The KAMBA or AKAMBA people are a Bantu ethnic group - or tribe - who
live in the semi-arid formerly Eastern Province of
There is also a group of
Kamba people in the
South American country
Sources vary on whether Kambas are the third, fourth or fifth largest
ethnic group in Kenya. They make up to 11 percent of Kenya's
population. They speak the Bantu
Kikamba language as a mother tongue.
The Kamba are predominantly based in Machakos , Kitui and Makueni
* 1 Origin * 2 Distribution * 3 Language * 4 Economy * 5 Colonialism and the 19th century
* 6 Culture and beliefs
* 6.1 The Akamba family * 6.2 Naming and Kamba names * 6.3 Kikamba music * 6.4 Clothing and costumery
* 7 Prominent Akamba people * 8 References * 9 Sources * 10 External link
The Kamba are of Bantu origin. They are closely related in language
and culture to the Kikuyu , Embu , Mbeere and Meru , and are
concentrated in the lowlands of Southeast
The first group settled in present-day
Other authorities suggest that they arrived in their present lowlands
east of Mount
Ethnologue , there are approximately 3,960,000 Kamba
speakers, with the number increasing. They live in Kenya, and are
concentrated in the Machakos, Kitui and Makueni counties of the former
Eastern Province and
Apart from Kenya,
Kamba people can also be found in Uganda, Tanzania
South American country of Paraguay. The population of Akamba in
The Kamba speak the Kamba language (also known as Kikamba) as a mother tongue . It belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Interestingly, Kikamba has no letters c, f, j, r, x, q and p in its alphabet.
Like many Bantus the Akamba were originally hunters and gatherers, became long distance traders because of their knowledge of the expansive area they inhabited and good relations with neighbouring communities as well as excellent communication skills, later adopted subsitence farming and pastoralism due to the availability of the new land that they came to occupy.
Today, the Akamba are often found engaged in different professions:
some are agriculturalists, others are traders, while others have taken
up formal jobs.
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
They also traded in medicinal products known as 'Miti' (literally: plants), made from various parts of the numerous medicinal plants found on the Southeast African plains. Maingi Ndonye Mbithi, commonly referred by his peers and locals as Kanyi, from Kimutwa village in Machakos was best known for his concoction of herbs mixed with locally fermented brew (kaluvu) with the ability to heal cancerous boils (Mi'imu). The Akamba are still known for their fine work in wood carving, basketry and pottery and the products . 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) and 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 businessmen and women, politicians, 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
During the colonial era, British colonial officials considered the Kamba to be the premier martial race and sharp-shooters of Africa. The Kamba themselves appeared to embrace this label by enlisting in the colonial army in large numbers. After confidently describing the Kamba serving in the King's African Rifles (the KAR, Britain's East African colonial army) as loyal "soldiers of the Queen" during the Mau Mau Emergency, a press release by the East Africa Command went on to characterize the Kamba as a "fighting race." These sentiments were echoed by other colonial observers in the early 1950s who deemed the Kamba a hardy, virile, courageous, and "mechanically-minded tribe." Considered by many officers to be the "best material in Africa," the Kamba supplied the KAR with askaris (soldiers) at a rate that was three to four times their percentage of the overall Kenyan population.' The Kamba people were also very brave and successfully resisted an attempt by the British colonialists to seize their livestock in an obnoxious livestock control legislation in 1938. They peacefully fought the British until the law was repealed. Among the Akamba people, lack of rain is considered an event requiring ritual intervention. As a result, they perform a ritual rain making dance called Kilumi. It is a healing rite designed to restore environmental balance through spiritual blessings, movement, offering, and prayers. According to Akamba, Kilumi has been present since the very beginning of Kamba existence. This ritual emphasizes symbolic dance movements as a key force in achieving the goal of the ceremony. The heart of the dance ritual is its spiritual essence; in fact, it is the spiritual aspect that distinguishes the dances of Africans and their descendants worldwide. For this reason, it is important to understand the nature of rituals. Dance rituals take participants on a journey; they are designed to foster a transformation moving them to different states, with the ultimate goal of invoking spiritual intervention to resolve the problem at hand.
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
CULTURE AND BELIEFS
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Mythology (Creation Story) Like all other Bantu, communities, the Akamba have a story of origin that differs greatly from that of the Kikuyu. It goes like: "In the beginning, Mulungu created a man and a woman. This was the couple from heaven and he proceeded to place them on a rock at Nzaui where their foot prints, including those of their livestock can be seen to this day. Mulungu 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 Aimo. 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. Mulungu punished them with a great famine. This led to dispersal as the family scattered in search of food. Some became the Kikuyu, others the Meru while some remained as the original people, the Akamba." The Akamba are not specific about the number of children that each couple had initially borne.
The Akamba believe in a monotheistic, invisible and transcendental God, Ngai or Mulungu, who lives 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 or Maimu, as the intercessors between themselves and Ngai Mulungu. They are remembered in family rituals and offerings / libations at individual altars.
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, 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 inaimiwa 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 (mother's side) as wa mwendya (for men mwanaa mwendya; for women mwiitu wa mwendya). 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 beehives, three-legged wooden stools, 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. The Kamba clans are: Anzauni, Aombe, Akitondo, Amwei (Angwina), Atwii, Amumui, Aethanga, Atangwa, Amutei, Aewani, Akitutu, Ambua, Aiini, Asii, Akiimi.
NAMING AND KAMBA NAMES
Basket-weaving, one of the traditional skills of the Kamba.
Naming of children is an important aspect of the Akamba people. In most but not all cases, 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/Katuku" (girl) and "Mutuku/Kituku" (boy) meaning born at night, * "Kiloko" (girl) and "Kioko" (boy) born in the morning, * "Mumbua/Syombua" (girl) and "Wambua/Mbua" (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/Mutui" (boy) and "Mutuo/Mwikali" (girl) as indicative of the long duration the parents had waited for this child, or a lengthy period of gestation. * "Munyao" (boy) for the time of famine * "Mueni/Waeni" (girl) for the time of visitors * "Maundu" (boy) for the time of multiple activities/things * "Muthami/Muthama" (boy) for the time of migration
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) * "Muthui" (the rich one), * "Ngumbau" (hero, the brave one) * "Kitonga" (wealthy 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. 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.
A girl could be called "Mumbe" meaning beautiful one or "Mwende" (beloved); Wild animal names like Nzoka (snake), Mbiti (hyena), Mbuku (hare), Munyambu (lion), or Mbiwa (fox); or domesticated animal names like Ngiti (dog), Ng'ombe (cow), or Nguku (chicken), were given to children born of mothers who started by giving stillbirths. This was done to wish away the bad omen and allow the new child to survive. Sometimes the names were used 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
The following are some of the varieties of traditional dance styles of the Akamba community:
* Mwali (plural Myali), a dance accompanying a song, the latter which is usually made to criticise 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 satirising deviant behaviour, 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 jewellery, 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
Traditionally, both men and women wore leather sandals especially when they ventured out of their neighbourhoods 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
PROMINENT AKAMBA PEOPLE
Kivutha Kibwana - Former cabinet minister, former Dean
of Law Faculty University Of
* ^ "KNBS 2009 Census". Archived from the original on 21 November
2013. Retrieved 2013-12-16.
* ^ A B "Akamba people in Paraguay".
* ^ A B C "Appreciating the Akamba of
* Kioko, D. (2012). The Akamba people and music. Nairobi: Mvule
* The Kamba on bluegekco, Tribes of Kenya
* Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other Cb Author; C. W. Hobley
Media related to Kamba people at Wikimedia Commons
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* Aweer * Borana Oro