Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi diriyeam at MAGELLAN.UMontreal.CA
Wed Mar 10 15:16:04 UTC 1999

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
There have been various mentions of bushmanoid people in the southern tip
of Somalia, for a long time. Lewis (1960:216) (Lewis, I.M. The Somali
Conquest of the Horn of Africa. Journal of African History. 1, 2 (1960),
pp. 213—229.) states:

"The second pre-Hamitic population, less numerous than the riverine
cultivators, was a hunting and fishing people living an apparently nomadic
existence. Their present-day descendants, much modified by Hamitic
influence, survive in scattered hunting groups in Jubaland and southern
Somalia where they are generally known as Ribi (or WaRibi) and as Boni (or
WaBoni). Physically it has been suggested tentatively that they contain
Bushman- like elements. But their physical characteristics have not been
intensively studied. They appear to have been politically and economically
linked to the Bantu sedentaries..."

Murdoch says (1959:302) (Africa: Its Peoples and Their Cultural History.
New York, McGraw Hill)

"The newcomers [Bantu-speakers] pressed steadily forward into Kenya and
thence into Somalia, where the valley of the Shebelle River represents the
limit of their intensive penetration. In Kenya and Somalia they found the
Azanians confined to a few coastal trading settlements. The hinterland
contained only Bushmanoid hunters, even in favored sections such as the
valleys of the Tana, Juba, and Shebelle Rivers. The Bantu populated the
latter, driving the indigenes back into the arid steppe and savanna
country, where agriculture was impossible. Here a few remnants, like the
Boni and Sanye tribes, still survive."

A people might lose their language but keep to ancient patterns of
practises, and culture. A partial example, though in this case the Romanis
have kept something of their dialects, are the gypses of Europe, who live
among Europeans but are referred to as different, though in some cases,
because of mixing, it is not physically apparent, while in some cases there
is an apparent minor physical differences. The same can be said of the
hunter-gatherers in southern Somalia; they have kept hunting, an activity
not practised by Somalis.

In some cases, there are noticeable bushmanoid features among the Eyle---a
light-yellowish complexion, eyes that look like those of the San, less hair
than Cushites; I am not an anthropologists, and would not venture much into
that area. However, in E.A., generally, though not absolutely, the peoples
that met and clashed there have kept alive different cultures alive: that
of the hunter-gather, the agriculturalist and the pastoralist (Cushites and

For my good luck, I might say so, since I learned a lot I did not know
about my own country and its peoples, I had the chance of being a teacher
in a village in southern Somalia in 1974 during an alphabetisation
campaign, when our dictator all of a sudden decided that everyone be
literate in the new Latin script, and sent us out into the countryside by
closing all schools. The village consisted of three populations that in
some ways were  closely integrated and yet kept a distance among
themselves. The first group were of Cushitic stock, remnants of the Oromo
without a doubt, by now well islamized and somalized; they possessed most
of the livestock, and were partly agro-pastoralists; the second group were
of people who descended from a previously bantu-speaking group; they were
physically different from the cushitic group, and were mostly
agriculturalists; they had kept bits of their culture despite Islam and
somalization, such as the masks for dancing, not known in the broad
cushitic culture; the third group, and socially the lowest, since they
possessed no land of their own were the hunter-gathers, just starting to
farm; they farmed land leased to them, but still practised hunting to the
dismay of the other villagers, who did not want residents who hunted; in
Somali culture hunting is a despised profession; of course, Somalis always
hunted ivory-bearing animals and were running up and down East Africa but
they don't hunt for meat; obviously, rich in livestock, they don't have to.
This last group is commonly known in Somalia as the Eyle 'the dog owners';
they had hunting communities in the Juba region near the mount Eyle, named
after them; but by the 70s they were settling down with the
agriculturalists or migrating to towns where they found a niche for
themselves as unlicensed butchers for families staging a feast; they would
be paid with the offal and a few shillings; thus in Mogadishu, they had a
squatter community near the national university to the consternation of the
university management who had to bring in the bulldozers at last to evict
them. I don't have much information of what became of them since the civil

Of course, the whole discussion of Khoisan peoples and languages in East
Africa is confusing  since so many different names continue to be used
(Sanye, Aweera (Heine), Boni, etc.), and some have postulated the
descendants of the Eastern Cushitic (meaning Somali) and Southern Cushitic
(Dahalo, Mbugu, etc.) separated 4000 years ago, when the Eastern Cushitic
group migrated to the Red Sea and Golf of Aden zones, from where they would
later migrate again in a southern direction. I never understood how the
proponents of this later hazy theory, since no linguistic, historical or
cultural proof has been shown, postulated such a theory. Herbert
(1966)(Journal of Africa history, 7/1:27-46) and Turton (1975) (Journal of
African history, 16/4:519-37) (an anthropologist and a historian) mention
only Dyen's 'migration theory', as their guiding principal and state there
is more dialects in the southern regions. True, but only of two kinds:
Somaloid and Oromoid; besides, there are less dialects in central Italy,
from where the Romans spread, than northern Italy. So much then for
applying this intuitive principal to a micro-linguistic situation---this
might work when applied to the presence of English in the Americas.

Nurse and Spear (1985:38) say:
"The split between Eastern and Southern Cushitic occurred at least four
thousand years ago, and their subsequent histories were quite separate.
Some two thousand years ago there was a major Eastern Cushitic
concentration around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. By AD. 500 the Eastern
Cushitic ancestors of the Aweera had probably reached the coast of Somalia
and later gave up herding for hunting and gathering, probably under the
influence of the Dahalo. By the beginning of the present millennium,
Eastern Cushitic Somali had also started to filter south into southern
Somalia where, as we shall see, they interacted with northern Swahili
communities in the first half of the present millennium. The final Eastern
Cushitic group to impinge on the Swahili and related peoples were the Orma
(Oromo), who pushed south out of Somalia into northeastern Kenya in the
sixteenth century, disrupting coastal patterns established for over five
hundred years."

As far as known history goes, written or oral, it attests to an expansion
from a limited coastal northern area to the south. The Ancient Egyptians,
5000 or or so years ago, sent an expedition during Queen Hatsepsut's reign,
to the coasts of what is now generally agreed to be the northern coasts of
Somalia, where the aromatic resinous plants, so essential to ancient
religions, grow on the mountain flanks, and depicted on the frescoes of a
Thebian temple at Deir el-Bahri a people similar to themselves in
appearance and clothing. At the same time many terms from the religious
domain of Ancient Egypt are recognizable in Somali; they include such terms
as Bah and Kah (Ba and Ka, life essences of Egyptian belief), the Huur (the
Hor, the bird of death), Aysitu (mother-god) and Awzaar (father zaar).
Additionally, among the cultural objects depicted by the Egyptians 5000
years and still found among Cushites is the small slightly curved dagger, a
local artifact (Hersi 1977:32) (Hersi, A. 1977. The Arab Factor in Somali
History. Unpublished PHD dissertation, University of Los Angeles)). The
question then if the people living along the coasts of the Red Sea and the
Golf of Aden were the ancestors of Somalis, Afars, and Oromos, who was
living there then 5000 years ago.

In classifical times, the people who inhabited the northern Somali coasts
were known to the Greeks as the Barbaroi (it later became the Berbers, as
the medieval Arabs used to call Somalis, and is still borne by the town of
Berbera in northern Somalia), and had no central government, each city
having its own local council---a typical mode of Cushitic governance. The
people says the writer of the Periplus Maris Erythraie were rather unruly.
(Casson 1989) (Casson, Lionel. Periplus Maris Erythraie. Princeton
University Press). This document was written during the first century AD.
(Ibid.:7). However, Heine (1978) (The Sam Languages: A History of Rendille,
Somali and Boni) had the Somalis barely starting thier northward migration
from Lake Turkana, after they had diverged barely from the Boni, the small
hunter group now in Kenya. I have always wondered why pastoralists, hungry
for grass and water, would choose to come such a long way to the deserts
northern and central Somalia when they were within reach of the green
meadows of Kenya and Tanzania, just the places where the British, who were
appropriating for themselves the 'Highlands of East Africa' were trying to
keep the Somalis from crossing into in the 19th century when they came up
with the 'Somali line', corresponding to the River Tana.

For the rest, during the medieval times when Islam was spreading in the
Horn, what happened iis well known from several Arabic sources (Futuh
Al-Habash, etc.) and Somali oral history, and corresponds to an
unprecedented expansion which took Somalis from what is now central Somalia
to the northern Kenya, where they still pouring into when the British
arrived and put an end to the migration. However, the Somalis were preceded
by their cousins, especially in the hinterland, by the Oromo (Galla). The
case of the Boni (Aweero/Aweera) then is a case of cushitization of a
bushmanoid group, and is similar to the swahilization of the Dahalo,
on-going now (Tosco 1992).

>At 02:59 AM 3/9/1999 -0800, you wrote:
>>It is only to be expected the Khoisan scattered groups are subject to
>>greater linguistic influences than any other group. In southern Somalia,
>>they have completed assimilated linguistically, as the Cushites advanced
>>upon them from a northern direction; yet, they form an small ethnic group.
>Do you have any evidence that any currently identifiable Somali group was
>Khoisan-speaking or are you just making an assumption based on a group that
>may claim to be pre-Somali, non-Cushitic but doesn't have any idea what
>it used to speak?                                       Nabad.
              ,   ,         
 o_______ooO_( O O )_Ooo____________________________________
 |             \_/                                          |      
 |                                                          |	
 | From the land of AySitu and AwZaar, Ba and Ka;           | 
 |      and the Hor                                         |
 |  Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi                                |
 |  diriyeam at                          |
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 |               (homepage)                                 |
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 |              (The Somali language page)                  |

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