedding, however, the sheikh calls the children’s parents to ask them whether they give their blessings to the marriage. The parents on both sides will usually give the wedding their blessing out of respect for the sheikh. In traditional Bantu marriages, the father of the groom pays a dowry to the family of the bride.

Bantu weddings are festive occasions where the groom's parents also arrange a large party for the guests after the ceremony. Some Bantu marry before the age of 16, it is rare, and that many marry between the ages of 16 and 18. Like Muslims in Somalia, the Bantu practice polygamy.

With the Bantu, as in much of Somali society, the children are given the father’s names while the wife keeps her father’s names. The Bantu should be addressed by their first name. Traditionally, a child is given a name on the third day after birth. Islamic names are predominantly used these days, although there is also evidence that some Bantu still use traditional names as well. Some male traditional names are Kolonga, Shaalo, Juma, Mkoma, Mberwa, Nameka, Arbow, Kabea, and Kasamila. Examples of male Islamic names are Kabirow, Malik, Mustaf, Abdulrahman, and Mohammed. Several female traditional names are Unshirey, Mwanamku, and Mwanamvua, while some Islamic female names are Fatuma, Nuuria, Rahma, and Amina.
Somali Bantu woman

Divorce is not uncommon among the Bantu, and men and women may have children by different partners. Young children typically stay with the mother after divorce, but older children may stay with the father.

Religious Life
Ancestors of the Bantu in southeast Africa practiced indigenous ceremonies and beliefs prior to their abduction into slavery. Since Muslims are prohibited from owning Muslim slaves, some Bantu freed themselves from slavery by converting to Islam. Over time, many others also converted to Islam. A small number of Bantu who resided in the Dadaab refugee camps recently converted to Christianity.

                  Somali Bantu Muslims
 Many Bantu, whether Muslim or Christian, retain animist beliefs, including use of magic, curses, and possession dances. Islamic influence among the escaped slaves in the Juba River valley gained momentum after the Bantu leader Nassib Bundo converted to Islam. Although the pre-Islamic traditions and ritual practices were not completely eliminated, most Bantu people in the Juba River valley had converted to Islam by the beginning of the 20th century. Unlike some politically motivated Islamic groups, the Bantu people from the Juba River valley practice Islam for solely religious purposes.
It should be noted that the lower Juba Bantu with strong linguistic and cultural ties to southeast Africa place great value on belonging to a ritual group, known as mviko. Some traditional ceremonies performed by the group are known as mviko rituals. As Francesca Declich, an authority on Bantu culture, explains,
"In the Gosha area, belonging to a dance society or
other dance group is equivalent to belonging to a kin
grouping: people share a network of relationships,
incest rules (inter-marriage is closely controlled between
members of the samedance group), and ancestors by
dance group. The dances are closely related to
initiation into adulthood and their performance is
closely related to controland, therefore, political power."
Mviko and other Bantu ceremonies that include playing drums and dancing are not considered appropriate Islamic behavior and are forbidden by some local Muslim sheikhs. In pre-civil war Somalia, newly resettled nomads in the Juba River valley would often disrupt Bantu dance performances. Some Bantu ceremonial dancing in the Dadaab refugee camps was also disrupted—sometimes violently through intimidation and stone throwing—by fundamentalist Muslim Somalis who objected to the perceived sexually provocative dancing. Although there is some conflict in mixing Islamic Sufi mysticism, which is acceptable to Muslim sheikhs, and the traditional Bantu ritual dances, both seem to coexist in Bantu religious life.
Conversion to Islam by the Bantu communities has served to somewhat reduce hostilities between them and the Somali pastoralists who live in the vicinity of the Juba River. The Bantu are members of the Sunni Islamic sect and members of the Ahmediya Sufi brotherhood and the Qaadiriya Sufi brotherhood, which was headed by the distinguished scholar Sheikh Awees Al-Barawi of Bantu origin.The brotherhoods are known to be the center for religious learning. At the same time, there are Bantu who are not attached to any brotherhood group and practice Islam on a daily basis.
With regard to religious practices, the Bantu are among the more liberal Muslims in Somali society. Evidence of this are the ceremonies performed by the Bantu and the roles that women are allowed to play in the community, such as being allowed to work in the fields and, although they dress modestly by American
standards, not wearing the hijab, which some Muslim women wear to cover themselves while in public. There is no evidence to link the Bantu with any fundamentalist religious or extremist political group. In fact, some fundamentalists in Somalia dismiss the Bantu's religious saints (Sufis) and Islamic practices as unorthodox.  Like other Islamic groups, the Bantu people celebrate the two major religious occasions, Eid-al-Fitr, which comes at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid-al-Adha, which coincides with the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
There appeared to be no Christians among the Bantu who first arrived in refugee camps in 1992. By 1996, however, a small number had converted to Christianity in the Ifo refugee camp, which was also home to several hundred Christian Ethiopians. The Christian Bantu stated that they didn't want to belong to a religion (Islam) that could allow atrocities to be perpetrated against them. A 2002 report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) notes the presence of a Bantu-constructed Christian church in the Ifo refugee camp.

Festivities and Ceremonies
Like other Muslims, the Bantu follow the lunar year system while also using the solar year system to determine the timing for crop planting and harvesting. One of the popular and celebrated traditional festivities is the fire festival known as Deb-Shid, in which people dance and sing around a bonfire to celebrate the
beginning of a new year.
Bantu ceremonies and dance groups are strongly linked to their community structure and spiritual well-being. Thus, traditional ceremonies and ritual dancing among the Bantu will most likely continue to be an important aspect of their lives everywhere they settle.
Another important and traditional festival is Anyakow. This is a dance and singing celebration in which both males and females participate and is mostly held at night in the forest. It is only performed during the day for the commemoration of an important figure in the community or for someone who is about to get married and requests it for the wedding. Other celebrations are held at night to allow participants to spiritually connect with their ancestors. Night is also a time for people to rest and make social acquaintances.
A fascinating and entertaining dance is Masawey, in which men and women wear dried banana leaves on their waists, metal anklets on their feet, and bracelets on their hands to make synchronized rhythmic noises. This is an acrobatic dance with participants simultaneously swinging and moving their bodies. This dance, like Anyakow, is sung in either Swahili or a local dialect. Another famous dance is Cadow Makaraan. Shulay is a dance competition between Bantu villages that is performed by the best boy and girl dancers from each village. In all these events, whether ritual or fantasy, performers play different drums and other instruments.
Artistic woodcarvings are demonstrated during the festivities of Anyakow and other dancing ceremonies. Various carved masks are worn during daytime dances to cover one's face. During these festivities, the artists’ mastery of art, literature, and music are said to not only capture the audience's attention, but to
mesmerize them as well.
Although festivities are mainly religious, there are other nonreligious social occasions that are celebrated, such as the birth of a baby, marriages, circumcisions, and the commemoration of saints. The Bantu’s animist beliefs reveal themselves in rural child-rearing practices. Women with babies under 40 days old traditionally stay inside. If a new mother needs to go outside, she will often take a metallic object with her to ward off evil. This tradition is mostly practiced by those living in rural Somalia, while the urban population often no longer practices such traditions.

As mentioned earlier, Bantu women do not wear the hijab for religious purposes. However, if married, they cover themselves by wearing a shaash dango (headscarf), a locally styled blouse called a cambuur-garbeet, and a large wraparound cloth called a gonfo, similar to the Indian sari. Some Bantu dressing styles are worn only on special occasions such as weddings, traditional festivities, and religious celebrations.

Many Bantu men in the refugee camps, and particularly the older ones, dress in buttoned shirts or t-shirts along with the traditional wraparound cloth that other Somalis wear around their waists. Like their Somali compatriots, the Bantu may wear this clothing at home once they arrive in the United States. Younger men engaged in manual labor are more likely to wear pants rather than the wraparound cloth. Some Bantu men also put on the Muslim cap or, less often, a turban.
Clothing worn by the Bantu children in the refugee camp generally mirrors that of the parents. With limited money for clothes, children are often provided with the most affordable clothes that are available in the camps, with girls wearing dresses and wraparound skirts and boys dressing in t-shirts and pants. Due to a
lack of money, some refugees even used the liner in their tents as material for clothing.

Art, Literature, and Music
Art for the Bantu primarily takes the form of music and dance, as described in length in the sections on religion and festivities. Important aspects of their culture are passed down from one generation to the next through storytelling, singing, and oral recounting of their history.

The Bantu play musical instruments, primarily drums, in their traditional ceremonies. Some Bantu work in urban Somalia playing in bands for the wider Somali population.


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  1. Good day,

    I am an arist living in Canada and I'd like to know whether it is possible for me to use one of your photographs to paint a painting?

    If you provide me with your details I will include it on the back of my painting.
    Example: Painted from a photograph with the permission of the photographer ____________.

    You have a beautiful blog.

    Phillip (


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