Catherine L. Besteman
Professor of Anthropology

Anthropology 298

Exhibiting the Culture & History of Lewiston’s Somali Bantu Community

Goldfarb Center

This course covered Somali Bantu ethnography, issues involved in representing culture, visual anthropology research methods and theory and museum theory.  Students were required to do extensive reading on these topics during the first six weeks of the course.  The remainder of the semester the students focused on working with members of the Somali Bantu community, workshopping ideas, editing and constructing the online and physical exhibits.

Project Goals

The goal of this course was to create an online exhibit of Somali Bantu culture and history,  a portion of which was also installed at the Blue Marble Gallery in downtown Waterville and in the Colby Museum of Art.  Somali Bantus are a minority group in Somalia who were targeted by militias in Somalia’s civil war during the 1990s.  Thousands fled Somalia for refugee camps in Kenya, where they lived for over a decade.  In 1999, the US granted Somali Bantus P2 status as persecuted minorities and agreed to accept about 12,000 refugees for permanent resettlement. After their resettlement in the US, several hundred Somali Bantus moved to Lewiston, Maine. Many of the families in Lewiston come from the middle Jubba valley of Somalia, where Professor Besteman lived and conducted anthropological fieldwork in 1987-8. The exhibits was created collaboratively with involvement from many in the Colby community.  The Lewiston community was eager and thankful to have an archive of photos and audiotapes publicly available and used as a resource to educate others about their history and experience.

Project Description

Material collected for this online exhibit includes:

  • Historic photographs
  • Audio interviews
  • Music and poetry recorded in Somalia in 1987-8
  • Photographs of Lewiston’s Somali Bantu community
  • Artifacts from Somalia
  • Documentary films of Somali Bantu residents
  • Ethnographic text
  • Curricular materials for use in local schools
  • Maps and 1988 census forms from the middle Jubba Valley
  • Oral histories collected from members of the Somali Bantu community

Somali Bantu Website


Several staff members at Colby assisted with this project:

Lauren Lessing, Mirken Curator of Education, Colby Museum of Art
Marty Kelly, Visual Resources Librarian, Miller Library
Jason Parkhill, Director, Academic Information Technology Services
Tracy Carrick, Director, Colby Writers’ Center
Ruth Jacobs, Office of Communications