Encounter With the Forgotten
Forest Tribe of North Eastern
East African Standard (Nairobi)
Ongeri and Adow Jubat
comment on the forthcoming November 21 referendum on the Wako draft the Aweer
community headman, Sani Hamesa, said: "We would like to vote for Moi's
party but what will happen to Kibaki whose term has not yet expired. Will he
hand over the presidency?"
affairs is far removed from the daily lives of the Aweer so is their habitat.
trail led us to a secluded eerie point deep in the dense forest. "An
encounter with a pack of hyenas, a lone lion or a king cobra is never ruled
out," the guide pointed out.
A herd of
buffaloes and water backs grazing on the long savannah grass and baboons
scratching their itchy backs are a common encounter, the guide added.
hours of trekking from Ijara, a divisional headquarter 290km south of Garissa
Town, we came face to face with the little known community that we had set out
to find- the Aweer.
neighbouring Somali community calls them the 43rd tribe of Kenyan.
hunters and gatherers. They use skins and light clothes to cover the lower
parts of their bodies," our guide Barre Muhummed had earlier said as we
embarked on the long trek.
He had met them
while grazing his cattle in the forest. "They come to our village (Bodhai)
to get milk for free every morning," he said. "They neither rear
animals nor till the land," he added.
And now we were
in the land of the Aweer. Ten minutes passed as we waited to see the first of
them. Muhummed's assurances that they were friendly people did not make
matters any better.
group of bare-chested children crept out of tree branches gnawing at strange
looking wild fruits.
their heads before Muhummed who rubbed them as a sign of greetings.
don't greet using hands here," he informed us. One of the children
requested us to follow him in faltering Kiswahili.
Soon a glance
in the enclosures that served as homes revealed a state of despair. What
passed for houses were tree branches bent to form hollow grooves. Creepers and
tree leaves served as roofs.
gazing with innocent awe, crouched in the dwellings. A mother breastfed an
infant while huddled up elders spoke in low tones.
The word Aweer,
we learned, means lower caste or the unlucky. "We cannot keep cattle nor
farm," said Sani Hamesa the soft-spoken headman.
animals die from diseases and the crops fail. We are not lucky," he said
with resigned finality.
as they call the settlement, is home to 327 persons in 50 families. The ethnic
group has no known personality working in the Government. Not an assistant
chief. Neither do they have a civic leader.
believed to be descendants of the Boni, a community estimated to be fewer than
50,000 people living in the neighbouring Lamu District.
language has a Borana accent while they speak fairly well Kiswahili.
dates back to the lucrative slavery trade along the coast of East Africa. To
avoid being captured, brutalised and sold into slavery, the Aweer fled inland
and settled in Boni forest that stretches from Lamu to the southern part of
Until the 1980s
the families carried on with their traditional way of life, hunting and
banditry that has ravaged North Eastern forced them out of their forest homes.
people were killed and we fled to Bargoan," Hamesa said.
personnel pursuing the bandits did not make matters any better. They burned
down their dwellings to ostensibly deter bandits from establishing bases. The
Aweer were then left to wander all over the land searching for food and secure
February 2005 we returned here after experiencing harassment and
discrimination from the Bajuni. They refused to share schools, health
facilities and other social amenities with us," he explained with a tinge
Since then they
have been living in forest groves. They usually light bonfires to ward off
wild animals that roam the forests.
Then in August
they started constructing grass-thatched houses using skills they acquired
while in Lamu.
stay they were also introduced to modern clothes, donated by their hosts. The
clothes were now tattered.
intervention through the Arid Lands Resource Management Project, they said,
was enabling them to construct grass-thatched houses. However, the project to
construct 50 houses may stall after some Sh 450,000 was allegedly
claimed that only Sh 174,000 was spent on the project. He said programme
officers intimidated them demanding that they pool resources to cover for
verify the claims were fruitless as the project coordinator was reported to be
away in Wajir for a workshop.
community never sent their children to school but following the introduction
of free primary education in 2003 they had placed 27 children in school out of
the more than 200 school age children. The highest educated pupil from the
community is in class three at Bodhai Primary School, an hour's trek away.