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The Kore of Kenya Maasai or Somali?
Clarifying Ethnic and Linguistic Streams in Overlooked Ethnicities

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Registry of Peoples code:  Kore:  114981
Registry of Languages code (Ethnologue):  Somali:  som

The leader of our agency's team working with the Maasai indicates that the Maasai Kore are really just another name for the Samburu.  However, the Ethnologue entry for Maasai (MET/mas) says that "The Kore now speak Somali as first language," which would seem to indicate them as a distinct Maasai segment.  Can you help me with any information regarding the Kore as a segment of the Maasai?

I was surprised to see that the Ethnologue still lists Kore as a dialect of Maasai.  As far as I can determine there is not an extant dialect of the Maasai language still spoken that is called Kore.  I notice that the Ethnologue explains that the mother tongue of those called Kore is now Somali.

I have found no information that would indicate if this "kore" dialect entry and the people that now speak Somali refers to a different people from the coastal people now known as Kore who speak the Somali language.  It would seem this is a historical reference indicating the origin of this group that once spoke Maasai and are associated with the Somali, and later migrated further south and east.

There is an ethnic group called Kore, living around Lamu.  I don't see how they could be considered a Maasai sub-group.  Thought they originally came from the Maasai, like many other East African groups, they have a genetic heritage related to one stream but have adopted a language of another stream.  Due to their being conquered and captured by the Somalis and made slaves for some time, before they moved away to re-establish themselves on the coast, they have totally changed.  Numerous sources comment on this.

The separation was also exacerbated by the attacks by Purko Maasai on the Kore and the Laikipiak, during the Maasai civil wars (inter-tribal Maasai wars) the 1870s.  They are no longer herders, but are farmers.  They live on the coast and have no connection with the Maasai groups up-country.  Their mother tongue is Somali (though the sources do not say which Somali language).

Note that the Samburu are also considered a separate ethnic group.  They are separated by geography, cultural patterns vary, but their language is also considerably different, though they can make themselves understood.

In the early 1980s, the United Bible Societies in Kenya brought out a new translation of the New Testament considered to be in the "Maasai-Samburu."  This did not work for both tribes, according to many people I spoke with.  The translation was usable among the Maasai tribes proper, thought they commented that some words were really Samburu.  I knew churches that used it.

The Maasai tribes could use it, but it was not suitable for the Samburu, even though compromises and adjustments were made to make it usable by them.  I have this from personal knowledge of both Maasai and Samburu, with whom I worked in Suswa.  Europeans who worked among the Samburu also reported that the Samburu complained that this New Testament was not in their language, and was not understandable to them, unless they had also learned Maasai.

I knew the translation team leader Dr. John Mpaayei and talked with him about the translation in the early years of its implementation.  He still held out hope that this translation could work, but as I recall, it was already going into the process of revision.  At the end of 2006, a Kenyan Bible translation agency, Bible Translation and Literacy had two new Bible translation projects underway for Samburu and the related Ilchamus language.

Cultural Separation
The Kore are separated by time, geography and culture, as well as language from the groups of peoples still called Maasai.  I think they should be listed as a separate ethnic group.  The language of access would be a form of Somali, but sources do not specify any linguistic description, only that they speak "Somali."

The native language is Somali, though they appear to be bilingual in Swahili of some form, being residents of Lamu hinterland.

Sources on the Kore
Here are two helpful statements from a journal.  The article is on J-Stor and access to the full text requires subscription.

"They claimed to have been Laikipiak Maasai."  Also
"The Galla [Oromo] word for Maasai was Kore."

Patricia Romero Curtin, "Generations of Strangers: The Kore of Lamu"
International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1985), pp. 455-472

Other Maasai-Related Groups
I had previously been in a discussion with a researcher concerning the Baraguyu, or Kwavi, people and language.  This is another example of cultural and linguistic assimilation, but going the other way.  The Baraguyu are of Cushitic background, but now speak a form of Maasai.  Their language was formerly listed as a separate language under the name of Kwavi (Kwafi).  In 2005, the Ethnologue reclassified this speech form as a dialect of Maasai.

In my searching for information on the Kore, I also found an article with some general information referring to the Maasai group of languages.  The Baraguyu (Kwavi) are mentioned as one of the groups who have joined the Maasai language stream, thought they continue to maintain a separate ethnic identity.

Language: Maa (Ol Maa, Kimaa,or Maasai)
It is a Nilotic language that is shared with the Samburu people (up to 89% lexical similarity), the Njemps fishermen of Baringo district, groups of Ogiek/Ndorobo hunter-gatherers, and the semi-pastoral Arusha and Baraguyu (Kwafi) of Tanzania.
See also Maasai-Speaking People and their Neighbours.

Sparse Information
There seems to be little specific demographic information on the Kore.  This is reflected in the discovery I made concerning the Kore and the Registry of Peoples (ROP).  There was no entry in the ROP.  I am surprised this is not there yet, but it is probably because of the low profile and lack of early information on the Kore.  The various contributing source databases all missed the few sources accounting for the Kore. &nbbsp;

I note that in the last three to five years, there has been a universal rise in activity in updating all major ethnic databases, taking advantage of the rising flow of ethnic information from former hidden sources.

I think you should have a separate ethnic entity for the Kore as a unique ethnicity, and they will appear in the next public edition of the Registry of Peoples (ROP).  I expect major ethnic databases will soon be reporting this people as well.  I am now adding a separate entity to the ROP with the new code 114981, which you can begin using immediately.

As the ROP codes are implemented more universally by various ethnic databases, we will continue to see more common reporting and sharing of ethnic information among sources, and a more complete awareness of the complex ethnic map of our world.

You should check to see if your database carries a separate population for the Kore group as a separate entity.  I suggest you have only one Kore entity.  There are two ways you could handle it.

1.  Continue to list them as a segment under the Maasai, but show the language as Somali.  This would indicate the historical relationship with Maasai, as a clan that has now shifted language streams.

2.  List the Kore a separate people, as a primary entity with the language of Somali.  You would delete the Kore segment under Maasai, which now seems to have no current justification, as a part of the Maa-speaking group.  This would indicate their current status as a separate ethnic group with a different language from their historic language of origin.

Related article on this site
Kwavi, Baraguyu and Maasai Dialects, Historical Names and Ethnicities
Mukogodo Maasai
Samburu of Kenya
Somali of Kenya
Suswa: An Evangelical Experiment (Use of Natural Cultural Networks in Christian Evangelism)

More on the Kore
McClang Maasai, Kore and Related
Maasai Language Ethnologue
The Kore of Lamu Curtin (J-Stor Subscription service)
Maasai-Speaking People and their Neighbours
Registry of Peoples (ROP)


First written 23 October 2006 as an email message
Finalized as an article and posted on Thoughts and Resources 24 November 2006
Last edited 27 April 2010

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email: researchguy@iname.com
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