Clans System

Akamba Clans

20 Akamba Clans and their Symbols

According to Kivuto Ndeti1 the Akamba have 14 major clans and 11 minor clans. This makes a total of 25. When a family grows into a clan, it is natural that the clan grows and separates into several clans. Below is a list of twenty of these clans of the Akamba.

Clan Name



1.Aiĩniĩ sg. Mũiĩnĩ Bows and Arrows Syano na Thyaka. The river MwitaSyano of a real person called Mwitasyano who fought with his brother Mwasamwito with bows and arrows. According to Aiĩnĩ oral history, the Akamba came from the West plains of Kililmanjaro. First Kamba child was called Nyamwezi and the second called Kamba. In the clan genealogy Kambabore a child called Nthengo and Nthengobore Muili.
2. Anzaũnĩ sg. Mũnzaũnĩ The Jackal - Mbĩwa A very large clan
3. Anziũnĩ sg. Mũnziũ Kĩndĩle – a bird Large clan. The name is from the adj. nziũ-black
4. Aombe sg. Mwĩombe: divided into two a) Mbaa Mai; b) Mbaa Mululu The long tailed monkey Ngĩma. Originally from Kilungu. Oral tradition says they ate their own totem perhaps during a famine.
5. Akĩthumba sg. Mukĩ thumba Nthwaia– the bushbuck The founder was Kithumba
6. Ethanga sg. Mwĩthanga Sand containing iron - Mũthanga The founder was an iron smith using certain type of sand –kĩthangathi from a river-bed
7. Atangwa sg. Mũtangwa divided into four: a) Mbaa Mũlela; b) Mbaa Kateti; c) Mbaa Mũtheka; Mbaa Mũkuva The Baboon –Ngũlĩ.Mbaa Mũlela have the hawk Mbolosya as their symbol  
8. Asii sg. Mũsii Thr Lion - Mũnyambũ  
9. Amũũi sg. Mũmũũi    
10. Akĩtutu sg. Mũkĩtutu The Hawk - Mbolosya Do not eat the liver
11. Atwii sg. Mũtwii    
12. Akĩtondo sg. Mũkĩtondo, divided into: a) Mbaa Mbuli and b) Mbaa Nyumba The Crow - Ngũngũũ  
13. Amũumo sg. Mũmũumo The fig tree - Kĩumo  
14. Ambua sg. Mũmbua    
15. Akĩtuo sg. Mũkĩtuo    
16. Aewani sg. Mũewanĩ The Leopard - Ngo  
17. Amũũnda sg. Mũmũũnda, divided into: a) Mbaa Mũyethya; b) Mbaa Nzalũ    
18. Amuti sg. Mũmuti    
19. Amũtei sg. Mũmũtei The Secretary Bird - Ndei  
20. Andũndũ sg. Mũndũndũ The Porcupine - Nzee  

1 Ndeto, Kivuto, Elements of Akamba Life, East African Publishing House, 1972.

Akamba Traditional Marriage

1. Starting a friendship

When a boy and a girl come to a secret agreement that they love each other and want to marry, the young man's father, if he agrees, approaches the girl's parents on the matter. This is followed by the first sign of sealing an in-law relationship (uthoni) with two goats (mbui sya ntheo). The young suitor then prepares the best beer (uki) which is taken to the girl's father, followed by a negotiation on the bride-wealth. The negotiation is done between the two extended families, but the family of the girl has the last say. Once an agreement has been reached by the elders of the two families, the dowry may spread for years because marriage is a life-long relationship.

2. Bride-wealth and Taking the Bride Home

When the amount of the bride-wealth is finally set and agreed upon, sometimes depending on customs from one place of Ukambani to another, the young man would come any time and quietly take the bride away to his home. On the following day, the boy brings gifts to the girl's mother, usually bananas, in order to sooth her feeling for having lost a daughter, and provides plenty of beer for the bride's father to enjoy with his family elders.

In the event that there is no secret capture of the bride, the suitor brings a bullock which is killed and divided into two halves. The mother is given one half and the other is given the groom's friends who accompany him to the in-laws. Girls were married between 12 to 18 years of age, while boys married later, at about 20 to 25. Soon after the above festival the bride is fetched by the groom accompanied by his friends and quietly taken home usually in the evening.

On arrival at the groom's home, the bride stops at the door of the home (threshold), and there she is ritually anointed on the neck by the groom's mother. After that she is welcomed into the house. That night the bride and bridegroom sleep together for the first time, but traditionally that are forbidden to have intercourse. Early in the morning the following day at the second crow of the cock (about 5 a.m.), the new bride wakes up and symbolically sweeps the house then goes back to bed. This is to indicate her role in the family and willingness to help her in-laws in the daily chores. That day in the evening, the girls of the bride's age group and friends arrive to comfort her by a ritual of singing and wailing (literally called 'maio'=wailing), which lasts two days. The girls usually bring some gifts of food or items that their friend could use in her new home. After this ritual the bride is considered a married woman. Thus life returns to normal and the appearance of pregnancy is eagerly awaited, proving that the match is a fertile one. Even though the couple is married, the husband is expected to send gifts to his in-laws from time to time.

Forced marriage was almost unknown among the Akamba. There is always generally mutual affection between the two marital partners. However, there were exceptions when out of greed the father of gave away his daughter to a rich man for whom the girl had no affection. In cases like this, the man runs the risk of losing her. There were cases when girls in this situation simply took away their life as a solution. Lindblom affirms this when he says that "more than one girl in such a position has taken her own life, and has been found hanging by a strap round her neck to the roof of the hut, or to a tree in the fields" (cf. Lindblom, p. 77).

3. Divorce

The Akamba practiced divorce on specific accepted reasons. The grounds on which a husband could divorce his wife included idleness, laziness, disobedience and habitual unfaithfulness. The husband too could get a divorce if the wife was discovered to be a witch. The wife could demand a divorce on the basis of merciless and recurrent beatings by her husband. If the wife was sick and the husband refused to get her the necessary medicine or if she could not conceive, and her husband refused to take her to the medicine-man/woman for the necessary diagnosis and treatment, she could also seek for divorce.

Among the Akamba it was and still is the wife's duty to provide food for the family from the family cultivated land. The wife could ask for divorce if the plot of land was too small and the husband refused to negotiate a larger piece of land (cf. Penwill, pp. 15-18). The husband traditionally made sure that the wife had little to complain about. In other words he tried his best to fulfill all her needs including food security even during the famine period for which he was not to blame at any rate. By custom, an Akamba man must not strike his wife if he did so he was require to one goat for sacrifice by the elders. Of course the greater part of the meat was eaten by those present. Indeed the Akamba married woman was more or less the master of the family in the long run, since the husband had little control over her in the day to day management. If such a freedom to manage the home was absent, the husband had the danger of his wife becoming exasperated and running away. The husband had to avoid such situations of a wife running away back to her parents, because of fear he might not recover the dowry he gave to her parents, which could only happen if his former wife re-married. In the case of re-marriage, the new husband was obliged to refund all the dowry paid to the former husband. In the final analysis what this system did was to reduce exceedingly the number of divorce cases.

4. Sterility in Marriage

The Akamba value children in marriage. Thus if a man proved impotent, he was supposed to invite a trusted friend to perform the coitus necessary for pregnancy. Akamba traditional society accepted this custom as proper. The biological father in this case had nothing to do with the child since the real husband was considered the true father (cf. Lindblom, p 83). Yet the Akamba always remained cynical and reticent about this custom as evidenced in some of their lyrics concerning a woman or a man involved in such relationship, particularly if the offspring happened to be a deformed or highly gifted child. The lyrics were either in mockery or in praise of the man of the woman. The lyrics were never to be sung any how but at joyful events such as at the harvest festivals.

If an Akamba girl does not become pregnant soon after marriage there was great concern. She was taken to see a diviner (mundu mue) who was an expert in such matters. The Mundu Mue who was either a man or woman mixed latex from a fig tree, the undigested mixture from a goat's stomach, and a little of the woman's menstrual blood. This mixture was smeared on the woman's navel (cf. Lindblom, p. 84).

It was considered highly important for every Akamba man to be married because it was his wife and children that would guarantee keeping his memory beyond his death. If an Akamba man died before marriage, the father arranged to obtain a wife for the dead son. Such a girl was married to the name of the "unmarried man who has died. She bears him children, usually by his brother as genitors" (cf. Middleton, p. 90). Little wonder then, that polygamy gradually sneaked into Akamba custom out of such practices, and thank God no longer exist. But polygamy developed to be an institution linked to the economy, since one man with many cattle and large pieces of land needed more and more wives and children to manage that property. Other factors of polygamy were the sterility of the first wife, who was always consulted before the husband took another wife. Since polygamy was always linked to the economic needs, the custom is no longer considered as viable model of marriage among the Akamba of today.

5. References Cited

Dundas, C. "History of Kitui", in Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, 43:480-549, 1913.
Lindblom, G., The Akamba in British East Africa,2nd Edition, Negro University Press, NY, 1969.
Middleton, J. The Central Tribes of the North-Eastern Bantu, London: International African Institute, 1953.
Penwill, D.J., Kamba Customary Law, London: Macmillan and Company, 1951.

Akamba Women Today in Ukambani and Kwale

Akamba Women in Kwale District, Coast Province*

by Christine Muthikwa Mshambala


John Mbinda, my cousin requested me to carry out a research and write on the Akamba women living in Kwale District, Coast Province in Kenya. The research was to be on modern Akamba women - their hopes and aspirations, and even their problems. My research took two weeks during which I talked to quite a good number of Akamba women either residing permanently or working in Kwale. Most of the women have been living here for 40 years (having migrated from Ukambani with their parents when they were children). Others have made Kwale their permanent homes after they got married to men who have been raised here, while a small number stay in the district because they work in government offices or schools.

A large number of women I talked to are unemployed and depend on small scale farming or minor enterprises.

Methodology Used in Research

  1. Mostly I talked to women in the age bracket of between 25 to 50 years. I "interviewed" them about their problems, hopes and aspirations. From these interviews I was able to learn much about the Akamba women.

  2. I talked to and got invaluable information from young women students in my secondary school ranging from 16-19 years. From them I got an insight into their dreams and also the drawbacks to their aspirations. From these young women I was able to learn about their hopes but also their mother's problems.

  3. Apart from carrying oral interviews, I also based my report on what I already know from my contact with and observation of the Akamba women over the years. Having lived most of my life in Kwale District as well as being an Akamba woman, I am conversant with my fellow women's life-style, problems, aspirations and drawbacks to their hopes.

The information below is based on real experiences and real fact finding mission and I have tried to present the case of the Akamba women in Kwale District as true as is possible.

The Problems Facing the Akamba Women in Kwale District

1) Socio-economic problems

The economy of Kenya has stagnated for the past ten years. The standards of living have deteriorated and more than half of Kenyan population live below poverty line. Women, especially the single mothers, suffer much more than men do. The Akamba in Kwale District are no exception. If anything, they are worse than most others. They live hand-to-mouth.

The Akamba woman in Kwale District is particularly hard hit by poverty mainly because of three reasons:

  • Lack of ready market for their farm produce (especially after the collapse of the Ramisi Sugar Factory in the later part of 1980s);
  • Poor road infrastructure in Kwale District;
  • Diseases such as typhoid, malaria and of course AIDS/HIV.

These problems have contributed to economic drawbacks among Akamba women in Kwale. They till the land almost in vain because of lack of transportation since the roads become impassable especially during the rain season.

Most parts of Kwale District especially the Shimba Hills and Kikoneni Locations are mosquito-infested and lack piped water. This has resulted into malaria and typhoid outbreaks, something that has negatively affected the economic output of women as they have to spend time caring for sick children and other close members of the family. A sickly community is a poor community. The burden of caring for the family (especially the female-headed family) falls heavily on the woman, hence the socio-economic plight of the Akamba woman in Kwale.

2) Social Problems

The Akamba people who have settled in Kwale have their roots in Easter Province not the Coast Province. Because of these origins, they are considered by the indigenous coastal people especially the Digo people as outsiders or "foreigners". Therefore, the Akamba women in Kwale are not really accepted by the women of the communities (especially the Digo). Besides this, the religious factor plays a role in deepening the unacceptability of the Akamba people in Kwale District. The majority of the Kwale indigenous people are Muslims whereas the Akamba are Christians. Although the two communities live in peace, there is a deep-rooted distrust among the Digo for the Akamba.

Because of the above two reasons, the Akamba people in Kwale are sidelined. The members of Parliament do not treaat them as they should treat people who look up to them as their Parliamentary representstives. This is disheartening and affects the Akamba women because development projects (if at all any) among them are given negligible attention by the elected members of Parliament.

Single parenthood among the Akamba women in Kwale is not unknown. Quite a number of families are headed by single mothers. This has come about as a result of loss of husband through either death or divorce. There are also cases where girls fail to get married but end up with two or even more children out of wedlock. Single motherhood is a problem facing the Akamba woman in Kwale. It has advertedly affected not only the woman but also their children.

Despite the problem and drawbacks, the Akamba woman has a determined, diligent and focused personality. She believes in hard work and that the future (though it may look rather bleak) is worth struggling for. The Akamba woman in Kwale has her hopes, dreams and aspirations as outlined below.

Hopes and Aspirations of the Akamba Woman

The Akamba woman in Kwale are a determined lot. They are optimistic that though things look gloomy and disillusioning, somewhere in the future, they are gong to brighten up. They aspire for family stability. They consider divorce and family strife painful. Their dream is to maintain a healthy family life where the male is the head but the female has a crucial role to play. They believe this is important for the emotional and physical welfare of their children.

Their children's education is an aspiration second only to family stability. Getting education in Kenya has become extremely expensive. It is becoming a preserve for the rich. Therefore the Akamba woman in Kwale, having realized this, has decided to struggle to get means of educating their children. Apart from getting money through regular employment, the women engage in small scale business (e.g. running kiosks) others like nurses have started small private clinics while teachers look for occupational employment during the holidays (e.g. tuition or even working for the Kenya National Examinations Council). All these are efforts by the women to get an extra coin so that their hopes and aspirations in educating their children are realized. In pursuit of this goal, there are Women Welfare Groups established and run by women. They aspire to make these welfare groups even more progressive that they are already.

The Akamba women in Kwale aspire to become economically empowered so that they can contribute to the society's well-being, and also be socially accepted. Quite a number are involved in farming. Such women have a dream - the dream of the reactivation of the Ramisi Sugar Factory. They also dream of being importers of fruit like oranges and mangoes to other parts of Kenya or even to the outside world. This is a dream they have yet to realize.

The women also aspire for spiritual progress of their children. They know that a child who is God-fearing is a wise and well-behaved one. So the Akamba women's dream is see their children grow into religious responsible young men and women.

Their aspirations and hopes is also to achieve social success. They would love to have permanently constructed residential houses. Modern houses with running water, flush toilets and even electricity. They hope to achieve these social amenities but the going is rough because of the reasons given above.

Another aspiration they have is to socialize or to be in friendly terms with the indigenous Coastal women. They want to be socially accepted by, say, the Digos. This is a dream which is a bit hard to realize because of different religious background. The Akamba woman in Kwale aspires to be in close touch with other women in the country especially Ukambani. They want to be conversant with what is happening in the world.

They aspire also to be politically empowered. To this dream luckily, there is one Councilor Akamba woman.

While being grateful to my cousin, John Mutiso for the opportunity to do this research, it is my hope that it will expose other women in the world to the plight, problems and aspirations of the Akamba women in Kwale District of Kenya.

©2002 Christine M. Mshambala (Contributor)

The Music of the Akamba

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