Mohamed Siad Barre (1969-91), suffering discrimination and a variety of indignities. From 1974 fishermen had their fishing gear and boats confiscated and were compelled to join government cooperatives, while some were force to move off the Bajuni islands (Abby 2005: 14). But matters went from bad to worse following the outbreak of the Somali civil war and the overthrow of Siad Barre in January 1991. Bajuni joined the general exodus of victimised groups from Somalia, and many of them fled to UNHCR refugee camps in and around Mombasa, where the Kwa Jomvu camp became their main home until it was finally closed down in 1998.
At the time I was living in Mombasa, and remember the influx of refugees – most noticeably those who were installed in St. Anne’s, near the Manor Hotel – and the flood of cheap computer equipment that also came into the port as Mogadishu descended further into chaos. Knowing that many of the refugees had come from Brava, Kismayu and elsewhere on the southern Somali coast, I realised that this might provide an opportunity to do some research on the northernmost dialects of Swahili, Mwiini (= Bravanese) and Bajuni. The linguist Derek Nurse was planning a visit to East Africa, and I suggested this possibility to him in a letter written in May 1992. But his primary target then in Kenya was the little-known Sabaki language Ilwana: he’d already studied Bajuni and had access to enough Mwiini data to be going on with (cf. Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993: 5-7).
The academic fruits of this are now online in his Bajuni Database. This comprises a general overview of ‘Bajuni: people, society, geography, history, language’, a Bajuni lexicon, a grammatical sketch (that updates Nurse 1982), and three maps (one of the whole Bajuni coast, plus sketch maps of Chovae and Chula islands). These aren’t polished documents, but are very useful nonetheless. The overview – part of which is a gazetteer of Bajuni villages down to the Kenya border – is of particular interest. Very few Bajuni remain in Somalia, and their world is clearly not what it was in the days before the dictatorship of Siad Barre and the Somali Civil War. Current prospects for research on the south Somali coast and Bajuni islands don’t look good, and recording what we know of this lost world and its former inhabitants is the best we can do. It is also important for the Bajuni diaspora, and a poignant reminder of the widespread suffering that the Somali conflict has caused.
Abby, Abdi 2005. Field Research Project on Minorities in Somalia. Unpublished report, Oxford House, London, October 2005.
Allen, Brian 2008. The Bajuni people of southern Somalia and the asylum process. The Researcher (published by The Refugee Documentation Centre, Dublin) 3 (1): 2.
Grottanelli, Vinigi L. 1955. Pescatori dell’Oceano indiano: saggio etnologico preliminare sui Bagiuni, Bantu costieri dell’Oltregiuba. Rome: Cremonese.
Nurse, Derek 1980. Bajuni historical linguistics. Kenya Past and Present 12: 34-43.
Nurse, Derek 1982. The Swahili dialects of Somalia and the northern Kenya coast. In M.-F. Rombi (ed.) Etudes sur le Bantu Oriental (Comores, Tanzanie, Somalie, et Kenya. Paris: SELAF. 73-l46.
Nurse, Derek 2010. Bajuni Database. Online at http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~dnurse/bajuni_db.html
Nurse, Derek and Thomas J. Hinnebusch 1993. Swahili and Sabaki: A Linguistic History. Berkeley: University of California Press.