Suba language

Kisuba, also known as Olusuba, is a Bantu language spoken by the Suba people of Kenya. The language features an extensive noun-classification system using prefixes that address gender and number. Suba clans are located on the eastern shore and islands of Lake Victoria in Kenya and Tanzania. They have formed alliances with neighboring clans, such as the Luo people, via intermarriages, and as a result a majority of Suba people are bilingual in Dholuo. The Suba religion has an ancient polytheistic history that includes writings of diverse, ancestral spirits. A recent revival of the Suba language and its culture has influenced the increasing number of native speakers each year.

Native toKenya
Regioneastern shore Lake Victoria, Mfangano Island, Rusinga Island
Native speakers
140,000 (2009 census)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3sxb
JE.403 (shared w Suba-Simbiti)[3]


Suba is an African language spoken by the Sub-Saharan people on the eastern shores of Lake Victoria. Trade dependence was established in the mid-19th century between the Suba people and the Luo, a larger neighboring clan. After a period of interaction, both clans became accustomed to each other's traditions and practices. Eventually, through factors such as intermarriage, education, and religion, both clans would combine and become known as the Luo-Suba. With Luo being the larger population, the alliance would decrease the demand for people to speak Suba, and in consequence, decreasing the number of native Suban speakers. Most Suban speakers became bilingual in both Suba and Luo.[4] In the mid-1990s, a revival of the Suba language occurred after the Kenyan government initiated the Suba language project, where Suba was introduced as a subject in Kenyan primary schools.[5] In addition, many written examples of the Suban language have been studied through ancient Suban religious texts. These texts depict a detailed polytheistic religion that describes spirits of ancient ancestors as protectors of family and land.[6] Presently, Christianity is the major religion practiced by the Suban people, where in 2010, the New Testament was translated into Suba.[7]

Geographical distribution

The Suba language and its native speakers are located on the African eastern shores of Lake Victoria, populating both Kenya and Tanzania. Additionally, Suban natives are located on various islands within Lake Victoria.


There are considered to be six distant dialects of the Suba language which include Olwivwang'o, Ekikuna, Ekingoe, Ekigase, Ekisusuuna, and Olumuulu. Each dialect is specific to its located area

Dialect Place
Olwivwang'o Mfangano, Rusinga, Takawiri, and Kibwogi Islands
Ekikuna Kaksingri
Ekingoe Ngeri
Ekigase Gwasi Hills
Ekisusuuna Migori
Olumuulu Muhuru Bay


Suban grammar and its characteristics are similar to other Bantu languages.


Suba, being a Bantu language, consists of a Bantu phonology typical of other Bantu languages. In general, Suba consists of 11 consonants and 7 vowels. Constants only occur at the beginning of syllables, creating a syllable structure of V or CV. Syllables can begin with vowels but always need to end in them. Suban syllables also consist of two different tones, low and high. A high tone is marked with an acute accent (´), and a low is marked with a grave accent (`) or not marked at all. Low tones are more common in the Suban language.


Its extensive noun classification system uses prefixing to mark gender and number, in turn determining whether the noun is singular or plural.

An important characteristic of Suban word structure is its ability to change number and meanings of words through minor changes to their words' prefixes. The prefix of a noun denotes the noun class and number to a noun, making a noun without a prefix meaningless. Most Bantu noun classification systems contain 22 noun classes, accommodating singular and plural forms as two separate noun classes. Instead, Suba contains ten noun classes by combining singular and plural forms into the same noun classes. Similarities in nominal and pronominal prefixes determine what noun belongs to what noun class. By establishing a smaller noun class, the Suba language can use a less extensive prefixing system to change the meaning and plurality of words. In addition, the meaning of the root noun can fluctuate depending on the prefix used, specifically seen in pronouns. The usual word order for the Suba language is SVO, similar to English and other Bantu languages. Adjectives and number roots must agree in noun class and number with the nouns they act on.

Samples 1

Suba noun class
Class Singular Gloss Plural Gloss
1 Mu-wa o-mwana baby a-wana babies
2 Mu-mi o-muti tree e-miti trees
3 n-n e-ngoko hen e-ngoko hens
4 ki-bi e-kitabu a book e-bitabu books
5 li-ma i-toke banana amatoke bananas
6 ka-bu ka-nafu laziness ba-nafu laziness
7 lu-n o-lusuba olusuba ----------- -----------
8 gu-ga gu-bwa bad dog gu-bwa bad dog
9 ku-ma ku-tumbula to boast ma-tumbula to boast
10 tu tu-baka a little sheep -------------- ------------

Sample 2

Suba pronouns
Pronoun Subjective singular Gloss Subjective plural Gloss Objective singular Gloss Objective plural Gloss
1st person inze I ifue we ifue me ifwe us
2nd person iwue you mbaaria you iwue you muri you
3rd person iyie he awu they ekiae him iwo them
3rd person iyie she awu they ekiae her iwo them
3rd person kiri it ekiae they ekiae it ekiawu them

Writing system

The Suba writing system is based on the Latin script.[8] The use of Latin script has made it easier for Suban people to practice Christianity and translate verses of biblical texts. The Suba numeral system also has Latin descent as it uses lower order to establish higher order. With Suba being one of the marginalized Bantu languages of Kenya, much more description of the language still needs to be studied.

Samples 1

Latin alphabet
Uppercase A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Lowercase a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Sample 2

Suba numeral system[9]
Number Reading Meaning Number Reading Meaning
1 endala 1 11 ikumi ne endala 10+1
2 iwiri 2 12 ikumi ni iwiri 10+2
3 isatu 3 13 ikumi ni isatu 10+3
4 ine 4 14 ikumi ni ine 10+4
5 itaanu 5 15 ikumi ni itaanu 10+5
6 mukaago 6 16 ikumi ni mukaaga 10+6
7 musamvu 7 17 ikumi ni musamvu 10+7
8 munaane 8 18 ikumi ni munaane 10+8
9 kienda 9 19 ikumi ná kienda 10+9
10 ikumi 10 20 amakumi awiri 20

External links


  1. ^ Suba at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Suba". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ Shipton, P. (2009) Luo and Others: Migration, Settlement, Ethnicity. Mortgaging the Ancestors. pp. 59-73
  5. ^ Obiero, O.J. (2008) Evaluating language revitalization in Kenya: the contradictory face and place of the local community factor. Nordic Journal of African Studies. pp. 247-268.
  6. ^ Mattah, N., Folger, S. (1997) Ancestral Spirits in Suba Life. In Insights in African Ethnography: Occasional Papers From Ethno-Info No.2. pp. 53-78.
  7. ^ (2017) Suba in Kenya. Joshua Project. Retrieved at
  8. ^ (2017) Suba sxb. Script Source. Retrieved at
  9. ^ (2017) Suba. Numeral Systems of the World's Languages. Retrieved from
List of endangered languages in Africa

An endangered language is a language that it is at risk of falling out of biboy washere

, generally because it has few surviving speakers. If it loses all of its native people, it becomes an extinct language. UNESCO defines four levels of language endangerment between "safe" (not endangered) and "extinct":


Definitely endangered

Severely endangered

Critically endangeredAfrica is the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With about 922 million people (as of 2005) in 61 territories, it accounts for about 16.1% of the world's human population. The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. There are 64 countries, including Madagascar and all the island groups.

Rusinga (Cultural) Festival

Rusinga Cultural Festival is an annual two-day celebration of the culture of the Abasuba people of Kenya. It is held on the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas on Rusinga Island. The festival was founded by Anne Eboso and administered through Chula Cultural Foundation.The cultural festival is the sole initiative preserving the culture of the Abasuba who are mainly found on the Rusinga Island and Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria on the Kenyan portion of the Lake. Abasuba culture is under pressure from the neighboring Luo community due to assimilation and intermarriage. Suba language has been listed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger as one of the thirteen endangered languages in Kenya where it is classified as vulnerable.

The festival addresses societal ills within the Abasuba community such as the sex-for-fish practice that impacts negatively on efforts to curb the spread of HIV.The Rusinga Cultural Festival is a mixed-type of festival; it incorporates more than one item of celebration with music, cultural sporting activities, art and food from traditional Suba cuisine being the main features of the Rusinga Cultural Festival. There is additionally a street procession that is used to invite residents of the Rusinga Island to the festival grounds.

The festival producer is a long-standing promoter of culture, education and literacy through book-reading. The Rusinga Festival utilizes a boat-library that also serves the purpose of providing a safe space for discussion of various sensitive issues affecting the Abasuba.

Suba-Simbiti language

Suba-Simbiti (Kisuba, Kisimbiti) is a Bantu language of Tanzania. Suba-Simbiti is spoken by six groups in the Tarime region of Tanzania. This include Hacha, Kine, Sweta, Simbiti and Kiroba. The total number of speakers is in the region of 110,000.

Suba people (Kenya)

The Suba (Abasuba) are Bantu group of people in Kenya who speak the Suba language. Their population is estimated at about 300,000, with substantial fluent speakers. They migrated to Kenya from Uganda and settled on the two Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano, others also settled on the mainland areas including Gembe , Gwassi, Kaksingri of Suba South and Migori and are believed to be the last tribe to have settled in Kenya. Linguistically, the Suba are highly influenced by the neighbouring Luo, to the point of a language shift having taken place among large portions of the mainland Suba. As a result, their own language has been classified as endangered. Despite this language shift, the Suba have kept a distinct ethnic identity. The Rusinga Festival is held in December of every year as a cultural festival to celebrate and preserve Suba culture and language.

Suna Girango or Abagirango is another group that is usually erroneously grouped together with the Abasuba of Suba South and Suba North, since they also call themselves Abasuba. But, this is because Girango had a son named Musuba (Suba) and this Musuba had many children than his other brothers, for instance, Tegi and Gire hence descendants of Musuba calling themselves Abasuba meaning Musuba's people. Suba clans in Suna include Simbete, Sweta, and Wiga; and they have a clear and distinct ancestry that goes back to forefathers who crossed red Sea from Misri as illustrated below:


Their language is also distinct and very different from the Olusuba language spoken by the Abasuba of Homabay. The Kisuba language spoken by the Suna people is very similar to the Suba-Simbiti language that their brothers the Simbiti, Aga Sweta, Surwa and Hacha people of Tanzania speak. But, currently, those who claim to speak Kisuba actually speak igikuria (bunchari dialect) which is 85% lexically and syntactically similar to Kisuba (Kisimbiti).

Suba people (Tanzania)

The Suba of Tanzania are a community of people in Tarime District, Mara Region, Tanzania speaking mutually intelligible varieties of the Suba language. They are mainly located in Nyancha, Luo-Imbo and Suba Divisions of Tarime District. The groups commonly listed as being part of the Suba community are the Hacha, Kine, Rieri, Simbiti, Surwa and Sweta. There are a total of around 80,000 ethnic Suba living in Tanzania, most of whom are still speaking the Suba language although some, particularly the Rieri, have started to speak Luo [1].

The language spoken by the Suba of Tanzania is very close to the Suba language spoken by the Suba in Kenya.

Official languages
Sign languages
Urban languages


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