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|Who Are The Somali Bantu?|
Sun, May. 04, 2003 (the State)
Who are the Somali Bantu?
The descendants of six African tribes in East Africa, the Somali Bantu are not native Somalis. Their ancestors were taken from their native lands by Arab slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries and sold through the Zanzibar slave market.
How were they persecuted?
The Bantu endured several centuries of toil and deprivation as slaves in Somalia. Even after slavery ended there in 1930, they continued to exist on the lowest rungs of the social ladder. During the Somali civil war in the 1990s, their situation worsened. Their farms were raided and rival Somali clans routinely raped Bantu women and killed the men. That led to an exodus to neighboring Kenya.
Are they refugees?
The Somali Bantu fit the definition of refugee as outlined by the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. It says a refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
Why are they coming to the United States?
They have nowhere else to go. Kenya, the country they fled to, has refused to allow them to stay permanently. Tanzania accepted some Somali Bantu who fled via ship from Somalia, but that country is already swamped by refugees fleeing the Rwandan civil war. The United States, which accepts a set number of refugees annually, agreed to take those left.
How many are coming to Columbia?
About 120, mostly families with young children. Eighty will arrive in late spring or summer; 40 will arrive in 2004.
Are they settling in other places, too?
Between 8,000 and 12,000 will make their homes in 50 U.S. cities, including Charlotte and Atlanta.
Why are they coming to the Midlands?
The Lutheran Family Services Refugee Resettlement Program, which represents two resettlement agencies, submitted a proposal to the State Department. The Rev. Richard Robinson, who heads up the program, said Columbia has been hospitable to refugees in the past. Housing is relatively inexpensive, entry-level jobs are plentiful, and the faith community always has been committed.
Where will they live?
They will be resettled in one apartment complex. Because of their strong cultural ties, the Somali Bantu thrive best when living in a communal setting. Currently, five apartment complexes - in Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce - are under consideration.
What religion do they practice?
Islam and some African animism. Many converted to Islam while enslaved because the Quran teaches that one Muslim cannot hold another Muslim as a slave.
What is African animism?
Animism is the belief that spirits, which are made known through ancestors, can help or harm people.