Monday, January 28, 2008

Closer Examination of the Iraqw: Southern Cushitic Speakers of Tanzania

Zeroing in on the Iraqw

Recently, it has been proposed that E3b originated in sub-Saharan Africa and expanded into the Near East and northern Africa at the end of the Pleistocene (Underhill et al. 2001). — Cruciani et al. 2004, Phylogeographic analysis of haplogroup E3b

Between 23 and 18ky ago—Ogolian period begins, which coincides with and is likely connected to the LGM weather situation.

23,000 BP ~ 21,050 BC: "After a favourable climatic period, characterised by relatively dense and diversified Palaeolithic occupations, the arid Ogolian begins locally around 23000 years BP and is represented at Ounjougou by a significant depositional and archaeological hiatus." - Aziz Ballouche [see: Link ]

—Much of North Africa and the Sahara are characterized by adverse weather conditions, with much of the region turning arid. The Sahara at this time, extends south beyond its current boundaries to a certain point, possibly a little beyond the Niger bend. Arid conditions extend all the way to the "horn" coast of the African Horn region, possibly encouraging populations to reside more inwards—away from that horn-shaped coastal region; rather, likely towards the region straddling southern Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda or even further—region straddling Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

—PN2 clade (E3) bearers in the vicinity of the Sudanese-Central African Republic -Ugandan-Kenyan general region give rise to E3a ~ between 21 and 18 ky ago [pending additional or new info]; E3b-M35* would have likely arose relatively earlier than E3a* [as evidenced by its near absence in some the populations that carry this], sometime prior to the Ogolian and the LGM period. At this time, it was likely the M78 derivative that came about ~ between 19 and 15 ky ago. It was also likely during this period, that some E3b-M35 variants spilled over to the "southwest Asia", which would be identified as E-M34. The E-M78* likely arose somewhere in the bidirectional-migration route between Northeast and sub-Saharan East Africa; this location was likely in the region straddling upper Egypt and Sudan of the eastern Sahara, amongst earlier E-M35 migrants from sub-Saharan East Africa. These M78 bearers were increasingly pressured to move further south due to progressive aridity, possibly as far as Uganda-Kenya and/or Tanzanian general region.

Even today, Cushitic-speaking E-M78 bearing groups straddle between Ethiopia and Kenya, namely the Oromos, normally going by the names Oromo and Borana in Ethiopia and Kenya respectively. However, getting back to the matter of those latter Hg E-M78 bearers who would have gone to as far as the Tanzanian region, they would leave descendants in the region, the most notable of whom we recognize as the "Iraqw" today.

These folks, i.e. the Iraqws, seem to be Cushitic speakers who are rarely talked about, in comparison to groups like the Oromo, the Borana and the Somali. Much of this, perhaps has more to do with the fact that most geneticists have focused their attention to the aforementioned African Horn regions, while lesser attention has been afforded to these groups, who dwell in the Tanzanian region.

Some notes on the Iraqw, from various sources:

Iraqw is a Southern Cushitic language with a speaking population of 500,000 (and growing) in the Arusha province of Northern Tanzania in East Africa. It is a language which is thriving, despite the strong presence of Swahili in Tanzania. The success of its modernization process is due to the openness of the Iraqw people, who welcome new ideas and new people into their speaking group — Courtesy of Maarten Mous et al, Cushitic Language Studies volume 18.


The history of the 200,000-strong Iraqw, who occupy much of the area between Karatu and Mbulu town in the south, is a fascinating enigma, though the theory that they originally came from Mesopotamia (Iraq, no less) is too simplistic to be likely.

Nonetheless, the Iraqw language is related to the "southern Cushitic" tongues spoken in Ethiopia and northern Kenya, meaning that at some point in their history they migrated southwards along the Rift Valley, something you can also tell by their facial features, which are finer than those of their neighbours and similar to those of Ethiopians.

Exactly when the Iraqw arrived in Tanzania is not known, but a number of clues offered by their agricultural practices - the use of sophisticated terracing to limit soil erosion, complex irrigation techniques, crop rotation and the use of manure from stall-fed cattle - provide uncanny parallels to the ruined irrigation channels, terraces and cattle pens of Engaruka (see p.437), at the foot of the Rift Valley escarpment

Iraqw oral legend makes no mention of a place called Engaruka, but that's hardly surprising given that Engaruka is a Maasai word. Instead, legends talk of a place called Ma'angwatay, which may have been Engaruka. At the time, the Iraqw lived under a chief called Haymu Tipe. In what is suggestive of a power struggle or civil war, the legend says that Haymu Tipe's only son, Gemakw, was kidnapped by a group of young Iraqw warriors and hidden in the forest. Finally locating him, Haymu Tipe was given a curious ultimatum: unless he brought to the warriors an enemy to fight, his son would be killed. So Haymu Tipe asked the cattle-herding Barbaig, who at the time occupied the Ngorongoro highlands, to come to fight, which they did. Many people were killed, and it seems that the Iraqw lost the battle, as Haymu Tipe, his family and his remaining men fled to a place called Guser-Twalay, where Gemakw - who had been released as agreed - became ill and died. Haymu Tipe and his men continued on to a place called Qawirang in a forest west of Lake Manyara, where they settled. The legend then becomes confusing, but it appears that Qawirang is the same as the most recent Iraqw "homeland", the lrqwar Da'aw valley, 70krn south of Karatu, where the Iraqw settled at least 200 years ago, shortly after Engaruka was abandoned. Subsequently, population pressure in lrqwar Da'aw led to further migrations; the first Iraqw to settle in Karatu arrived in the 1930s — Courtesy of Fink, Jens The Rough Guide to Tanzania 2003

More on the Iraqw mythology: See -


The Iraqw language's place in the Cushitic language family, comprising 47 members in total:

Central (5)
Central-Eastern (1)
Xamtanga [xan] (Ethiopia)

Central-Northern (1)
Bilen [byn] (Eritrea)

Central-Southern (2)
Awngi [awn] (Ethiopia)
Kunfal [xuf] (Ethiopia)

Central-Western (1)
Qimant [ahg] (Ethiopia)

East (34)
Boon [bnl] (Somalia)

Dullay (3)
Bussa [dox] (Ethiopia)
Gawwada [gwd] (Ethiopia)
Tsamai [tsb] (Ethiopia)

Highland (7)
Alaba [alw] (Ethiopia)
Burji [bji] (Ethiopia)
Gedeo [drs] (Ethiopia)
Hadiyya [hdy] (Ethiopia)
Kambaata [ktb] (Ethiopia)
Libido [liq] (Ethiopia)
Sidamo [sid] (Ethiopia)

Konso-Gidole (2)
Dirasha [gdl] (Ethiopia)
Komso [kxc] (Ethiopia)

Oromo (6)
Oromo, Borana-Arsi-Guji [gax] (Ethiopia)
Oromo, West Central [gaz] (Ethiopia)
Garreh-Ajuran [ggh] (Kenya)
Oromo, Eastern [hae] (Ethiopia)
Orma [orc] (Kenya)
Sanye [ssn] (Kenya)

Rendille-Boni (2)
Boni [bob] (Kenya)
Rendille [rel] (Kenya)

Saho-Afar (2)
Afar [aar] (Ethiopia)
Saho [ssy] (Eritrea)

Somali (6)
Dabarre [dbr] (Somalia)
Garre [gex] (Somalia)
Jiiddu [jii] (Somalia)
Somali [som] (Somalia)
Tunni [tqq] (Somalia)
Maay [ymm] (Somalia)

Western Omo-Tana (4)
Arbore [arv] (Ethiopia)
Baiso [bsw] (Ethiopia)
Daasanach [dsh] (Ethiopia)
El Molo [elo] (Kenya)

Yaaku (1)
Yaaku [muu] (Kenya)

North (1)
Bedawi [bej] (Sudan)

South (7)
Aasáx [aas] (Tanzania)
Burunge [bds] (Tanzania)
Dahalo [dal] (Kenya)
Gorowa [gow] (Tanzania)
Iraqw [irk] (Tanzania)
Alagwa [wbj] (Tanzania)
Kw'adza [wka] (Tanzania)

— Language breakdown, Courtesy of

Knight et al, 2003...

M2 is frequent in most African populations, with the exception of Afro-Asiatic-speaking groups (Table 1). The highest frequencies of M2 are observed across Bantu-speaking groups. M35 is rare within Bantu speakers and is widely though nonuniformly dispersed throughout Africa (Table 1). M112 has been observed at highest frequencies within San and peoples of the central African forests (i.e., Biaka, Mbuti, and Lisongo; hereafter referred to collectively as forest peoples)… Two or more Tanzanian populations shared 5 of the 33 resulting haplotypes. One M35 haplotype, for example, was observed in three of four Tanzanian groups (Hadzabe, Iraqw, and Sukuma). Two of four Hadzabe M2 haplotypes were shared with Sukuma… We observed extensive mtDNA and NRY diversity within the set of four Tanzanian linguistic groups. Only one individual with the basal NRY haplogroup A was ob- served, probably reflecting the small number of male Iraqw tested. A linguistically diverse set of Tanzanians fall into the basal mtDNA haplogroup L1a, and L1f haplotypes were observed in Iraqw.

Language family = AA (Afro-asiatic/Afrasan); Language subfamily = S Cushitic, Population = Iraqw, N = 6, Haplogroup A (91) = 17%, Haplogroup E (M35) = 33, Haplogroup E1, E2 and E* (YAP) = 17, 33 [which most likely reflect E1 and E2 respectively; at any rate YAP+ lineages lacking M2 and M35 mutations]

Courtesy Knight et al., source:

Among the groups sampled, the Iraqw is the next ethnic group, after the Nilo-Saharan East-Sudanic speaking Datoga, to show the highest frequencies of the Haplogroup E -M35. The Iraqw are followed by the Khwe!

1 comment:

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