The language of the May May [Maay Maay], its speakers and homelands [SOM30133.E]

An associate professor of anthropology at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, who specializes in the southern Somali clans, stated that Maay Maay is a language spoken by clans in the inter-riverine area between the Shabeelle and the Jubba rivers (23 Sept. 1998).. The clan families in this area are mainly the Rahanweyn and the Digil but "there are also other groups who speak Maay Maay, such as many "Bantu" villagers along the Jubba and Shabeelle who may not have Somali clan affiliations." The associate professor further stated that due to recent migrations, there "are certainly" Maay Maay speakers in other parts of Somalia (ibid.).

A history professor at the University of Pennyslvania, in Philadelphia, a specialist in the history of southern Somalia, corroborated the above information (24 Sept. 1998). He added that there are sub, and sub-sub dialects of Maay Maay spoken by the Jiiddu, who live in the southwestern part of the inter-riverine area. He stated that according to some Somalia historians, the Maay Maay speakers are the oldest inhabitants of the Horn of Africa. Historically, they raised cattle but also practised other farming.

The professor stated that the Maay Maay speakers were not "well-connected" because the majority did not leave the region to go to the city or outside Somalia to get a western education. Consequently, the Maay Maay speakers were under-represented at the national level, in the civil service and the police, both in the colonial administration and the governments after independence (ibid.).

A large majority did not have contact with people outside their area of residence and they had no known kinsmen outside the country, stated the professor. Consequently, during the Somali war of 1991, many Maay Maay speakers found themselves in camps in Baidoa and other feeding centres inside Somalia (ibid.). After this displacement, their properties were expropriated. As a result, according to the professor, the Maay Maay speakers have lost control of their freedom to earn a living and control their lives (ibid.).

The professor stated that more recently, the Rahanweyn clans have organized themselves into a political party. For information this topic, please consult the numerous Responses on the Rahanweyn, available at Regional Documentation Centres.

Ethnologue estimates that in 1992, there were between 700,000 and 1,500,000 speakers of Maay Maay dialects including the Digil dialect. The language is spoken in Gedo, Middle and Lower Shabeelle , Middle and Lower Jubba, Baay and Baakol (1992, 366). One of the Maay Maay dialects, the Af Helledi, "is a secret language used by hunters. Used by the Tunni, Jiiddu, Garre and Dabarre as second language" (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Associate professor of anthropology, Colby College, Waterville, Maine. Specialist in Somali southern clans. 23 September 1998. Letter to the Research Directorate.

Ethnologue: Languages of the World. 1992. 12th edition. Edited by Barbara F. Grimes. Dallas, Tex.: Summer Institute of Linguistics.

History professor, University of Pennyslvania, Philadelphia. Specialist in history of southern Somalia. 24 September 1994. Telephone interview.