Who are the Somali Bantus?
Somali Bantus are refugees from the civil war of Somalia that began in 1991. Most of the Somali Bantus living in Portland were farmers and artisans in small villages and towns along the middle Jubba River that were destroyed in the war. Because their ancestry in East African countries rather than Somali, they considered as a minority ethnic group in Somalia, subject to persecution, racism and discrimination.
What is the history of the Somali Bantus?
The term Bantu refers to their ancestry. Their ancestors were brought to Somalia as slaves from Kenya, Tanzanian. Mozambique and Malawi during the 18th and 19th centuries. After slavery was abolished at the turn of the 20th century, their ancestors moved in to the uninhabited Jubba River valley and formed independent farming villages. Somali Bantus also formed farming villages along the Shabelle river Valley. By the late 20th century, Somali Bantus were about a fifth of the population of southern Somalia.
What is the difference between Somalis and Somali Bantus?
Whereas the Somalis were herders and business owners, Somali Bantus are farmers and laborers. Somalis and Somali Bantus do not intermarry, do not speak the same language, and did not live in the same communities in Somalia. All Somalis are part of a huge kinship system divided into clans and lineages. Somalis occupy a subjugated caste of their own. They are a distinct ethnic group that experienced discrimination and were particularly targeted during the civil war.
What is their language?
Their languages are Maaymaay and Mushunguli but Somali and Maaymaay (maimai) are the two official languages of Somalia and are mutually unintelligible. The primary language of Somali Bantus is Maaymaay although some understand Somali language rarely. Most Somalis speak Somali language but do not speak Maaymaay.According to scholars, Maaymaay differs from Somali language as much as French does from Italian. Some Somali Bantus from the lower Jubba valley speak one of their ancestral languages, Zigua or Mushunguli, as well as Swahili.
Why are they refugees?
When the civil war broke out in 1991, Somali Bantu villagers were targeted for attack by Somali militias and herders who wanted to control over their land and harvests. Many villagers were killed in the attacks, and those who survived were forced to provide food and other services to well-armed militias and herders. By the mid 1990s, the situation in the middle Jubba had become intolerable, and villagers fled on foot to Kenya, where they lived in refugeecamps. Because they experienced such high levels of abuse by Somalis in the camps, Somali Bantus were recognized as a distinct group by refugee officials, and were moved to another refugee camp called kakuma.
Why are they in the U.S?
Although Somali Bantu refugees were resettled in East Africa by the end of 1990s, many remained in refugee camps in Kenya for several years. They were unable to return home because militias and herders destroyed their villages and stole their land, and because they will come under attack if they return to Somalia. They have been persecuted and discriminated harshly by other Somalis. Somalia has no functioning government and minority groups have no protection. The US government decided to accept 12,000 Somali Bantu refugees from the camps in Kenya. The Somali Bantus began arriving to State OREGON in the spring of 2003.
Translators/Interpreters fluent in Maaymaay are essential for Somali Bantu clients because Maaymaay is their primary language. Also, Zigua is another important Somali-Bantu language. Trust is a serious issue because of the history of Somali violence against Somali Bantus. For this reason, service providers should use Somali Bantu translators.