For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Aweer language.

Aweer language

Native toKenya
RegionCoast Province, North-Eastern Province
Native speakers
7,600 (2009 census)[1]
  • Kilii
  • Baddey
  • Bireeri
  • Jara
  • Kijee
  • Safaree
Language codes
ISO 639-3bob
Area where the Eastern Omo-Tana languages (minus Bayso and Rendille) are spoken

Aweer (Aweera), also known as Boni (Bon, Bonta), is a Cushitic language of Eastern Kenya. The Aweer people, known by the arguably derogatory exonym "Boni," are historically a hunter-gatherer people, traditionally subsisting on hunting, gathering, and collecting honey.[2][3] Their ancestral lands range along the Kenyan coast from the Lamu and Ijara Districts into Southern Somalia's Badaade District.[4][5]

According to Ethnologue, there are around 8,000 speakers of Aweer. Aweer has similarities with the Garre language,[6][7][8] however, its speakers are ethnically distinct from Garre speakers.[9]

Historical situation

There is suggestions that the Aweer speech community are remnants of the early hunter-gatherer inhabitants of Eastern Africa; although this is not without debate among specialists and unlike the neighboring speakers of the Dahalo language, there is no concrete linguistic evidence of a shift from a prior language; it is best said that the possibility of said shift is more so based on assumptions regarding their status as foragers as opposed to linguistic evidence of the same sort found in neighboring languages. As noted in Heine (1982:141), the debate regarding the situation of if the Aweer have or have not shifted from a prior language is as follows:[10]

  1. The forest was inhabited by people speaking a non-Sam (= non-East Omo-Tana) language, who, as a result of contacts with Sam pastoralists along the forest fringes, adopted a Sam language. This would imply that the Boni relationship with the Sam people is merely linguistic; their cultural origin would have to be sought with those hunter-gatherers who lived in the forest prior to the arrival of the Eastern Sam.
  2. Part of the Eastern Sam, i.e. the immediate ancestors of the Boni, entered the coastal forest and adopted a hunter-gatherer existence. Such a development is likely to have been caused by war, stock raiding or ecological distress, forcing the Same people to give up their livestock economy.

Tosco (1994)[8] notes that Heine agrees with the second historical scenario, and as Tosco (1994:155) goes on to state:

I suppose that the "backwardness" of the cultural and economic way of life of the hunter-gatherers is probably at the very core of these theories: notwithstanding the dangers implicit in any strong association between culture and language, these people are assumed to be "linguistic survivors", because they are—presumably—"cultural survivors". These theories do not take into account that language shift is probably a much more recurrent phenomenon than any romantic association between people and culture leads us to assume.

Further on in the same paper, Tosco does note that there are oral traditions among the Aweer ethnic community that they had at one point had cattle and, as a result of losing them (and presumably their social status), had become foragers. A similar view can be found in Stiles (1988:41-42),[11] and the general consensus is that while the actual origin of the Aweer and their language is not known definitively, it is likely that they at one point were not foragers. A competing hypothesis, and perhaps equally plausible one in the same vein as Heine's first scenario, is put forth by Tosco (1994:159) that links the emergence of Aweer to the expansion of Garre-speakers from the northeast:

According to Garre traditions, the movement began "from an area located at or near the present-day settlement of Luuq, down the right side of the Jubba river. The expansion took the form of sections of the Garre communities spreading from Afmadow southwards until they reached the Jubba-Tana region, where they "coexisted with Dahaloan hunter-gatherers"; their "impact led the Dahaloan food collectors to give up their Dahaloan tongue for Garre. To this day the Aweer ... speak dialects of Garre. All that remains of their Dahaloan speech is a single community near the coast ..., even the lexicon has been influenced by Garre" (Ali 1985:161ff)[12]. Thus, for Ali the Boni are Dahalo that have been Somalised, just as many centuries before these hunter-gatherers had given up their original (?) Khoisan[13] language and adopted a Cushitic language, i.e. Dahalo.

He then notes that in a forthcoming work to be published, Tosco (1992),[14] that there is loans of East Omo-Tana (or in his words, "Somali") origin within Dahalo that could have only been loaned by either Aweer or Garre, such as the verb šir- (IPA: [ʃir-]) 'to be there, to exist' which demonstrates the sound change *k > [ʃ] /_i and the verb unneed- (IPA: [ʔunneːd]) 'to swallow', which demonstrates another sound shift found in both Garre and Aweer, *ʕ > [ʔ] along with the semantic shift of 'to eat' > 'to swallow'; which itself is found in Aweer. Conversely, these could also be loans from Aweer into Dahalo. A similar viewpoint can be found in Nurse (2019).[15]


The phonemic inventory reconstructed for Proto-Aweer (the last common stage of all Aweer dialects) is as follows:

Labial Dental/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t c k q ʔ
voiced b d ɟ g
implosive ɗ ʄ ɠ
Fricative f s ʃ h
Approximant l j w
Rhotic r,


  1. ^ Aweer at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Biber, Douglas; Heine, Bernd (1984). "The Waata Dialect of Oromo: Grammatical Sketch and Vocabulary". Language. 60 (4): 992. doi:10.2307/413828. ISSN 0097-8507. JSTOR 413828.
  3. ^ Stiles, Daniel (2001). "Hunter-Gatherer Studies: The Importance of Context" (PDF). African Study Monographs. Supplementary Issue. 26: 41–65. doi:10.14989/68408 – via Kyoto University Research Information Repository.
  4. ^ Prins, A.H.J. (1960). "Notes on the Boni, a Tribe of Hunters in Northern Kenya". Bulletin of the International Committee on Urgent Anthropological and Ethnological Research. 1 (3): 25–27.
  5. ^ Prins, A.H.J. (1963). "The Didemic Diarchic Boni". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 93 (2): 174–85.
  6. ^ Raymond G. Gordon Jr., ed. 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 15th edition. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
  7. ^ Ethnologue - Garre language
  8. ^ a b Tosco, Mauro (1994). "The Historical Reconstruction of a Southern Somali Dialect: Proto-Karre-Boni". Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika. 15: 153–209.
  9. ^ "Ethnologue - Aweer language". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2014-09-17.
  10. ^ Heine, Bernd (1982). Heine, Bernd; Möhlig, W.J.G. (eds.). Boni Dialects. Language and Dialect Atlas of Kenya. Vol. 10. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  11. ^ Stiles, Daniel (1988). "Historical interrelationships of the Boni with pastoral peoples of Somalia and Kenya". Kenya Past and Present. 20: 38–45.
  12. ^ Ali, Mohammed Nuuh 1985. "History of the Horn of Africa, 1000 B.C. - 1500 AD: Aspects of Social and Economic Change between the Rift Valley and the Indian Ocean." P.h.D. Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.
  13. ^ Güldemann, T. (Ed.) (2018). The Languages and Linguistics of Africa. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Mouton. pp107 "Since no new versions or evidence for a Khoisan hypothesis have grown out of any more recent scholarship, there is little empirical ground for left for currently propagating such a family."
  14. ^ Tosco, Mauro. 1992. The classification of Dahalo: another perspective. In Banti, Giorgio (ed.), Proceedings of the 2nd international symposium on Cushitic and Omotic languages, Turin, 16–18 November 1989. Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale.
  15. ^ Nurse, Derek (2019). "When Northern Swahili met southern Somali". In Emily Clem; Peter Jenks; Hannah Sande (eds.). Theory and Description in African Linguistics. Berlin: Language Science Press. pp. 649–665. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3367193. ISBN 978-3-96110-205-1.

Further reading

{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Aweer language
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?