CESA Research

Looking for the
Nyanga-li, Gbati-ri and Mayeka Language Cluster

Religion:        Roman Catholic (CPPI)
Population:      132,540 (CPPI, 2004)
Status:  Non-existent (SIL and allied research, 2004)
Registry of Peoples codes for these peoples has been retired (extinct/non-existent/erroneous):
                 Gbati-ri  103269
                 Nyanga-li  107541
                 Mayeka  106439
Registry of Language codes are still carried in the Ethnologue:
                 Gbati-ri  (gti)
                 Nyanga-li  (nyc)
                 Mayeka  (myc)


The 15th edition of the Ethnologue (2005) carried forward location data reported in old editions.  The 16th edition (2009) again carried forward this entry and basic information and simple location data.  These editions seem to ignore SIL research indicating these langauges have been unidentifiable in recent research, and no ethnicity identifiable with such dialects of this and related languages.

The Ethnologue provides location information for languages under these names:
The language of Gbati-ri is reported to be spoken in Orientale Province, between Isiro and Watsa, north of Mungbere.
The language of Nyanga-li is reported to be spoken in Orientale Province and Watsa Territory, south of Watsa.
The language of Mayeka is reported to be spoken in DCR, along the borders of Congo and Central African Republic.  The Ethnologue states the language is not spoken in CAR.

These descriptions are based on quite old data.  These locations seem specific enough that someone familiar to the area could determine the validity and update the current status of these speech forms.

I could find no source has any cultural or historical details on any ethnicities related to these names.  Virtually all sources repeat the bare linguisitc information from the Ethnologue, which has been the same since Edition 12.  I find the population figure for Nyanga-li (meaning the number of current speakers) reported as 48,000, stated as a figure from 2002.  But no source is given.

The most recent field report I have seen comes from SIL in 2004, which relates to the information on languages by these names.  This reports indicates all evidence shows these language are now extinct.

This report comments:
Though still listed in the Ethnologue (Boguru, Gbati-Ri, Kari, Mayeka, Ngbee (Mangbele), Ngbinda, and Nyanga-Li in Za´re, Bodo in Central African Republic, and Homa in Sudan), they were all very small groups in the 1950s and from all evidence these speech varieties are now all extinct or practically so. [Bolding mine]
Bwa Bloc Survey Report

The information available under these names is about the language.  These names, in fact, are language names, from the 12th edition of the Ethnologue (1992), and probably earlier.  These languages are reported to be Bantu languages, and the Ethnologue includes them in the larger cluster of Narrow Bantu, Central, Unclassified.

This unclassified status seems to indicate that insufficient information has been available to confirm their status in relation to other Bantu language, since the first rudimentary information was gathered.  These language names seem to come from the original Bantu list in Guthrie's early classifications, of which the SIL groupings are a revision.

A draft reclassification of the Bantu languages (as of 14 February 2006), relates these languages to a disparate group called Bira-Nyali, but also related to Logooli (Maragoli) in Kenya.  This does not, however, appear to be based on any new field information, but on existing old file analysis.

An anomaly occurs in the Ethnologue information.  Populations for these three language groups appear in both the 15th and the 16th editions of the Ethnologue, with dates of 2002 for Nyanga-li at 48,000 and for Gbati-ri with 21,000).  Mayeka also has a new population of 21,000, dated 2004.  No source is given for these new figures (Edition 14 and previous editions had no population.)

It puzzles me why no source information or any change at all was provided by the recent Ethnologue editions, since new research had been summarized from the task force mentioned above in 2004.  No other source has provided any further enlightenment.

The Ethnologue is published by SIL International.  The SIL source referred to in the previous section indicates that these languages are no longer spoken (if indeed these were ever the names of actual distinct language forms).  This makes it likely these names are not applicable to any known ethnic group identifiable today.

It seems likely the entries based on these names do not represent current viable ethnic groups.  The updates in population reported in the 2005 edition of the Ethnologue are questionable in light of the 2004 field survey report referred to above.

No available sources provide any information, old or new, on customs or practices nor historical information on any ethnicity related to these language names.

The only sources mentioning religion related to these names have only the bare term Roman Catholic.  One or two add the statistic 90% or more.  No further information is available on traditional religion or current status of Christianity among any ethnicity associated with these names.

Current Status:
No information exists under these names other than a very basic language description, deriving from quite old data.  A question, then, is whether there still exists any identifiable ethnic group where there were once these speech forms.

1.  The people as well as the language, have died out.  Some ethnic groups die out every year around the world.

2.  The people formerly identified with the stated language forms have moved into another language stream, and thereby into another cultural and ethnic identity sream.  This is a constant occurrence worldwide, related to the phenomenon called Assimilation.  There may be no indivivdual left who would identify himself by the old name.

In either case 1 or case 2, we should identify the new stream if possbile, just for purposes of documentiation of the continuity with previous data.

3.  The people formerly identified with the stated language forms have moved into another language stream, no longer speaking a unique language, but they have retained certain cultural characteristics ("descriptors").

Lacking confirmation of definite existence as an ethnicity, or information concerning current use of the language formerly identified, in February 2006 researchers in a consultation in Southern Africa determined these entities should be removed from the standard people group listings.  The codes related to these names were retired from the Registry of Peoples.  Other research and strategy lists likewise removed these names and their respective codes from their active peoples lists.  Some databases still carry these names in their database listings of ethnicities.

Ethnologue entries for Gbati-ri, Nyanga-li and Mayeka

Extinct Bantu Languages in DRC:  SIL International Survey Report 2004
Bwa Bloc Survey Report

A referential classification of the Bantu languages
Keeping Malcolm Guthrie's system updated (PDF)

Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Cultural Research Consultant
Prepared 21 February 2006
Last edited 3 May 2006