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Home » Child/Adolescent Mental Health » Who’s At Risk? » Refugees » Somalia (Somali Bantu) » Somali Bantu Refugee Cultural Considerations

Somali Bantu Refugee Cultural Considerations

  • Most refugees from Somalia spent 10 to 12 years in refugee camps.  Most of the Somali Bantu children in the U.S. were born in a Kenyan refugee camp called Kakuma.
  • Vermont has provided refuge for hundred of Somali citizens, most of whom are Somali-Bantu.
  • Most of the Somali Bantu refugees in Vermont speak Maay Maay which is one of three Somali dialects.
  • It is estimated that between 90-95% of Somali Bantu refugees were unable to read and write when they left Somalia.
  • The social class difference between Somali and the Somali-Bantu (who are considered to be inferior) continues here in the U.S. and in Vermont.
  • It is common for Somali refugees to be hired as interpreters and translators for Somali-Bantu refugees, which may cause problems due to the historically oppressive relationship between them.
  • About 97% of Somali are Sunni Muslim.  Many Somali-Bantu are considered to be liberal in their practice of Islam.
  • Direct eye contact is considered disrespectful and is not accepted in Somalia.
  • When talking with a person of higher social status, Somali Bantu may not answer questions directly and/or openly.  Once a relationship has been established, however, they will likely become open and direct.
  • Physical contact is not accepted between those of the opposite sex, unless they are members of the same family.
  • Polygamy is practiced in Somalia.  It is typical for men to have four or five wives.
  • Somali Bantu refugees are generally unfamiliar with culturally accepted American discipline methods; physical discipline strategies are widely used in their home country.
  • Providers should keep in mind the father’s role as head of the family (primary decision-maker and disciplinarian) and the mother’s role as head of the household (primary communicator and advocate)
  • Most Somali Bantu have not had access to healthcare systems because most hospitals and clinics were destroyed by war.  Tuberculosis and cholera are endemic throughout Somalia.
  • Traditional medical practices like “fire-burning” and “cupping” can leave cuts, burns, and scars that could potentially be misinterpreted as physical abuse.
  • Sometimes illnesses will be blamed on angry spirits within the ill person.
  • Somali-Bantu are reserved when it comes to discussing their personal problems; it’s common for Bantu refugees to remain quiet about challenges and injustices they experience.
  • The traumatic experiences of many resettled Somali Bantu – both in Somalia and in the refugee camps – pose a significant risk factor for the development of depression and post-traumatic stress.
  • Healthcare professionals, including mental health professionals, are generally well-respected by Somali Bantus.