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The Kamba (Akamba in the plural) are a Bantu ethnic group who live in the semi-arid Eastern Province of Kenya stretching east from Nairobi to Tsavo and north up to Embu, Kenya. This land is called Ukambani. Sources vary on whether they are the third, fourth or the fifth largest ethnic group in Kenya. They speak the Bantu Kikamba language as a mother tongue. The Kamba are predominantly based in the Machakos District of Kenya. The total population of the Kamba stands at approximately 2.5 million. The Kamba are also called Kikamba, Kekamba, Masaku, Ukamba, Kitui and Mumoni.
The Kamba are a relatively new ethnic group, having developed from the merger of various Bantu communities in the vicinity of Mount Kilimanjaro around the 15th century. They are believed to have reached their present Mbooni Hills stronghold in the Machakos District of Kenya in the second half of the 17th century.
According to Ethnologue, there are approximately 3,960,000 Kamba speakers, with the number increasing. They live in Kenya, and are concentrated in the Machakos and Kitui districts of the Eastern Province and the Kwale district of the Coast Province.
Today, the Akamba are often found engaged in different professions: some are agriculturalists, others are traders, while others have taken up formal jobs. Barter trade with the Kikuyu, Maasai, Meru and Embu people in the interior and the Mijikenda and Arab people of the coast was also practiced by the Akamba who straddled the eastern plains of Kenya.
Over time, the Akamba extended their commercial activity and wielded economic control across the central part of the land that was later to be known as Kenya (from the Kikamba, 'Kiinyaa', meaning 'the Ostrich Country'), from the Indian Ocean in the east to Lake Victoria in the west, and all the way up to Lake Turkana on the northern frontier. The Akamba traded in locally-produced goods such as cane beer, ivory, brass amulets, tools and weapons, millet, and cattle. The food obtained from trading helped offset shortages caused by droughts and famines. They also traded in medicinal products known as 'Miti' (literally: plants), made from various parts of the numerous medicinal plants found on the East African plains. The Akamba are still known for their fine work in basketry and pottery. Their artistic inclination is evidenced in the sculpture work that is on display in many craft shops and galleries in the major cities and towns of Kenya.
In the mid-eighteenth century, a large number of Akamba pastoral groups moved eastwards from the Tsavo and Kibwezi areas to the coast. This migration was the result of extensive drought and lack of pasture for their cattle. They settled in the Mariakani, Kinango, Kwale, Mombasa West ( Changamwe and Chaani ) Mombasa North ( Kisauni ) areas of the coast of Kenya, creating the beginnings of urban settlement. They are still found in large numbers in these towns, and have been absorbed into the cultural, economic and political life of the modern-day Coast Province. Several notable politicians, businessmen and women, as well as professional men and women are direct descendants of these itinerant pastoralists.
Colonialism and the 19th century
In the latter part of the 19th century the Arabs took over the coastal trade from the Akamba, who then acted as middlemen between the Arab and Swahili traders and the tribes further upcountry. Their trade and travel made them ideal guides for the caravans gathering elephant tusks, precious stones and some slaves for the Middle Eastern, Indian markets and Chinese markets. Early European explorers also used them as guides in their expeditions to explore East Africa due to their wide knowledge of the land and neutral standing with many of the other societies they traded with.
Akamba resistance to colonial 'pacification'was mostly non-violent in nature. Some of the best known Akamba resistance leaders to colonialism were: Syokimau, Syotune wa Kathukye, Muindi Mbingu, and later Paul Ngei, JD Kali, and Malu of Kilungu. Ngei and Kali were imprisoned by the colonial government for their anti-colonial protests. Syotune wa Kathukye led a peaceful protest to recover cattle confiscated by the British colonial government during one of their raiding expeditions on the local populations. Muindi Mbingu was arrested for leading another protest march to recover stolen land and cattle around the Mua Hills in Masaku district, which the British settlers eventually appropriated for themselves. JD Kali, along with Paul Ngei, joined the Mau Mau movement to recover Kenya for the Kenyan people. He was imprisoned in Kapenguria during the fighting between the then government and the freedom fighters.
The Akamba family
In Akamba culture, the family (Musyi) plays a central role in the community. The Akamba extended family or clan is called 'mbai'. The man, who is the head of the family, is usually engaged in an economic activity popular among the community like trading, hunting, cattle-herding or farming. He is known as 'Nau', 'Tata','ithe' or 'Asa'.
The woman, whatever her husband's occupation, works on her plot of land, which she is given upon joining her husband's household. She supplies the bulk of the food consumed by her family. She grows maize, millet, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, beans, pigeon peas, greens, arrow root, cassava, and yam in cooler regions like Kangundo, Kilungu and Mbooni. It is the mother's role to bring up the children. Even children that have grown up into adults are expected to never contradict the mother's wishes. The mother is known as 'Mwaitu' ('our One').
Very little distinction is made between one's children and nieces and nephews. They address their maternal uncle as naimiwa and maternal aunts as mwendya and for their paternal uncle and aunt as 'mwendw'au'. They address their paternal cousins as 'wa-asa'or wa'ia (for men is mwanaasa or mwanaa'ia, and for women is mwiitu wa'asa or mwiitu wa'ia), and the maternal cousins (aunt's side) as 'wa mwendya' (for men is mwanaa mwendya and mwiitu wa mwendya for women). Children often move from one household to another with ease, and are made to feel at home by their aunts and uncles who, while in charge of their nephews/nieces, are their de facto parents.
Grandparents (Susu or Usua (grandmother), Umau or Umaa (grandfather) help with the less strenuous chores around the home, such as rope-making, tanning leather, carving of bee hives, three-leged wooden stools, etc., cleaning and decorating calabashes, making bows and arrows, etc. Older women continue to work the land, as this is seen as a source of independence and economic security. They also carry out trade in the local markets, though not exclusively. In the modern Akamba family, the women, especially in the urban regions, practice professions such as teaching, law, medicine, nursing, secretarial work, management, tailoring and other duties in accordance with Kenya's socioeconomic evolution.
Culture and beliefs
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (August 2008)|
Like the Maasai and the Agikuyu, the Akamba believe in a monotheistic, invisible and transcendental God, Ngai or Mulungu, who lives up in the sky ('yayayani' or ituni). Another venerable name for God is Asa, or the Father. He is also known as Ngai Mumbi (God the creator) na Mwatuangi (God the finger divider). He is perceived as the omnipotent creator of life on earth and as a merciful, if distant, entity. The traditional Akamba perceive the spirits of their departed ones, the 'Aimu'/'Maimu', as the intercessors between themselves and Ngai Mulungu. They are remembered in family rituals and offerings / libations at individual altars.
The kamba royalty was often not talked about and the history behind the royalty is not well known although the name Musumbi is linked with royalty, social grace & leadership. Not much is known about this Family or mentioned in any available documentation. Royalty may not be the best term to describe these people. Their role was more of leadership and performance of certain public, social (resolution of disputes), spiritual or ceremonial functions. They refrained from any involvement in electoral politics or the actual governance of their people.
Naming and Kamba names
Naming of children is an important aspect of the Akamba people. The first four children, two boys and two girls, are named after the grandparents on both sides of the family. The first boy is named after the paternal grandfather and the second after the maternal grandfather. Girls are similarly named. Because of the respect that the Kamba people observe between the varied relationships, there are people with whom they cannot speak in "first name" terms. The father and the mother in-law on the husband's side, for instance, can never address their daughter in-law by her first name. Neither can she address them by their first names. Yet she has to name her children after them. To solve this problem, a system of naming is adopted that gave names which were descriptive of the quality or career of the grandparents. Therefore, when a woman is married into a family, she is given a family name (some sort of baptismal name), such as "Syomunyithya/ng'a Mutunga," that is, "she who is to be the mother of Munyithya/Mutunga." Her first son is to be called by this name. This name Munyithya was descriptive of certain qualities of the paternal grandfather or of his career. Thus, when she is calling her son, she would indeed be calling her father in-law, but at the same time strictly observing the cultural law of never addressing her in-laws by their first names. After these four children are named, whose names were more or less predetermined, other children could be given any other names, sometimes after other relatives and / or family friends on both sides of the family. Occasionally, children were given names that were descriptive of the circumstances under which they were born, "Nduku" (girl) and "Mutuku" (boy) meaning born at night,"Kioko" (boy) born in the morning, "Mumbua/Syombua" (girl)and "Wambua" (boy) for the time of rain, "Wayua" (girl) for the time of famine, "Makau" (boy) for the time of war, "Musyoka/Kasyuko/Musyoki" (boy) and "Kasyoka/Kasyoki" (girl) as a re-incarnation of a dead family member, "Mutua" (boy) and "Mutuo/Mwikali" (girl)as indicative of the long duration the parents had waited for this child, or a lengthy period of gestation. Children were also given affectionate names as expressions of what their parents wished them to be in life. Such names would be like "Mutongoi" (leader), "Musili" (judge), or "Muthui" (the rich one), or "Ngumbau" (hero, the brave one). Of course, some of these names could be simply expressive of the qualities displayed by the man or woman after whom they were named. Very rarely, a boy may be given the name "Musumbi" (meaning "king"). I say very rarely because the Kamba people did not speak much in terms of royalty; they did not have a definite monarchical system. they were ruled by a council of elders called kingole. A girl could be called "Mumbe" meaning beautiful. There is a prophecy of a man, who traces his ancestry to where the sun sets (west) (in the present day county of Kitui) who will bear this name. Wild animal names like Nzoka (snake), Mbiti (hyena), Mbuku (hare), Munyambu (lion), Mbiwa (fox) or domesticated animal names like Ngiti (dog), Ng'ombe (cow), or Nguku (chicken) were given, on unusual circumstances, to children born of mothers who started by giving stillbirths. This was done to wish away the bad omen for the child to survive otherwise it would die like the preceding ones. Sometimes the names were used in order to preserve the good names for later children. There was a belief that a woman's later children had a better chance of surviving than her first ones.
The Akamba people's love of music and dance is evidenced in their spectacular performances at many events in their daily lives or on occasions of regional and national importance. In their dances they display agility and athletic skills as they perform acrobatics and body movements. The Akamba dance techniques and style resemble those of the Batutsi of Rwanda-Burundi and the Aembu of Kenya.
The following are some of the varieties of traditional dance styles of the Akamba community:
- Mwali (pl: Myali) which is a dance accompanying a song, the latter which is usually made to criticize anti-social behaviour.
- Kilumi and Ngoma, religious dances, performed at healing and rain-making ceremonies;
- Mwilu is a circumcision dance;
- Mbalya, or Ngutha is a dance for young people who meet to entertain themselves after the day's chores are done.
- Kamandiko', or the modern disco usually held after a wedding party.
Dances are usually accompanied by songs composed for the occasion (marriage, birth, nationally important occasion), and reflect the traditional structure of the Kikamba song, sung on a pentatonic scale. The singing is lively and tuneful. Songs are composed satirizing deviant behavior, anti-social activity, etc. The Akamba have famous work songs, such as 'Ngulu Mwelela', sung while work, such as digging, is going on. Herdsmen and boys have different songs, as do young people and old. During the Mbalya dances the dance leader will compose love songs and satirical numbers, to tease and entertain his / her dancers.
Clothing and costumery
The Akamba of the modern times, like most people in Kenya, dress rather conventionally in western / European clothing. The men wear trousers and shirts. Young boys will, as a rule, wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts, usually in cotton, or tee-shirts. Traditionally, Akamba men wore leather short kilts made from animal skins or tree bark. They wore copious jewelry, mainly of copper and brass. It consisted of neck-chains, bracelets, and anklets.
The women in modern Akamba society also dress in the European fashion, taking their pick from dresses, skirts, trousers, jeans and shorts, made from the wide range of fabrics available in Kenya. Primarily, however, skirts are the customary and respectable mode of dress. In the past, the women were attired in knee-length leather or bark skirts, embellished with bead work. They wore necklaces made of beads, these obtained from the Swahili and Arab traders. They shaved their heads clean, and wore a head band intensively decorated with beads. The various kilumi or dance groups wore similar colors and patterns on their bead work to distinguish themselves from other groups.
Traditionally, both men and women wore leather sandals especially when they ventured out of their neighborhoods to go to the market or on visits. While at home or working in their fields, however, they remained barefoot.
School children, male and female, shave their heads to maintain the spirit of uniformity and equality. Currently the most popular Kamba artist include; Ken Wamaria, Kativui, Kitunguu etc. Ken Wamaria is rated as the top artist in Ukambani and the richest Kenyan artist (Kioko, 2012).
List of Prominent Akamba
The Honourable Paul Joseph Ngei (18 October 1923 - 15 August 2004) was a Kenyan politician who was imprisoned for his role in the anti-colonial movement, but who went on to hold several government ministerial positions after Kenya became independent.
Muindi wa Mbingu A brave leader among the Kamba who led the Mau Mau revolution in Ukambani
Benson Masya (May 14, 1970 – September 24, 2003) was a Kenyan long-distance runner and marathon specialist, who competed in the late 1980s and 1990s. He participated at the inaugural IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in 1992 and finished in first place.
Stella Kilonzo is a Kenyan accountant and business administrator. Currently she serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Capital Markets Authority (Kenya). She was appointed to that position in July 2008.
- Ethnologue - Kamba
- "Kamba of Kenya". Joshua Project. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
- "Kenya: The Kamba tribe, including its traditions and beliefs; the religion practised; and whether female genital mutilation is practised". UNHCR. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
- Kaplan, Irving (1984). Kenya, a country study. Foreign Area Studies, American University. p. 8.
Kioko, D. (2012) The Akamba people and music, Nairobi: Mvule publishers
Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other Cb Author;C. W. Hobley