Despite their small population, the Sonjo people found in Northern Tanzania, are tough bush warriors who can easily topple a larger army through their natural fighting skills.
The total number of ‘Sonjos’ also known as ‘Batemi’ is only 16,000 and being based in Ngorongoro, the entire tribe thus accounts for just 10 percent of the district population.
Ngorongoro is one of the seven districts making up the Arusha Region. It has three divisions, Sale, Loliondo and Ngorongoro.
The Sonjo, reside in the Sale Division and these tribe have recently been discovered to be related to the Gema community of Mount Kenya, across the border.
Gema is the association of the three main tribes living around the slopes of Mount Kenya. These are the Gikuyu, Meru, Embu and Akamba.
On the other hand, the Sonjo people also known as Batemi reside in the remote Sale Division of Ngorongoro, spreading to as far as Lake Natron at the foot of the active Volcano, the Oldonyo L’engai.
Why are they believed to be related to the Gema Tribes of Mt. Kenya?
At the foot of Mount Kenya, the Gikuyu have the ‘Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga,’ a shrine-like enclosure within a mythical ‘Garden of Eden,’ within.
At the Sale area near Loliondo the Sonjo also have a similar log fort enclosure which houses their shrine inside.
The Kikuyu and Kamba refer to the Arabs as ‘Shomba,’ while the Kiswahili language is called ‘Gishomba.’
On the other hand, the Sonjo of Loliondo also call the Arabs as ‘Shombe.’
The other name of the Sonjo, is the Atemi or Batemi which is derived from the verb ‘Gotema.’,
They have a council of elders in which an elder is called ‘Mokiama.’
A single ‘Mokiama,’ is known as ‘Mokiama weka,’ in Sonjo.
Yet again, in the Gikuyu language, the elder is called ‘Mokiama Wika.’
The Sonjo calling their tribe Atemi is not surprising to the Gikuyu, or Kikuyu who used to have a generation of farmers called Ndemi.
Ndemi are people who would clear the bushes for cultivation.
Could the Ndemi have anything to do with the Atemi?
A dog is called Nguyi or Ngui in Gikuyu. It is also the proper name in Kikamba (Akamba) and Kimbeere.
The Basonjo or Batemi speak the Gitemi language where the dog is called Hyeana, almost similar to the English word Hyena which is a different animal, a wild one at that.
Anthrax among the children in Gitemi, is of course known as a bad ‘Morimu.’
And in the Gikuyu community, ‘Murimu,’ means disease.
For an insult the Gikuyu would call you ‘Fuda,’ for a donkey, just like ‘Punda,’ in Swahili.
However the original name for such an animal is ‘Ndigiri,’ or ‘Dikiri.’
The Sonjo call a donkey ‘Ndikele,’ which almost sounds like Ndigiri as the Gikuyu call the working mule.
The Sonjo refer to their ‘Lake Natron,’ abode as ‘Kuraihu!’
The Gikuyu call Mount Kenya ‘Kulehu!’
The Sonjo call a cold or fever ‘Jooma,’ which is exactly as the Kikuyus do. Of course, it also sounds like ‘Homa,’ in Kiswahili.
Most Kikuyus like calling a zebra ‘Wambui Micoore,’ but that is only from folk tales, the right name for it is ‘Njage,’ as the Embus too well know.
The Sonjos call a Zebra, ‘Njage,’ and the elephant ‘Njagu,’
The Gikuyu call the elephant ‘Njogu,’ like ‘Ndlovu,’ in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Money in Gitemi may be called ‘Rofia,’ or ‘Robbiya,’ as coined from Hindi’s ‘Rupee,’ but among the Gikuyu, it may also be called ‘Rubia.’
Around Mount Kenya Money could be ‘Mbiya,’ and if the amount is big, it could be jaw dropping.
A jaw in Gitemi is ‘Luseya,’ and in Gikuyu is ‘Rutheya.’
That and much more, the Sonjo may have lost their way to Mt Kenya and mistook Oldoinyo Lengai for it, the Mountain of God, where their Mugwe, yes, a common name in Kikuyu land and a deity sort of in Meru, and Ngai of the Maasai whom they also revere, live.