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]
“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…)