Photo Source: Sergeant G.D. Robinson
Map Source: People Group Location from IMB. Other map data / geography from GMI. Map by Joshua Project.
|People Name:||Somali Bantu|
|Christian Adherents:||0.05 %|
|Online Audio NT:||No|
|People Cluster:||Bantu, Swahili|
|Affinity Bloc:||Sub-Saharan Peoples|
The Somali Bantu are made up of diverse groups, such as the Mushunguli, Shambara, Gobaweyn, Shidle, Makanne, Shabelle, etc. Some of these groups have lived in Somalia for many centuries as farmers along the rivers, and have adopted the language and culture of the surrounding Somalis. Other groups originated in Tanzania and Mozambique and were brought to Somalia as slaves during the 19th century. After escaping their captors they also settled as farmers along the villages.
The different Somali Bantu groups are united primarily because of the racial discrimination they face within Somalia. Most Somalis will not intermarry with Somali Bantus, and some will not even eat with them or enter their house. During the civil war in Somalia, Somali Bantus were one of the most vulnerable groups and suffered horribly at the hands of clan militias and criminal gangs.
Somali Bantu fleeing to Kenya were recognized as a minority group in need of special protection, and in 2002 the USA agreed to resettle 12,000 of them. Several thousand others made their way to Tanzania, their ancestral homeland. But many thousand Somali Bantus are stuck in refugee camps in Kenya or in IDP camps within Somalia with little hope of either returning to their farms or getting citizenship in a new country.
Many Somali Bantu will refer to themselves as Bantu, but some prefer the name Jareer. Others will primarily identify by their subgroup, such as the Mushunguli, or by the Somali clan they are affiliated with, such as the Elay or the Geledi. All Somali Bantu groups interact and intermarry freely. About 50% speak Maay as their first language, and another 20% speak it as a second language. In urban centers many learn standard Somali, and in Kenyan refugee camps they pick up Swahili or English.
The Somali Bantu traditionally live along the Juba and Shabelle rivers in southern Somalia. Due to famines and war, many Somali Bantu have fled these areas and now live in urban centers like Mogadishu and Kismayo, as well as in neighboring Kenya.
A few places along the lower Jubba river saw Christian missionary activity in the 20th century and several hundred Somali Bantu became Christians. Today almost all Somali Bantu are Muslims, although some still hold animist beliefs and practices. The areas where most Somali Bantu live have been under the control of the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab since 2008, who have imposed an oppressive form of Islam onto the communities and often levied high taxes or forced young men to join their ranks.