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The Forgotten Boni Aweer Community BACKGROUND BY HARUN RINGERA

THE BONI ARE HUNTERS AND GATHERERS whose lives and livelihoods are interwoven with the forest landscape of the Boni-Dodori ecosystem. They are the smallest of the indigenous communities of Lamu, whose number is currently estimated to be between 3,000 - 7,000 individuals. It takes 3 hours to drive to Boni from Lamu Island by vehicle; you can also use a speedboat to get there through Indian Ocean. As you visit any village of Waboni in Lamu East, the only animal in sight is a chicken foraging for some insects in the neighborhood. They also get most of the food items from Lamu town. Occasionally, the village gets donations of food and also non-food items from humanitarian agencies. Depending on who you ask, there are different versions of why the Waboni live in isolation. Although a few Waboni live in Lamu, they too live on their own with minimal interaction with other communities. “The Waboni are also known as Wasanya who are feared in the coastal towns as people who bring bad luck to those they interact with,” said one coastal resident. It is

not norm for surrounding communities to intermarry with them for fear of inviting bad luck in their communities. If one marries a Boni, they will need to be cleansed so as not to bring bad omen to their kinsmen. The word Boni, also means lower caste or the unlucky. One of them said they cannot keep cattle or farm. “The animals die from diseases and the crops fail or are destroyed by buffaloes from nearby game reserve. “We are not lucky,” one member of the community said. The group has no known personality working in the Government; not an assistant Chief or civic Leader has come from this community. Their history dates back to the infamous slave trade along the coast of East Africa. To avoid being captured, brutalized and sold into slavery, the Bon fled inland and settled in Boni forest that stretches from Lamu to the southern part of Ijara District.

Members of the Aweer



got interested in the Boni community and requested our team to take me to one of the villages inhabited by Waboni. This was after hearing from our staff stories of how this community has been isolated for many years. We visited a village called Medina which is 40 kms away from Kiunga center. What I saw will forever be in my memory. I found a community where adults and children are infested with jiggers and have many skin diseases like scurvy and ring worms. They rarely bathe because there is no water point near their village. It takes an hour to get to a water point in the neighboring village called Mkokoni. The little water they get is used for cooking and drinking only. World Concern had supported them with food for work so that they can construct some temporary shelters because the rainy season is soon coming. Baby Isinino What struck me most is one child called Isinino who is two years old but still unable to walk because her feet are infested with jiggers. Brown haired Isinino looks pale and wasted, with skin rashes and sores on her fingers and toes. She was in real pain and very irritable. I learnt that her mother could not breastfeed her for six months exclusively as recommended, as she bore another baby shortly after. The mother and father were also infested with jiggers as well as other villagers. This compelled us to go back to Kiunga and talk

Baby Isinino

to the medical personnel at the health center to visit the village and provide health care services. On Friday 23rd Nov, they visited the village with our staff to conduct medical check- ups and provide medical services with the little drugs they have at Kiunga health center. They found out that the health issues were many because there is no health center near their village. Common illnesses after investigation by the medical team were; jigger infestation, malnutrition, Malaria, chest infections and skin diseases. When Isinino was checked by the clinical officer, he confirmed that she had marasmus and was also suffering from wounds on both upper >> CONTINUED ON PAGE 2


and lower limbs. This was in addition to jigger infestation on the fingers and toes. After this examination, she was given vitamin A 200,000 iv start dose, Albenidazole 400gms for deworming, multivitamins, ferrous sulphate and folic acid. Jiggers were treated by washing affected areas with betadine solution because the clinic officer didn’t have hydrogen peroxide. She was also given antifungal cream (Clotrimazole) to treat the fungal infections on her skin. A close look at the immunization schedule card by the clinical officer revealed that she had only been given three immunizations (Penta 1,BCG and Polio vaccine)instead of the required 9. There are numerous children facing Isnino’s predicament in the area, and another visit on the following week was inevitable. Clinical Officer Recommendations: • Monthly integrated health and hygiene outreaches • Outreaches should be integrated with vaccinations, treatment of common ailments, HIV

A medical officer checks an infant, as Isinino’s mother looks on. testing and counseling, TB screening, antenatal mother care services and jigger treatment. He also gave a list of pharmaceuticals and nonpharmaceuticals that will be needed to reach out to this village. The main health center in Ki-

unga didn’t have most of the essential drugs because the little they get from the government, they also share with the Somalis from Ras Kamboni who come to the center for treatment.out to this village.



12 Kgs 88 cm WALKS

THE JIGGER PROBLEM POOR HYGIENE AND SANITATION are major problems causing jiggers infestation. Among the Aweer, jiggers have infested most people, including children who are less than one year. Some cannot attend school as they are unable to walk or hold a pen because of the wounds in between their fingers and toes. Effects of jigger infestation • It can lead to Anemia and dehydration due to multiple infestations. • Exposure to tetanus - when jiggers are extracted, they leave open wounds. Due to poverty and poor hygiene, most villagers cannot afford to dress their wounds, hence exposure to tetanus. • Deformity - it all starts with a loss of sensation and this leads to Necrosis or death

of the tissue on the affected area. This may urgently require amputation, so that surrounding areas may not be affected. And in cases of multiple infestations, death is a possible as a result of acute anemia and dehydration.

Research has shown that the two major causes of jigger menace are lack of proper hygiene and poverty. To improve on this, World Concern intends to intensify hygiene training in the areas as well as looking for opportunities on how we can empower them economically. To start with, the World Concern staff in Lamu decided to buy each of the 40 households which were most affected by jiggers a chicken each. The team identified keeping of indigenous chicken as a potential economic and nutritional venture that can foster improvement of livelihoods for

the Boni community. Production of indigenous chicken is a common activity in the area where the birds are kept in a free range system mostly for the purpose of scavenging for their nutritional needs. Keeping of indigenous chicken is a fairly cheap venture since it does not involve the high input requirements that the exotic and cross breeds types demand. Furthermore, the venture does not require huge chunks of land and proof of ownership and decision making, which would otherwise be an impediment to the culturally marginalized/disadvantaged groups of women and youth, whom the organization is focused on working with.

Each household will receive 2 chicken



FOR KSH 500 ( $7) PURCHASE 1 CHICKEN Contact


While filling voucher distribution sheets, the team discovered that most people indicated that they usually eat three meals per day, yet said they were hungry. I took initiative to talk to a few elderly people so that I understand what they meant by saying three meals. Mariadi Msuo – 84 years old Normally, they have one major meal, which they take in the evening when everybody is back at home. In the mornings, it is not necessary for them to eat. But when they get something it might be strong tea with or without sugar. The same is repeated in the afternoon, if some more

tea is available. If not, people will not take anything until evening. If some food is found, then a heavy meal is cooked in the evening. If none, they will drink strong tea with or without sugar and then sleep. However, when shortage persists they go to the forest to gather wild fruits. Gathering honey is also a normal activity for the Aweer (Boni). Concerns: He indicated that for the last 3 years there has not been sufficient rain in the area. The crops they planted were destroyed by buffaloes and drought.

Mariam Tute – 105 years old

Abalee Hamza - late twenties

During the Ramadhan (fasting period of the holy month in Islam) they did not have enough food to eat, they were using juice, and anything they would get for the heavy meal in the night.

They survive on a variety of wild fruits, one common one is from Echil.

But food through the voucher program by World Concern provided sufficient food after Ramadhan. She indicated that all the crops in the farms were destroyed by wild animals, they are not sure of what the government would do after this supply.

Mariam explains a point, through an interprator

Echil is a wild plant which grows in the forest, and found in abundance in Dongaa and Bolaa forests around Basuba. The fruits from the tree are called Tieli which have nuts inside. They are collected, dried for some time then pounded. The powder - Buree - is then prepared to make heavy food. (See photo of Buree on page 4) Like other women, she walks to the forest for 4 hours so that she can collect the Tieli. They have to collect enough for the family and it takes them 12 hours to collect enough. This quantity collected might feed 5 people twice a day for 2 weeks. From the same tree, they peel the bark of the trunk to the middle and they get soft tissues called Mkalabaka which should be left to wither for 7 days. Afterwards, it can be eaten while raw as bread or dried for another 7 days and pounded to get flour from which ugali, porridge

Dima (left) with Mariadi Msuo and his wife or bread can be made to be drank or eaten. This will depend on whether they get enough at one time. She said that due to drought, which has persisted in the area, the wild foods have now become scarce. As women gather the fruits, men also go to the forest for honey gathering. Conclusion: It should be noted that sometimes people go gathering and they do not get anything. They come home desperate. But through their culture, if a member of the village gets anything they have to share among themselves.


Hamza (below) demonstrates how to remove nuts from Tiel


Typical house among the Aweer

This elderly man from Aweer community enquired about the food voucher program and explained that it needed to resume

Medical Officer busy cleaning jigger wounds


SILENCE: Hygiene class in session

A participant follows the interactive hygiene class closely

World Concern’s Hygiene Trainer (right) educates on safe water

A lady of the Aweer community poses near her house

Boni Aweer of Lamu, Kenya  

World Concern staff response to marginalized community in Lamu East

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