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Peoples and Cultures

Kwavi, Baraguyu and Maasai -- Dialects, Names and Ethnicities
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Registry of Peoples code:  Baraguyu (Parakuyo, Kwavi):  101035
Registry of Languages code (Ethnologue):  Maasai (Parakuyo or Kwavi dialect):  mas

In a list of ethnic and language groups of Tanzania, I came across a group called Kwavi:  People living in the Kitumbi area of northern Tanzania where the language is supposedly spoken say they can't find this term in use:  Who are the Kwavi people?

The name Kwavi appears mainly in historical references in the 19th century.  The term is associated with the Maasai culture and language.  Some say it was a Somali word; some say it is Galla (Oromo).  We find the term was used in northern and central Kenya as well.  It does not appear the term Kwavi was ever used by any people of themselves.

Reports indicate the Kwavi are associated with a place name of Kitumbi.  A field source in Northern Tanzania indicates they can find no connection of the Kwavi name with the town of Kitumbi there.  I expect there are several places named Kitumbi in northern Tanzania. The Kwavi are likely "hidden" under a different name in your data.

In northern Tanzania, the name Kwavi is associated with an ethnic group called Baraguyu (Parakuyo).    The Registry of Peoples (ROP) has long recognized this, providing a separate code for the Baraguyu as a unique ethnic entity from the first edition of the Registry.  The ROP has indicated the language of the Baraguyu as Maasai (former code MET, now mas).

In older language lists, it was noted that it was unclear what the name Kwavi referred to.  It was thought that Kwavi might be a separate language.  Too few specifics of the language were known to determine this.  A language code had been assigned years ago in the Ethnologue, but the entity or language had been unconfirmed.  The older editions of Ethnologue indicated that an alternate name for Kwavi was Parakuyo.

In the new Ethnologue update in Edition 15, linguists have reclassified the speech of Kwavi after further analysis.  The Ethnologue now reports that it has been determined that what was previously called Kwavi and listed as a separate language is actually the same speech as the Baraguyu dialect of Maasai (MET/mas).

The language update in Ethnologue 15 comments on the Baraguyu or Kwavi people under the Baraguyu or Parakuyo dialect of Maa, which the Ethnologue calls by the people name Maasai.  There is no separate listing for a Baraguyu language in Ethologue edition 14 or 15.  The entry for Parakuyo dialect (with Baraguyu as an alternate name) has been updated to indicate that Kwavi is another alternate name for the Parakuyuo dialect of Maasai.

Dialect vs Ethnicity
The Kwavi are known historically as a Maa-speaking group, but they have long assocation with the Bantu groups east of Mt Kilimanjaro. They are farmers, and have a lifestyle more like the neighbouring Bantu people in the Kilimanjaro area.  You might find that Kwavi people identify themselves by a Bantu clan name, such as Chagga, even though they speak Maa.  Likely names would be Chagga, Sambaa (Shambala) or Pare.  Check under these names to see if this entity is accounted for in your information.  Check related Bantu groups for Kwavi clans or dialects.

 The Kwavi or Baraguyu might be listed in some databases as a sub-group of Maasai or Arusha.  Note that there is an Arusa (Arusha) dialects of Maasai, though the Arusa (Arusha) are also commonly considered a separate ethnicity.

Separate Ethnicity
The Kwavi have been considered as a Maasai-related but separate entity since the 1800s.  These people today, now known more commonly by the name Baraguyu, likewise continue this separate sense of self-identity.  The language information in Ethnologue 15 has some helpful comments on them under the Baraguyu or Parakuyo dialect of Maa, which they call by the people name Maasai.

In the excerpt below from the Ethnologue, note the comment about Baraguyu ethnicity under the Tanzania entry:
The Baraguyu speak Maasai, but they consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group from the Maasai.

The Ethnologue also reports that the "Baraguyu are spread from the Indian Ocean nearly to Malawi."  I notice also that the name Kitumbi mentioned in the question does not appear in either edition of the Ethnologue.  They list Parakuyo dialect under Kenya as well as Tanzania, but the comment of percentage of intelligibility between dialects seems to indicate that Parakuyo is spoken only in Tanzania, as most ethnic databases indicate.  I have no current population for the Baraguyu, but the Ethnologue reports that the 1987 population was 30,000.


A language of Kenya:  mas
Population 453,000 in Kenya (1994 I. Larsen BTL).  Population total all countries: 883,000.

Region:  Kajiado and Narok districts, Rift Valley Province.  Also spoken in Tanzania.

Dialects: Kaputiei, Keekonyokie, Matapo, Laitokitok, Iloodokilani, Damat, Purko, Loitai, Siria, Moitanik (Wuasinkishu), Kore, Arusa (Arusha), Parakuyo (Baraguyu, Kwavi), Kisonko.

The dialects listed in Tanzania have 82% to 86% lexical similarity with Kenya dialects. In Kenya, Purko has 91% to 96% lexical similarity with other Kenya dialects, 82% with Baraguyu, 86% with Arusha, 77% to 89% with Samburu, 82% to 89% with Chamus, 60% with Ngasa (Ongamo).

Classification  Nilo-Saharan, Eastern Sudanic, Nilotic, Eastern, Lotuxo-Teso, Lotuxo-Maa, Ongamo-Maa

Comments Seminomadic. Purko is the largest dialect in Kenya and centrally located. VSO. Pastoralists: cattle, goats; agriculturalists. Traditional religion, Christian.

Also spoken in Tanzania
Population 430,000 in Tanzania (1993). Population includes 170,000 Arusa, 30,000 Baraguyu (1987).

Region North central, on Kenya border, east of Serengeti National Park. The Baraguyu are spread from the Indian Ocean nearly to Malawi.

Dialects:  Arusha (Il-Arusha, L-Arusha), Parakuyo (Baraguyu, Kwavi), Kisonko.

Language use Vigorous. The Baraguyu speak Maasai, but they consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group from the Maasai. Speakers also use Swahili.

Other sources
I note also that other commentators reject the entity as a separate ethnicity.  Here is an excerpt from one writer (1974 MA dissertation).

"Having adapted over the course of millennia to these difficult conditions, African societies were often very alien to European visitors, and vice versa.  The commonest native word for the white man in East Africa, mzungu, translates as something 'strange' or 'mysterious'.  When, in the 20th century, anthropologists began to study native cultures more scientifically, they often discovered that their 19th-century predecessors had completely misunderstood important aspects, such as the powers and duties of the civil and ritual chiefs.  Sometimes whole 'tribes' which had been confidently reported by the explorers - the 'Wakwavi' of East Africa and the 'Bangala' of the Congo, for example - were found never to have existed.  In fact the word 'tribe' itself has quite rightly fallen into disfavour with modern scholars, who regard it as a meaningless and rather derogatory term covering a wide variety of different types of political organisation.  Nevertheless, it has been retained here for convenience without any claim to have a precise meaning."
    — Africa: East Africa - Tribal and Imperial Armies in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar, 1800 to 1900 (Armies of the Nineteenth Century)

Another author comments in that regard:

"Estimates of the number of pastoralists in Tanzania vary between 0.3 and 0.5 million.  The
main pastoral groups are the Maa speaking groups e.g.  the Maasai and the Ilparakuyo
(Baraguyu, Wakwavi or Kwavi), numbering about 200,000 people in the North; and the
Datoga (Barabaig) numbering up to 100,000 in the North West."
   — Household Livelihood Strategies in Semi-Arid Tanzania: Synthesis of Findings

Other references like the following also use the term for a division of the Maasai.

"Another group refused to go to the highlands because of the cold.  They migrated southwestwards and established themselves along the banks of the Migori River (sometimes spelled Mogori), at a place called Chimanga Chia Miehina, in the Trans Mara triangle.  Today this is in Tanzania.  Living across the river, in the plains to the south, were the Kwavi Maasai.  The Gusii began to fight once again with the Maasai over cattle thefts."
    — Gusii - History

About.Com lists sources back to 1960 indicating that Kwavi is another name for Baraguyu:

Kwavi language

Kwavi is the dialect of Maasai spoken by the Kwavi or Parakuyo (aka Baraguyu) sub-tribe of the Maasai in Tanzania.  It was formerly listed as "unclassified" by the Ethnologue, which corrected this mistake in the 15th edition by incorporating it in Maasai.

According to Hurskainen (1994), "The Parakuyo (earlier also called Ilparakuyo, Baraguyu, Kwavi, Lumbwa, and Iloikop) are a Maa-speaking ethnic group scattered over a large area in the northeastern and central parts of Tanzania", while Beidelman (1960) confirms that "Kwavi" and "Baraguyu" are synonymous.

T.O. Beidelman. "The Baraguyu", in Tanganyika notes and records, 1960, no. 55, p. 244-278.

Arvi Hurskainen. "Plant taxonomy of the Parakuyo (Tanzania)" in Nordic Journal of African Studies, 1994, vol. 3, no. 2, p. 117-162.

Karsten Lega¨re. 2002. "The 'Languages of Tanzania' Project: background, resources and perspectives." Africa and Asia, No. 2, 2002.

Accounting for the Baraguyu
The Baraguyu (Kwavi) consider themselves a distinct people.  I suggest that the ethnic entity be listed as Baraguyu.  In an ethnic database, there would be two appropriate options for accounting for the Baraguyu.
1.  Baraguyu a separate primary ethnic entity, with the language of Maasai, Parakuyo dialect.
2.  Baraguyu as an ethnic segment of the Maasai.

I suggest you have a primary listing for the Baraguyu with alternate name Kwavi as a separate ethnic entity.  Language can be shown as Maasai with the language code mas.  If your database has an entry for the name Kwavi as a segment of the Maasai, I would remove this, or reclassify it as primary entity under the name Baraguyu.

If you already have a Baraguyu entity, the Kwavi entity should be deleted as a duplicate.  Show the name Kwavi as an Alternate Name.  If you do not have a Baraguyu or Parakuyo segment, I would change the name of the Kwavi entity to Baraguyu.  If you wish to indicate in your classification the historical tie to the Maasai, keep the Parakuyo or Baraguyu entity as a segment under the Maasai parent entity.

Whether entered in your database as a primary people entity or as a segment of the Maasai, in order to relate your Baraguyu entry to similar information in other databases, the appropriate people code from the Registry of Peoples is 101035.  The appropriate language Ethnologue code would be mas (Maasai), noting Parakuyo dialect.  The separate codes will indicate that this is considered a separate ethnic entity, but the language is Maasai, and that there is a historical connection with the Maasai.

Baraguyu (Parakuyo, Kwavi)
ROP code 101035
Language code mas

Related article on this site
Kore of Kenya — a former Maasai group

More on the Baraguy (Kwavi)
Maasai Language — Ethnologue
Maasai-Speaking People and their Neighbours
Registry of Peoples (ROP)


Originally written 18 October 2006 as an email response to a query
Finalized as an article 26 November 2006.
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 27 November 2006.
Rewritten 6 March 2007

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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