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The dying Bajun tribe (Part 1)

Bajun is no longer a major coastal tribe. But their culture still stand out. Along the Kenyan north coast, on a quest to learn more on the Bajun; I met Arabian, Asian and African looking Bajuns.

According to their creation theory, Th Bajuns originate from Mecca-Madina region in Arabia. Their fore father was Jawn bin Hareth. from his eldest son Jawn, originated the whole Bajuni tribe. Owing to their mastery of the sea, the tribe sailed across to Africa and settled around Kisimayu in Somalia. It is during this exodus that the Bajun intermarried with various tribes leading to their wide range of colour complexion Having first settled at Kisimayu, how then did they come to settle along the Kenyan coast?

During the 70s, the shifta militia invaded their homeland forcing them south towards the Kenyan boarder. The then president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta allowed them to settle along the barely inhabited region between Raskamboni and lamu. Sheikh Shami Mshami, was around ten years when he migrated with his parents fearing the bandits who were not ashamed to rape or afraid to kill.

As a young boy, Sheikh Shermy with his parents and other kinsmen along the Kenyan north coast. Some opted for the main land as farmer; while the rest settled along the stretch of islands and continued to practice fishing. Mzee Athumani, a veteran farmer from Manda island, learnt farming from his parents and has been able to bring up his children with proceeds from the soil. According to him, the mainland Bajun farmer specializes in Millet, Sorgham and cassava. Till date, he has managed to stay afloat thanks to meager proceeds from selling his farm produce.

Along the sea line, Bajun fishermen stand out for their marine prowess. The Chairman of Lamu fishermen association Mr Said Said testifies that most of the fishermen in the area are of Bajun descent. He further adds that the local fisher men often double up as divers saving lives whenever a boat gibe up to the rough Lamu waters. Juxter posed against the official in the government emergency agencies, this guardias of the sea by far out perform their more eqiped counterparts but sadly they are never credited for their efforts. Said further asks the government and local authorities to provide them with the necessary equipment since fishermen are usually the first on sight whenever calamity strikes at sea.

While the men are out to fend for their families, Bajun women assume a more reserved domestic role rearing young ones. Ironically, the extended Bajun family is lead by a matriarch usually the grand mother or great grand mother. Once the males return home, they happily surrender the days catch to the females and submit to the house keepers. Women take the front seat in domestic matters while the men are left to steer external issues like culture and religion.

Leading a coastal lifesyle surrounded by the Swahili and other tribes, the Bajun culture has been eroded through intermarriages. This has led to a threatening reduction in their number Leaving the once populous tribe among the most marginalised in Kenya. According to the Government of Kenya 200 Cencus, the nation holds above forty million Kenyans with Bajuns accounting for only 70,000, a staggering 0.2% of the Kenyan population. Despite this, the Bajun culture still stands promising as the question remains, will the resilient Bajun tribe get its numbers back or surrender to the devouring intermarriages with other tribes?

By Muthanji Mungai


2 thoughts on “The dying Bajun tribe (Part 1)

  1. Thanks for the article though I feel you should have done more research on the Bajun people. Bajuni are bantus, that rules out any possibility of Mecca as their crandle homeland unless the interviewees just have an obsession with Mecca. Refer to the Bajuni language, it has many similarities with the other bantu languages. Intermarriages have significantly affected the Bajuni and eroded their culture leading to confusion of identity.

    1. As a writer, i highly appreciate the discourse generated around the Bajun people. This shows how miss- if informed at all on the tribe in Question. Needless to say, the beauty of mobile journalism is its ‘wikki’ type garnish that gives everyone liberty to publish an article; For a fact, Bajun has been eroded by coastal Bantus, most likely together with their language. Besides, English is 70% borrowed.

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