Bajuni, The history of Bajunis

The delegation met with a group of elders from the Bajuni community in Nairobi. All had left

the Bajuni islands in the early 1990s and had spent time in the Jomvu UNHCR camp in

Mombasa before it was closed in 1997 (see also annex 6). One of the elders had returned to the

Bajuni islands in the late 1990s but had since come back to Kenya. The elders are now in

Nairobi as they chose not to relocate to the Kakuma camp when Jomvu closed.

5.1 Groups and sub-groups, geographical distribution

The Bajuni elders described the Bajuni as a united people that are not divided into sub-groups.

Their community was scattered across the Bajuni islands south of Kismayo, in the city of

Kismayo itself and in coastal settlements south of Kismayo to Raskamboni and the border with

Kenya. Lee Cassanelli refers to small Bajuni communities in Brava and Mogadishu in addition

to the population in Kismayo and the islands.

The elders stated that Kismayo was the original home of the Bajuni people. The name

Kismayo translates into English as "top of the well". The Bajuni can trace their origins in

Kismayo back to the thirteenth century. Some Bajuni moved to the remote islands and south

along the coast towards the border with Kenya when the main Somali clans moved into the

Kismayo area in the nineteenth century, although some remained in the Majengo district of

Kismayo. Cassanelli comments that most anthropologists believe the Bajuni represent a

mixture of Arab, Bantu, Somali and possibly Malay backgrounds.

According to the elders the Bajuni population was distributed in the following locations,

running south from Kismayo to the border with Kenya:

l Kismayo (mainly in the Majengo district of the city)

l Nchoni - a coastal settlement

l Fuma Iyu Na Tini - an island

l Koyama - an island

l Chovaye - an island

l Istanbul - a coastal settlement

l Chula - the most populated island

l Ndoa - an island

l Kudai - an island (location of a police station)

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l Burkavo - a town

l Raskamboni - a town (location of a former Somali navy base)

According to Perouse de Montclos the Bajuni are locally called tiku, and they are essentially

found on the islands of Koyama, Ngumi, Chovayi or Chula and in the city of Kismayo, of

which they claim paternity.

The elders described how the communities on the islands maintained close links with each

other and with Bajuni communities along the coast and in Kismayo. Bajuni from the islands

would usually have spent a part of the year in Kismayo, where it was essential to travel for

trading fish, purchasing essential commodities, medical treatment and any official business

with government bodies.

The elders estimated that before the civil war the total number of Bajuni was some 11,000,

although they were not exactly sure of the number. Cassanelli estimated the number of Bajuni

at perhaps 3,000 to 4,000.

With the collapse of central government in 1991 and the ensuing clan-based civil war many

Bajuni fled the islands and coastal settlements and moved south to Kenya. Some Bajuni

remained on the islands and even in Kismayo but during the civil war it was not possible for

the Bajuni that had left for Kenya to maintain communication with those that had remained in


5.2 Language

According to the elders most Bajuni speak some Somali, although the main language spoken

by the Bajuni is Kibajuni, a dialect related to Swahili. The Bajuni elders advised the delegation

that younger Bajuni, who have lived mainly in exile, alienated from mainstream Somali

society, may have only a very limited knowledge of Somali but they stressed that they should

know at least some key words in Somali as their family elders would have taught them.

Bernard Harborne, Chief of the UN Co-ordination Unit for Somalia, with whom the delegation

met, also stated that most Bajuni are able to speak some Somali in addition to Kibajuni.

The Bajuni elders informed the delegation that, although their language, Kibajuni, is related to

Swahili, their language is very different to the Swahili dialect spoken in the areas of Kenya

immediately below the Kenya-Somalia border, including the islands that continue from the

Somali border down along the coast towards Mombasa, although there are some common


5.3 Socio-economic situation

5.3.1 Relationship with other groups and clans

The Bajuni elders considered that the Bajuni had traditionally held a low status in Somalia and

were regarded as inferior by the Somali clans. The Bajuni had enjoyed very few educational or

employment opportunities and most had survived as fishermen.

Perouse de Montclos considers the Bajuni as a community apart from all other Somali

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populations. They do not lay claim to being Somali, Bantu or Swahili and they may even have

Indonesian or Yemenite origins. Perouse de Montclos explains that even before independence

the Bajuni felt marginalised and they formed a short-lived political movement, called the

Fiqarini Youth. Since then the region of the Bajuni has been the scene of serious fighting

between the Hawiye and the Darod clan militias. The Bajuni were on good terms with the

Darod, but were accused of treachery when they refused to fight against the Hawiye. Perouse

de Montclos adds that while the Bajuni organised the Darod exodus to Kenya, they were then

blamed for enriching themselves and sinking refugee ships that were refused entry by the

Kenyan authorities.

The Bajuni elders explained that under the Siad Barre administration Somalis had been told not

to use clan names. The Bajuni had been told to refer to themselves not as Bajuni but as

"jazira", meaning islanders. Despite the official policy of Siad Barre opposing clanism the term

jazira enabled clan Somalis to identify the Bajuni as non-Somali. The elders explained that it

was difficult at that time for Bajuni to acquire passports or seamen's certificates and other

official documents and that they were discriminated against in dealings with government


The Bajuni elders made it clear that the Bajuni do not consider themselves to be a Benadiri

people, although they did acknowledge that they had some links with the Bravanese people

who live further along the coast past Kismayo towards Mogadishu. Trading links existed

between the Bajuni and the Bravanese before the civil war. The Bajuni traded fish for various

commodities with the Bravanese. One member of the Bajuni group that met with the

delegation stated that his sister is married to a Bravanese man, but the Bajuni elders

emphasised that such examples of intermarriage came about through the traditional trading

links between the Bajuni and the Bravanese rather than from any particular kinship bond.

The UNHCR genealogical table of Somali clans and groups (annex 3) shows the Bajuni as a

Bantu sub-clan. The delegation did not, however, receive information from any other source

that indicated that this was the case.

The Bajuni elders stated that the Bajuni have no close links with the people in Kenya who live

immediately below the Somalia-Kenya border on the coast and islands. The islanders in Kenya

did assist the Bajuni when they left Somalia in large numbers in the early 1990s, before they

travelled on to camps in Mombasa, but links with the islanders in Kenya have not continued

since the Bajuni moved into the camps.

5.3.2 Occupations

The elders informed the delegation that the principal occupation of the Bajuni was fishing in

the waters around their islands in small boats. Fish were traded in coastal towns, mainly in

Kismayo, although the Bajuni enjoyed trading links with the Bravanese further along the coast

from Kismayo towards Mogadishu. There are a number of usually uninhabited islands in the

chain of islands that run south from Kismayo to the border with Kenya. It was usual for the

fishermen to remain for part of the year in small camps on some of these islands, where fish

would be dried ready for trading.

Some Bajuni women worked, mainly gathering shellfish on the islands. They would not

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accompany the men on the fishing boats or stay with them in the seasonal fishing camps on the

uninhabited islands.

The Bajuni do not fish the waters south of the Somalia-Kenya border as to have done so would

have incurred hostility from the local fishermen there and from the Kenyan Navy, which

patrols the waters along the border.

Those Bajuni that had returned to the islands when the Jomvu UNHCR camp was closed in

1997 had been unable to assume their former occupations as fishermen, as the group of elders

explained. Their property had been taken and they could not reclaim it from clan Somalis who

occupied it. Returnees had been robbed of everything they possessed when they reached the

islands and even those who had managed to resume fishing had had their nets cut and boats

taken from them. In order to survive on the islands some Bajuni had attempted small-scale

farming, but are always at the mercy of the Somali clans that still occupy the islands.

5.4 Security and human rights situation

The Bajuni elders informed the delegation that in the late 1980s, as Siad Barre's rule weakened,

the Bajuni began to suffer more at the hands of Somali clans. Groups of Somalis mounted

looting raids on the Bajuni islands. As Barre's administration collapsed in 1990 and 1991 the

Bajuni were attacked by organised Somali clan militias, who wanted to force the Bajuni off the

islands, particularly the Ogadeni SPM from Raskamboni and, later, Aideed's USC/SNA forces.

Attacks became more severe and rape of Bajuni women was common. Bajuni property in

Kismayo was occupied by the Marehan and mainly by the Majerteen on the islands. As the

situation deteriorated in the civil war many Bajuni left Somalia for Kenya, the majority having

left during 1992, by which time their position had become untenable.

The Bajuni elders stressed very strongly that they considered themselves unable to return to

Somalia. Somali clans still occupy the islands and Kismayo remains in a state of near anarchy.

Although there have been no reports of Bajuni returnees being killed, returnees have been

unable to recover their property and cannot support themselves economically. The elder who

had returned to the Bajuni islands when the Jomvu camp had closed in 1997 described his

experiences on reaching home. He had been beaten and forced to work for no pay, only food,

for clan Somalis who still occupy the islands. After two months he decided to return to Kenya,

even though he knew that he would not receive any support from UNHCR as he had left the


Wayne Long, Chief Security Officer, UNDP-Somalia, confirmed that the position of Bajuni

returnees to the islands was very poor and that it was very hard for them to maintain

themselves in the face of harassment from occupying Somali clans. He understands that

Somali clans even control Bajuni water supplies on the islands.

Kalunga Lutato, Head of Somali Operations, UNHCR-Nairobi, informed a member of the

delegation on 28 September 2000 that with the fall of Kismayo in June 1999 to allied

SNA/SNF forces a Bajuni-SPM "alliance" was destroyed and Bajuni property on the islands

was looted by SNA/SNF militias, forcing many Bajuni to flee. Some Bajuni made their way to

Bosasso in Puntland. Those Bajuni that remain on the islands are still suffering as the

SNA/SNF forces that took Kismayo regularly attack the islands, looting property and boats. He

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added that two days earlier UNHCR had received an appeal from the Bajuni still on the islands

stating that the islands were now occupied and controlled by Somali militias.

Wayne Long informed the delegation that the security situation in the far south of Somalia is

chaotic and very unsafe, with clashes continuing between rival Somali clan militias. The area

is also prone to Islamic fundamentalist activity. Regarding Kismayo, he described the situation

there since the city's capture by SNA/SNF forces as "hell".

5.5 Bajuni refugees in Kenya

The Bajuni elders informed the delegation that most Bajuni who fled Somalia in 1992 had

initially travelled to Mombasa and were accommodated there or in the Marafa camp near

Malindi. From 1993 they were accommodated at their own request in their own camp at

Jomvu. In 1997 the Kenyan Government asked UNHCR to close Jomvu camp. The Bajuni

elders stated that UNHCR, at the time, considered that conditions in the Bajuni islands were

sufficiently good for the Bajuni to be able to return there. UNHCR therefore gave the Bajuni in

Jomvu the choice of relocation to the Kakuma camp, inland in the Rift Valley, or returning to

the Bajuni islands in Somalia. UNHCR encouraged Bajuni elders to return to the islands, as

this would then encourage other Bajuni to follow.

Kalunga Lutato explained that Jomvu camp was closed for a combination of reasons. Firstly,

the Kenyan government decided that Somali refugees should leave the designated areas along

the coast as there was no justification for camps to be sited in populated areas, such as around

Mombasa. The Kenyan government designated the Dadaab refugee camp as the major place of

refuge for Somalis. Those that had problems there were later moved to Kakuma camp. A

second consideration was that up to May-June 1999 the areas of origin in Somalia of some

minorities, such as the Bajuni, were seen by UNHCR as being safe for returns. A large

majority of Bajuni were therefore repatriated to the Bajuni islands. Kalunga Lutato stated that

UNHCR was sorry that some Bajuni had not opted for repatriation as the closure of the camps

on the coast meant that some Bajuni had to transfer to Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya,

an inland area far away from the sea and the normal Bajuni environment. UNHCR had

believed that the Bajuni would only stay in Kakuma for a temporary period but in June 1999

the allied forces of the SNF and Aideed's SNA took over Kismayo and expelled General

Morgan's SPM forces, as a result of which UNHCR decided that further returns to the Bajuni

islands were not possible.

According to the Bajuni elders some 2,500 Bajuni returned to the islands in Somalia from 1997

onwards but received no assistance other than the cost of their journey home. Those Bajuni

that remained in Kenya were unhappy at the prospect of relocation to Kakuma camp. Being a

coastal people they would have preferred to remain in Jomvu on the coast. The Bajuni elders

stated that their position in Kenya was very poor, as UNHCR would only provide support to

Bajuni who moved to Kakuma camp. The elders that met with the delegation were living in

Nairobi and were reliant on donations from sympathetic religious groups and individuals.

Bernard Harborne informed the delegation that UNHCR ended the repatriation of Bajuni in

1999 after Kismayo changed hands and the security situation deteriorated in the far south of

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