Who are the Akamba People of Kenya

The Akamaba PeopleThe Akamba people are part of the Central Bantu linguistic group found in Kangundo, Kibwezi, Kitui, Machakos, Makueni and Mwingi Districts in South Eastern Kenya. The area inhabited by the Akamba is called Ukamba. A large community of Akamba is also found in Mazeras near Mombasa and Kwale District of the Coast Province in Shiba Hills, having migrated there for economic reasons. Their common language is Kikamba.

Kamba traditional oral literature says that the Akamba originated from Kilimanjaro, a theory well supported by such renown ethnologists as Gerhard Linblom and John Middleton. This theory may be argued also by the fact that they share certain cultural aspect with the Wachagga of Kilimanjaro, for example one finds names that are common to both. That being the case, it is clear that the Akamba find themselves in Kitui and Machakos after centuries of migration through the plains, valleys and over mountains in search of food and security. One branch of the Akamba clan went East of Ulu, crossed the River Athi and separated themselves from the rest for generations. They settled in present day Kitui. Lindblom dates crossing of the River Athi and settlement in Kitui from Ulu in the first half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century they extended their settlements into Kikumbuliu as well. The Akamba were apparently once a compact group occupying the region called Ulu (from the Kamba word meaning "upper"). They considered Mbooni Mountains as the place where they settled after generations of wondering in the plains in search for better life. The Mbooni Mountain slopes and valley proved to lush with permanent water and fertile soil and so conducive to agriculture, and so they settled here.

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the Akamba were great traders and organized caravans that brought ivory to the Arab traders in Mombassa (some 500 miles from their homes and back). There they exchanged the ivory for copper, bracelets, beads, rolls of cloth and salt. These items were taken back to Ukamba trading centers in Machakos, Kaani and Kitui.

By the time the British arrived in Kenya, Machakos had become an important commercial center. The local name to this date is "Masaku", a name given to the commercial center in honor of the famous Elder of the place called Masaku, but since the British could not pronounce the name properly, it ended up as Machakos in English. The Akamba call it Masaku.

©2016 John S. Mbinda

 

Akamba Mythology

Like other Bantu communities, the Akamba have  myth stories of origin. There are two versions of  the  same  story.  The  first  version  says  that  Mũlungu,  the  creator  of  the  universe,  created  the first man whose name was Kamba and woman whose name was Kĩveti and placed them on top of one of the hills of Mbooni. The two then became the parents of the entire Kamba community. 

The second version says in the beginning, Mũlungu created Mũndũ, Man and his wife, Kĩveti. Mũndũ  and  Kĩveti,  like  Mũlungu,  were  spirits.   When  God  had  finished  creating  them,  hedropped them from heaven to earth with their cattle and a stool for the Mũndũ. They landed on a rock on a mountain called Nzaũĩ where their footprints are still visible. And the Akamba will tell you that, if you doubt, the story, you can visit Nzaũĩ and you will see for yourself, the footprints of Mũndũ and Kĩveti and their animals.

Mũlungu then caused a great rainfall. From the many anthills around, a man and a woman came out. These were the initiators of the ‘spirits clan’- the Aimũ. It so happened that the couple from heaven had only sons while the couple from the anthill had only daughters. Naturally, the couple from  heaven  paid  dowry  for  the  daughters  of  the  couple  from  the  anthill.  The  family  and  their cattle  greatly  increased  in  numbers.  With  this  prosperity, they  forgot  to  give  thanks  to  their creator.  Mũlungu  punished  them  with  a  great  famine.  This  led  to  migration  as  the  families scattered in  search of  food. Some  migrated  far North and  became the  Kikuyu,  while still others went further - the Meru. Those who remained in Nzaui are the original Akamba.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Origins of the Akamba People

The  Akamba  people  are  part  of  the  Central  Bantu  linguistic  group  found  in  Kangundo,  Kibwezi,  Kitui, Machakos, Makueni and Mwingi Counties in South Eastern Kenya. The area inhabited by the Akamba is called Ũkamba. A large community of Akamba is also found in Mazeras near Mombasa and Kwale District of  the  Coast  Province  in  Shimba  Hills, having  migrated  there  for  economic  reasons.  Their  common language  is  Kĩkamba.  Apart  from  Kenya,  the  Akamba  are  also  found  in  Tanzania,  Uganda  and  in  the South  American  country  of  Paraguay  where  the  Kamba  Cuá  are  well  known  for  their  intense  lively drumming and dancing, just like in Kenya. The total population of the Akamba today is about 4.4 million.

Kamba  traditional  oral  literature  says  that  the  Akamba  originated  from  Kilimanjaro,  a  theory  well supported by such renowned ethnologists as Gerhard Lindblom and John Middleton. This theory may be argued  also  by  the  fact  that  they  share  certain  cultural  aspect  with  the  Wachagga  of  Kilimanjaro,  for example one finds names that are common to both. That being the case, it is clear that the Akamba find themselves  in  Kitui  and  Machakos  after  centuries  of  migration  through  the  plains,  valleys  and  over mountains in search of food and security. One branch of the Akamba clan went East of Ulu, crossed the River  Athi  and  separated  themselves  from  the  rest  for  generations.  They  settled  in  present  day  Kitui. Lindblom dates crossing of the River Athi and settlement in Kitui from Ulu in the first half of the eighteenth century.  During  the  nineteenth  century  they  extended  their  settlements  into  Kikumbuliu  as  well.  The Akamba were apparently once a compact group occupying the region called Ulu (from the Kamba word meaning "upper"). They considered Mbooni Mountains as the place where they settled after generations of wondering in the plains in search for better life. The Mbooni Mountain slopes and valley proved to  be lush with permanent water and fertile soil and so conducive to agriculture, and so they settled here.

Long  before  the  arrival  of  the  Europeans,  the  Akamba  were  great  traders  and  organized  caravans  that brought ivory to the Arab traders in Mombasa (some 500 miles from their homes and back). There they exchanged the ivory for copper, bracelets, beads, rolls of cloth and salt. These items were taken back to Ũkamba trading centers in Machakos, Kaani and Kitui.

By  the  time  the  British  arrived  in  Kenya,  Machakos  had  become  an  important  commercial  center.  The local name to this date is "Masaku", a name given to the commercial center in honor of the famous Elder of the place called Masaku, but since the British could not pronounce the name properly, it ended up as Machakos in English. The Akamba call it Masaku.

©2017 John S. Mbinda

Akamba Migration Account

Some  historians  say  that  in  1700s,  the  Akamba  migrated  from what  is  present  day  Tanzania where  many  Akamba  are  said  to  have  separated  from  the  Nyamwezi  and  moved  East  towards Kilimanjaro and on the Usambara Mountains (sounds like ũkamba Mountains) and on the plains next the  Wachagga.  From there they went East again  into the plains of present day Tsavo.  One group  crossed  the  Athi  River  into  present  day  Kitui  and  Mwingi.  Before  their  migration,  the Kamba  and  Nyamwezi  people  had  been  engaged  in  long  distance trading  with  the  Arab  traders looking  for ivory. The Kamba carried the goods all the way to the coast. A vibrant trade thrived between the Arab traders, the coastal people and Kamba.

Other accounts say that the Akamba migrated into their present homeland about 200 years ago. They were exceptional traders participating in commerce from the coast to Lake Victoria all the way  up  to  Lake  Turkana.  Their  main  trade  items  were  ivory,  beer,  honey,  iron  weapons, ornaments,  and  beads.  Because  they  settled  on  arid  land,  they  also  traded  for  food  with  their neighbors  the  Maasai  and  the  Kikuyu.  During  colonialism,  the British  respected  them  for  their intelligence and fighting skill. They were sharp shooters even with riffles. For that reason many were  drafted  into  the  Army  and  fought  in  World  War  One.  My  step-grandfather  was  part  of  a large platoon that went to fight in Burma –present-day Myanmar. 

Yet  another  account  says  that  the  Akamba  came  from  Democratic  Republic  of  Congo  through Kitwe-Ndola  area  in  Zambia,  then  proceeded  into  Tanzania  and quickly  moved  along  the Tunduma- Shinyanga -Morogoro  - Dodoma - Tanga axis  into Kilimanjaro area and  into Kenya. They  moved  as  groups  of  archers,  hunters,  and  livestock  keepers/farmers.  They  coexisted  with the Nyamwezi for a long time and then separated and went East towards Mount Kilimanjaro. 

One of my grandfathers – Musomba Mbui born about 1847 told my step-uncle the following oral story  of  the  origin. Mũkamba,  the  original  Kamba  person  came  from  Kilimanjaro.  Beforecoming to Kilimanjaro  ũkamba  lived  in Central Tanzania where  he  had two children with the first  born  being  called Kamba and  the  second Nyamwezi.  That  explains  why  the  Akamba  and Nyamwezi  still  maintain  a  joking  relationship  and  call  each  other  in  Kiswahili “Mtani”,  which literally  means  a  person  with  whom  one  joke.  In  the  course  of  migration,  Kamba  parted  from Nyamwezi  and  passed  through  Loitiktok  and  eventually  the  group  arrived  into  Kenya.   Kamba who was the founder of the Aiĩnĩ clan was the father of Nthengo and Nthengo was the father of ũilĩ  who  lived  on  the  hills  of  Mbooni.  This  supports  some  of  the  stories  of  origin  mentioned above.

©2017 John S. Mbinda