This blog provides a forum for presenting and discussing the latest findings relating to the ancient Indian Ocean, from archaeology, molecular genetics, historical linguistics and other disciplines. It takes a long-term view of the Indian Ocean region, exploring the processes that shaped its cultures, societies and environments from the Pleistocene to the historical period.

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Monday, 31 May 2010

Ethnoornithology on the Kenya coast

Last year (2009) Nature Kenya / the East Africa Natural History Society (EANHS) published its Checklist of the Birds of Dakatcha Woodland, an Important Bird Area (IBA) in the hinterland of Malindi on the Kenya coast. The woodland is home to a number of globally threatened and near-threatened bird species and is itself threatened by illegal commercial agricultural development. One of the birds under threat graces the checklist’s cover: the beautiful Fischer’s Turaco (Tauraco fischeri), known as kulukulu in the Giriama (= Giryama) language. This is the first checklist of its kind in Kenya to include the vernacular names of birds recorded and cross-checked by local community members, and is an important addition to the ethnoornithology of the wider region.

Giriama is one of the Mijikenda idioms and is closely related to Comorian, Swahili, and other Sabaki Bantu languages. Cognate bird names can therefore be found in the Comoros as well on many of the islands off the East African coast from Somalia in the north to Mozambique in the south. Tracking the linguistic history and geography of these and other animal names can provide important information about people's migrations and interactions in the past (cf. my 'Island Subsistence: Hunting, Trapping and the Translocation of Wildlife in the Western Indian Ocean'). Bird names are particularly useful in this regard because we have better information about avian distributions and environmental preferences than we do for many other groups of animals.

(For more on the Dakatcha checklist and other aspects of Mijikenda ethnoornithology see the original post on 'Giriama Bird Names', and an earlier one on 'Birds of Omen and Little Flying Animals with Wings', at my East African Notes and Records blog.)

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