and now for something completely different…

somali bantus.

i started thinking about them the other day (week) when jayman mentioned all of the somali “refugees” in lewiston, maine. (whyyy?) i know that a lot(?)/most(?) of the somali refugees here in the u.s. are somali bantus — and i remembered reading somewhere that they are the descendants of bantu slaves brought to somalia at some time or another (turns out that was the nineteenth century). but i started wondering about their family/kinship/marriage structures and all that, so i looked ’em up.

the somali somalis refer to the bantu somalis as jareer or “hard hair.” they’re also known as the gosha, which relates to the areas in somalia where they live. it’s estimated that ca. 50,000 bantu slaves were brought to somalia between 1800-1890 [pg. 45], and they hailed from a handful of different ethnic groups from tanzania, mozambique and malawi — so right there, the somali bantu are like african-americans in that they are not all from one ethnic group (i.e. they’re unrelated to some degree).

almost as soon as they arrived in somalia, some of the bantu slaves escaped and sought out a living in the bush — the bush in somalia being two river valleys — the shebelle and jubba river valleys. the earliest escapees formed villages based on ethnicity, i.e. whether they were yao or zingua or whatever. later escapees and, even later, freed slaves (slavery was legally abolished by the italians around 1900) formed villages based on the somali clans to which they had been in servitude. so the later villages were a mix of bantu peoples (yao or zingua or whatever). [pgs. 45-46]

so, did the somali bantu “mix it up” once they lived in multi-ethnic villages? of course not! [pgs. 53-54]:

“How the Gosha see themselves is quite different from this external perception of the Gosha as somehow a clan of their own. They see themselves as a group of people of very different origins living and working together in one geographical area….

“While most people of the Gosha are products of subjugated ancestors (and some of the oldest Gosha were themselves slaves), these ancestors came from different regional areas…. [S]lave children and free descendents of slaves retained a knowledge of the distinction between being of East African (Yao, Nyasa, etc.) and being of Oromo heritage [another non-somali ethnic group in somalia]. Somali clans could have slaves of both Oromo heritage and East African heritage, used for different purposes. Once these slaves attained their freedom, they and their children could then be affiliated to the same Somali clan, despite their separate areas of origin. In this way, villages formed along Somali clan lines in the Jubba Valley could contain people of both Oromo and East African heritage, who claimed affiliation to the same Somali clan. Within a village, while working together and cooperating on village matters, people of different ancestries tend to live separately, and marry endogamously, although this is changing….

“For Gosha individuals, their sense of who they are is quite complex, with many social and cultural components. At base is their knowledge of their ancestry — Oromo, reer Shabelle [yet another group], or other East African groups….”

and, more specifically about the somali bantus’ marriage practices (they have a preference for cousin marriage) [pgs. 84, 105 & 148]:

“Within a village, while working together and cooperating on village matters, people of different ancestries often lived separately and married endogamously (due to a preference for parallel or cross-cousin marriage) in the late 1980s….

As noted above, marriages were often (but certainly not always) arranged between members of the same clan and same ancestry due to the preference for cousin marriage. Thus we see an ongoing recognition — however muted in daily praxis and sentiment — of ancestral identities by Loc villagers….

“Following the preference for cousin marriage, Xalima arranged for her youngest daughter to marry the son of her Laysan brother, which in this case produced another generation of cross-clan marriage….”

oh, i almost forgot — their fundamental extended-family groups are matrilineal, so in that way, the somali bantus are not like somali somalis (or other muslim groups like arabs or afghanis). the matrilineal system is a much more traditional, african system.

so the bantu somalis are not one group of people AND they’ve been maintaining their genetic differences for many generations now — right up until at least the 1980s. we’re not importing one group of somali “refugees” — we’re importing a whole slew of groups who, being inbred, probably don’t get along all that well with each other. this really is a recipe for disaster. *facepalm*

btw – after fleeing somalia, a lot of the somali bantus wanted to return “home” to tanzania — and a lot apparently did. and are still doing so. that sounds like a great idea to me! i’m sure they would be much happier there and would fit in better than they seem to be doing in america (and elsewhere in the west).

(note: comments do not require an email. and now for something completely different…)

what is a tribe?

now that tribes are all popular and trendy again, i feel it would be good to clarify exactly what a tribe is. everybody’s throwing the word around a lot (including yours truly), and i’m not sure that we’re all using the word in the same way. in fact, i’m not sure that everybody’s using the word in the same way consistently (i have a bad feeling i’ve been guilty of this).

so, what is a tribe?

well, first of all, as a very wise commenter once said:

“At one level it’s easier to talk in terms of clans, tribes and nations but at another level it maybe makes more sense to see it as a ten point scale where 1 is clan, 10 is nation and 2-8 are gradually increasing tribal size.”

exactly! what we’re looking at here is the range of sizes of the extended family, starting from — i’d say — the nuclear family on up to a race (a very extended family) — and really all the way up to the species level (the human race).

i’d say the scale looks something like this:

individual >> nuclear family >> extended family >> band or sub-clan >> clan or lineage >> tribe or chiefdom >> nation or ethny >> race >> human race ( >> primates >> mammals >> eukarya >> life on earth)

what did i miss? prolly something a LOT.

anyway, so a tribal society is: “organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups (see clan and kinship).”

gaddafi defines a tribe as such, btw — and you think he oughta know! [pg. 299]: “A tribe is a family which has grown as a result of procreation. It follows that a tribe is a big family….”

so, there you go!

the thing that i think is confusing is that tribes are different in character because they are based on different kinship or mating systems. tribes are, by definition, endogamous in their mating patterns, but they have different ways of going about arranging marriage/other mating.

for example, on the one hand you’ve got the slightly crazed, patrilineal tribes of the arabs that are dominated by the men-folk and that seem to be at war with one another. all. the. time. they are the way they are (i think) because of their mating patterns (father’s brother’s daughter marriage). their behaviors and institutions and ideologies are quite different from matrilineal tribes like, say, the iroquois. these differences are, i think, due in part to the mating patterns and that is how tribes need to be evaluated.

btw, roman tribes? not real tribes. athenian (attican) tribes? not real tribes. (the founding latin and greek tribes of rome and athens were actual tribes; these later ones were not.)

previously: whatever happened to european tribes?

(note: comments do not requie an email. or a tribal affilation.)