Somali Bantu Foundation of Kansas
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Bantus simply refer to themselves as Bantu. While some have adopted the Somali language, speaking for the most part a Bantu version of the southern Somali dialect of Af-Maay, a number still speak a dialect of their ancestral Bantu languages (e.g. Zigua, Mushunguli). Unlike Somalis, most of whom are nomadic herders, Bantus are mainly sedentary subsistence farmers. Sharp physical differences also distinguish the two groups: Bantus have kinkier hair than the soft-haired Somalis, and are shorter, darker, and more muscular with broader features.
The majority of Bantus have converted to Islam, which they first began embracing in order to escape slavery. Starting in the colonial period, some also began converting to Christianity. However, whether Muslim or Christian, many Bantu have retained their ancestral animist traditions, including the practice of possession dances and the use of magic and curses. Many of these religious traditions closely resemble those practised in Tanzania, similarities which also extend to hunting, harvesting and music, among other things. Many Bantu have also retained their ancestral social structures, with their Bantu tribe of origin in southeastern Africa serving as the principal form of social stratification. Smaller units of societal organization are divided according to matrilineal kinship groups, the latter of which are oftentimes interchangeable with ceremonial dance groupings. 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, a term used to denote the fact that they are not ethnically Somali and are attached to a Somali group on an adoptive, client basis. Bantus that have retained their ancestral southeast African traditions have likewise been known to level sarcasm at other Bantus who have tried to associate themselves with their Somali patrons, albeit without any real animosity (the civil war has actually served to strengthen relationships between the various Bantu sub-groups). All told, there has been very little co-mingling between Bantus and Somalis. Intermarriage is also extremely rare, and typically results in ostracism the few times it does occur.
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. 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
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.
The Indian Ocean slave trade was multi-directional and changed over time. To meet the demand for menial labor, black slaves captured by Arab slave traders from southeastern Africa were sold in cumulatively large numbers over the centuries to customers in Egypt, Arabia, the Persian Gulf, India, the Far East, the Indian Ocean islands, Ethiopia and Somalia.From 1800 to 1890, between 25,000–50,000 black African slaves are thought to have been sold from the slave market of Zanzibar to the Somali coast. Most of the slaves were from the Majindo, Makua, Nyasa, Yao, Zalama, Zaramo and Zigua ethnic groups of Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. Collectively, these Bantu groups are known as Mushunguli, which is a term taken from Mzigula, the Zigua tribe's word for "people" (the word holds multiple implied meanings including "worker", "foreigner", and "slave").
Bantu slaves were made to work in plantations owned by Somalis along the Shebelle and Jubba rivers, harvesting lucrative cash crops such as grain and cotton. In the 1840s, the first fugitive slaves from the Shebelle valley began to settle in the Jubba valley. By the early 1900s, an estimated 35,000 former Bantu slaves settled there.The Italian colonial administration abolished slavery in Somalia at the turn of the 20th century. Some Bantu groups, however, remained enslaved well until the 1930s, and continued to be despised and discriminated against by large parts of Somali society.The Bantus were also conscripted to forced labor on Italian-owned plantations since the Somalis themselves were averse to what they deemed menial labor, and because the Italians viewed the Somalis as racially superior to the Bantu.
While upholding the perception of Somalis as distinct from and superior to the European construct of "black Africans", both British and Italian colonial administrators placed the Jubba valley population in the latter category. Colonial discourse described the Jubba valley as occupied by a distinct group of inferior races, collectively identified as the WaGosha by the British and the WaGoscia by the Italians. Colonial authorities administratively distinguished the Gosha as an inferior social category, delineating a separate Gosha political district called Goshaland, and proposing a "native reserve" for the Gosha.
During the Somali Civil War, many Bantu were forced from their lands in the lower Juba River valley, as militiamen from various Somali clans took control of the area. Being visible minorities and possessing little in the way of firearms, the Bantu were particularly vulnerable to violence and looting by gun-toting militiamen. To escape war and famine, tens of thousands of Bantus fled to refugee camps like Dadaab in neighboring Kenya, with most vowing never to return to Somalia. In 2002, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) moved a large number of Bantu refugees 1500 km northwest to Kakuma because it was safer to process them for resettlement farther away from the Somali border.
The Somali Language has distinct regional variants. The two main variant are Af Maay (pronounced Afmaay) and Af Maxaa (roughly pronounced Af Mahaa) The Somali Bantu group speak the Af Maay, also, known as Maay Maay, both languages served as official languages until 1972 when the government determined that Af Maxaa which is the language spoken by the Somali to be the official written language in Somalia. But Zigua is another Somali-Bantu tribal language which is totally different from these two mentioned variant languages. Most people refer to this language as Mashunguli. Like the MaayMaay, it was not recognized by the former government as an official written language. This decision further isolated and hindered the Somali Bantu from participating in mainstream Somali political, government services, and education. Af Maay and AF Mahaa share some similarities in their written for but are different in their spoken forms. Somali-Bantus in Somalia speak two main languages and they are: Maay-Maay and Mashunguli. We therefore, ask the service providers in Kansas City to try using MaayMaay-speaking or Mashunguli-speaking people to interpret and translate.
The Af maay: Af Maay uses the Roman alphabet with minor modifications to accommodate unique pronunciation. Af Maay consists of 24 Consonants and five Vowels. Consonants are: b ,p t, jh, d, th, r, sh, dh, g, gh ,f, q, k ,l, m ,n, ng, ny, w ,h ,y, of these, fifteen are pronounced almost as they are in English: b, d, f, g, h ,j, k, l, m, n, sh,t, w ,and y. Af maay does not use the English letters: c, v, x ,and z.Vowels are: a, e, I, o, u. for example; Barbaar “youth”, heped “chest” .
Map showing the original Bantu expansion from West-Central Africa to East Africa, the slave trail Bantus were transported on from their ancestral homes in southeastern Africa to Somalia, and ultimately, the route many of them took to reach North America. 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, 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. .
As would be the case with other farmers from rural Africa, the Bantu will face a culture and civil society in America that is as foreign to them as any on earth. Although other refugees with similar histories of persecution and marginalization, such as the Hmong from Southeast Asia, have resettled in the United States, no such large group of African immigrants from one minority group has come to the United States. In addition to obstacles such as illiteracy, lack of English skills, immigrant status, lack of formal education, and no modern-economy job skills, the Bantu will also face the obstacle of discrimination inherent in American society. For these reasons, it is suggested that American resettlement professionals devote sufficient resources to help the Somali Bantu overcome the immense challenges they will face in the United States.The Bantu have a very strong sense of family and community. This strength can work to overcome some of the challenges they will face in the United States. Resettling extended family and kin groups together could provide the social, spiritual, and physical support that will be needed by the Bantu to more effectively integrate into American society. This is particularly important as Bantu refugees will neither have established family, nor kin support networks waiting to assist them in the United States. Moreover, they have proven time and again that they can adapt to extremely difficult and new situations. With sufficient levels of mentoring and resources, the Bantu can successfully adapt to American society. Although the Bantu come from a rural farming region, many have been living in large camps with approximately 40,000 other refugees. In this regard, some of the Bantu have gained limited exposure to urban ways of life, such as transportation systems, rental property, and government services, which they weren't familiar with in Somalia. The Dadaab refugee camps, for example, are served by taxis and buses on a regular basis. There are even buses originating in the camps that travel directly to major Kenyan cities, including Nairobi.The IOM conducts cultural orientation for all U.S.-bound adult Somali Bantu refugees over the age of 15. Orientation is geared toward preparing refugees for resettlement in the United States; topics include work, housing, health, and education. Due to concerns about the special challenges facing the Bantu, the U.S. State Department has approved enhanced cultural orientation of up to 80 hours for each individual. The additional training includes survival literacy and special classes for mothers and youth.American resettlement agencies may wish to prepare training and support for the Somali Bantu that worked well with other resettled refugees groups with similar characteristics, such as rural African refugees or the Hmong of Southeast Asia. In particular, agencies may wish to focus on high school equivalency (GED), English language training, crime awareness, rights and opportunities available to them as newcomers to America, and relations among the myriad ethnic groups in the United States.
- Resettlement in the United States