The Akamba (Kamba) people of Kenya

The Akamba are famous for wood curving of wildlife, humans and stools.
The Akamba are famous for wood curving of wildlife, humans and stools. | Source

updated Sept 2013


Myth of origin

The Akamba language has some of the most archaic word roots in the Bantu family. Its strong relationship with Kikuyu is not in doubt since the two languages are intelligible. The Kamba language has retained the original vocabulary that was shared with the Kikuyu. Where a specific word differs greatly from its equivalent in Kikuyu, it is more likely that the Kikuyu one is borrowed and the Kamba one is the original. A good example is ‘Ngo’ for leopard in kamba. In Kikuyu, Meru and Kisii, the word for leopard is Ngare, khare and keri respectively. These are definitely derived from a borrowed term. Many Bantu languages have the ‘Ngo’ as the root for leopard. The Gikuyu have vestiges of the word in Ngoi, a clan that is also called ‘Aithiegeni,’ which I have interperedt to mean ‘those who went to a foreign land –athii ugeni. It is likely that the Angoi were actually ‘a ruling Leopard Clan’ that was degraded upon capture to the less glamorous ‘dog’ which is called ‘Ngui’ in Kikuyu. The Kamba word – Ngo, for leopard is the original and archaic term which was used even by the Kikuyu before the two cousins separated.

Like all other Bantu, communities, the Akamba have a story of origin that differs greatly from that of the Kikuyu.

In the beginning, Molungu 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 footprints, including those of their livestock can be seen to this day.

Molungu then caused a great rainfall. From the many anthills around, a a man and a woman came ou. 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. Molungu punished them with a great famine. This lead 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.

As late as 1840, the Akamba were still migrating from what is present day Tanzania where many Akamba are said to have been arbsorbed by the Pare people.

When you look closely at the name of God in Kamba – Molungu, it means the one from under. This may imply against western reasoning that the couple from under who also happened to have daughters was the superior one. In the Kikuyu Myth, the couple with the daughters was the superior one while the men were inferior. It is noteworthy that the Kikuyu called God Murungu and Ngai interchangeably. The word Ngai must have come to common usage much later than Murungu.

Masoudi, the Arab chronicler writing in AD 943, noted that the Zindj whom he encountered at the coast elected a king whom they called Falime. He also noted that,

‘there were among them (Zindj) with very sharp teeth.’

Sharpening teeth was a practice of the Akamba until very recently and it is likely that they were still trading with the coast as early as AD 943.

-lime is the root of the word for spirits in several Bantu languages- Marimu (ogres in Kikuyu); murimo (Disease was thought to be brought about by spirits); Molimo musantu (Holy Spirit in Lingala). Note that it is the daughters of the Couple from underground who started the ‘Mbai ya Aimo’ – Clan of the spirits. It is possible that the coast was initially inhabited by the Akamba and that the word Mfalme for King is derived form this ealy interplay with spirits. When leaders died, they were deified in ancient Egypt as well as in other parts of Africa.




This ‘Mbai ya Aimo’ is represented in Kikuyu by Wairimu, head of the Airimu clan.

The Akamba have 14 major clans and 11 minor clans. This makes a total of 25 clans as researched by Kivuto Ndeti. When a family grows into a clan, it is natural that the clan grows and separates into several clans. This did happen to the Akamba. The fact that it never happened to the Kikuyu makes one wonder if the Kikuyu clans are true clans or a commemoration of an event. How can nine clans survive into perpetuity through millennia? Below is a list of the twenty-five clans of the Akamba.

14 Major Clans

1. Akanga

2. Aketdini

3. Aketutu

4. Ambuane

5. Amoei

6. Amoieni

7. Amotei – trappers

8. Anzaone

9. Anzio

10. Asii

11. Atangoa

12. Atui – blacksmiths

13. Eembe

14. Ethanga

11 Minor Clans

1. Adine

2. Akeimei

3. Akuu

4. Amena

5. Amokabu

6. Amomone

7. Amooi

8. Amouti

9. Anilo

10. Aoani

11. Athonzo



There were several Pharaohs called Amenemahat alsp spelled as Amenemes in the 12th Dynasty. Tutu was a God with a lion body and a huma head with the tail that ended as a snake.

Are the Amomone in memory of Amenemes in Egypt?

Are the Aketutu in memory of the the ancient God Tutu?

While this may be termed as conjecture, it is worth investigating further.

The Akamba are a very diverse group. Some groups claim that it takes a while to understand the dialects of other groups. Below is a selection of terms employed by the Akamba people to refer to others within the ethnic group.

(i) The Akamba of Usu call the kitui Akamba - A -Thaishu

(ii) The Akamba of ulu call the A-kamba near Rabai, A-Tumwa and ma-philambua

(iii) The Akamba of kilungu call other Akamba – Evaao

The Maasai call the Akamba - Lungnu

The coastal people call the Akamba – Waumanguo due to their scanty dress.

Hobley, a colonial administrator thought that “The Akamba are probably the purest Bantu race in British East Africa.” Since it is known today that the Akamba wondered far and wide in what is present day Tanzania, intermingling with the Wanyamwezi and the Wapare, Hobleys view may be taken with a pinch of salt.

Krapf who was the first white man to see the Mt. Kenya, courtesy of the Akamba, was the first European to interact and study their language and culture from within. He noted that the Akamba slaughtered a cow in a manner that was alien to him. He reported that:

“In the evening Kitetu slaughtered a cow to entertain the villagers; first the feet, then the mouth of the beast, were bound; the nostrils were stopped up, and so the poor animal was suffocated. I had not known that this was the usual way in which the Wakamba slaughtered their cattle.” (Wakamba is plural in Kiswahili. They would refer to themselves as Akamba and a single one as Mukamba).


Regarding their metal working industry, Krapf had this to say:

The more precious metals have not yet been found in Ukambani; but there is an abundance of iron of excellent quality, which is preferred by the people of Mombaz to that which comes from India.

It should be noted that recently, large iron ore reserves were discovered in the land of the Akamba. It is no wonder then the Akamba who all along had knowledge of these reserves settled in an area they named Kitui – place of iron working and had the best iron for miles.

It common knowledge today that the Akamba are gifted craftsmen. It has been theorised and many scholars accept that they learned their curving trade from the Makonde. I beg to differ. The Akamba had been curving for Millenia and may have contributed to some the sculptures and figurines in Ancient Egypt. Here is an observation by Lindlblom, another colonial period scholar of the Akamba.

“ Every head of a house makes the wooden articles that are needed such as beehives, stools, spoons, snuffbottles, handles of axes and knives...”

Lindblom also explained that while most stools are coarsely made three -legged “the same type as among the Akikuyu --” the ones meant for atumia are called ‘mumbo’ and as a special privilege they are’---neat and comfortable often real works of art. Great pains are taken in making them and they are usually adorned with copper or brass fittings.”

Atumia were revered Kamba elders. Every male ultimately reached this age-grade upon paying fees to the current Atumia, after he attained age 45 to 50.


Information from a Mkamba elder

It is impotant to state at the onset, that his information may offend some people. However, it was given by a respected elder within the month of October (name withheld). It is factual. It underlined issues that have been in the public domain, but as yet unconfirmed to me.

Purity in a woman was a despised state. Any woman who was still pure in her twenties would be seen to be a curse to her own family. There were rituals organised by the bigger youths, botth boys and girls to ensure that virginity was eliminated in their locality.

According to my informant, a senior male youth and a senior female youth would plan a meeting place for the villages youths. The objective was to perform a ritual to ensure that there were no virgins. I did not verify the age after which virginity was abhorent. This was not in the manner adults would do it in the real sense as it would last a minute or so. The senior male and female youths ensured that close relatives were not paired up, as that would have been taboo.

It happened sometimes that a girl would refuse to join the other youths in these kind of rituals and thereby remain pure for an annoyingly long time. This would raise concerns not only to the community but to her family as well. They would soon enough get to know about it. In such a situation, according to my informant, the mother of the girl in question would threaten to curse the male youths of her village for neglecting to perform their duties.

Akamba curses were greatly feared. The youths, both male and female would organise to abduct the girl against her wishes. Soon enough, a report would be made, and the mother would retract her threat to issue a curse.

Based on this information, I wish to come up with a theory.

That the Akamba were at one time threatened with extinction and had therefore adopted unusual practices for survival. Since a community must replace its aging members with new members, the Akamba elders therefore decreed that the community must produce children at a rate that was faster than the death rate. For this to happen, practices that delayed procreation had to be abandoned.

My theory is supported the information discuss below.

According to current information about the origins of the Akamba, they came in from the Western side of Kenya into the rift valley then veered south into present day Tanzania. This is believable because the Amaravi of Malawi, have a story of origin that is similar to the Akambas story. Secondly, their language may be intelligible to Kamba. This is conjecture based on the story of origin and the fact that the Malawi currency, the Kwacha means 'new dawn.' Kwakya (pronounced Kwacha) in Kikamba is a greeting for early morning. Within Tanzania, the Akamba met many communities, among them the Wanyamwezi and later the Wapare of the Mt. Kilimanjaro region. After entering Kenya, they settled at Mbooni, which became their dispersal point.It said that many Akamba settled permanently with the Wapare and were arbsorbed.

Now, Lambert (a colonial administrator who doubled as an anthropologist) said that the Akamba came from Shungwaya where the Mijikenda of the Kenyan coast are also said to have come from. Lamberts assertion has been vilified by several scholars, among them Kabeca Mwaniki who stated that :

It should be emphasized that this identification is in the already Lambertian position of according to himself guesswork and conjecture or what might be termed unproven hypothesis. To Lambert the Kamba of masaku (machakos) and the Chuka originated from shungwaya and moved from there so early that the Chuka were arriving in their present land in C. 1300.

I now want to state that while the migration from Tanzania upwards throgh the Kilimanjaro area into Mbooni and Machakos is not in doubt, the people that Masud saw at the coast were Akamba who had come down from Shungwaya in present day Somalia. The town called Ras Kamboni in somalia today, is spelled Kambooni on maps, often without the 'Ras.' Kambooni', in my opinion, and 'Mbooni' ar akin to 'England' and 'New England' of the migrating Englishmen of the Americas. It was very possible that the Akamba had been criss crossing the plains and coast for more than 1000 years. It should be noted that the Akamba had caravan routes for that covered all the states of present day East Africa, including the Congo.

Further, I want to state that 'Mbooni' should be interpreted as 'the place of breeding.'

In Kiswahili we say 'ashakum si matusi,' when we want to discuss matters that are othwise taboo. So by that I am excused.

Mboo, and Mboro are the Kiswahili words for male organ. Mbooni must have been a place where all inhibitions were dropped so that the diminishing community could be replenished. It is likely that Kambooni in Somalia (Ras Kamboni) had played the same role, before the Galla forced the Akamba and Mijikenda to migrate.

This is my theory and I invite Anthropologist to consider thorough studies of the Akamba Culture.

to be contnued.

Now fo some Kamba Music!

More by this Author


Comments 32 comments

Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks MUTHUI KITANA and Ngureco for keeping the debate on the Thagicu (Athaisu) alive. I have gleaned a lot and will be writing my opinion soon in a hub. I have a strong feeling that the Thagichu was a subgroup in many communities, perhaps serving a religious function. I include the "Osu" in Chinua Achebe's Things fall apart. This is conjecture, so I should not be vilified and I would wish for the debate to continue.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 3 years ago

Thank you, Muthui Kitana, for your input in this discussion, and especially for your observation that the term Athaisu is used to ridicule Kambas from Kitui. The past history of the people once referred to as Thagicu, is a very complex issue. The name Thagicu is a variant of the names Thagicu (Mavuria in Mbere, and Tharaka), Thaisu (Kitui), Daiso (Usambara Mountains), and Segeju (northeast coast of Tanzania).

In dialectology, when a group of one people separates, the group that tends to change the least and retain the older forms (“pure”) of the original language is the group that is ridiculed most and the one most likely to be isolated from the mainstream.

Any language, whether English language, Thagicu language or Kamba language, is continuously changing all the time. Any language will change and grow with passage of time just like a living things will do. You may not notice the change in your language because you are within the rhythm of the change. If you analyze any language using a large enough scale of about 500 years, you will see the change. It is now 400 years since Shakespeare produced most of his known work in 1589 to 1613. Compare the English language Shakespeare used and the English language used in Britain today, and you will notice a very significant change the English language has undergone for a period of 400 years.

When a group of the same people breaks into two or more groups and the groups separates and no longer maintain close communication with one another, then, dialects will form. The key factors in formation of dialect are separation and cutting of communication between the groups. The Thagicu people may have separated due to migration, disagreements, war, witchcraft, or for whatever reason. Once that happened, the next thing that they needed for different dialect to form was a permanent separation line which usually happens to be a river, a valleys or a mountain. As you may notice, the higher up the Mountain Kenya, the more the network of rivers there are and the more the number of Thagicu dialects.

Unfortunately, the society we live in is very ignorant and will tend to consider some dialects to carry more prestige than others. The dialect with more speakers or the dialect that is spoken by the elite, or whatever, is considered to be the ‘proper’ language. The issue of dialect is sensitive and hot politics in that the speakers of the ‘inferior’ dialect are considered by the “majority” as less intelligent, less competent, less educated, poor, have low language skills, and unpleasant to listen to. And with the passage of time, the minorities may get convinced that their own dialect is unpleasant, and that they themselves are less intelligent, less competent, inferior, or whatever.

Today with the invention of the modern communication facilities such as the bicycles, vehicles, phones, radios, televisions, books, print media, long distance trade, etc, the ability to communicate between people is improving and the so-called permanent separation lines are becoming less permanent, and formation of new Thagicu dialects has slowed down. The next millennium will see the present Thagicu dialects go towards integration as one people with one common language.


MUTHUI KITANA 3 years ago

I have read your article with keen interest. it is very insightful.

I am a Mukamba from kitui referred by other Akamba as Athaisu which i believe is a reference to thagicu or thaicu you have talked about.However the term Athaisu is used to ridicule Kambas from Kitui.

It is widely believed that Kithaisu is a corrupted and diluted form of Kikamba. My take is that the Kikuyu,Meru-chuka-Tharaka and Embu-Mbeere were one group, the THAGICU or THAICU which later separated to different groups .Note that Kikuyu, Kimeru and Kiembu are very closely related languages.

The Kambas who migrated to areas neighbouring the thaicu had their language influenced by the the thaicu people hence the ridicule "Athaisu". For example kikamba spoken in mwingi central, Migwani and Mutonguni areas of Kitui is influenced by Kiembu and Kimbeere. The name migwani in pure kikamba would be Miwani(place of thorns),Mugaa (acacia tree) as used in these areas would be Muaa in pure kikamba,Igoo(Yesterday)would be iyoo. The earlier kambas from these areas would use terms like Kulua which is Kurua in Kiembu and Kimbere for circumsision, a term never used by other Kambas.

When you move further north(mwingi north or Ngura).The kamba language is highly influenced by Kimeru and Kitharaka where there are even Kamba words with "r" instead of "l".

It due this language compromise that led them to be referred as Athaisu, that is those who speak like Thagicu.

My argument is, the Kamba people knew of a group of people known as the Thagicu which was closely related to them since the two groups may have originated from the same region of mount Kilimanjaro.

The separation of thagicu to different groups (present day GEMA) may have come much later as evidenced by reference of Kitui Kambas as Thaisu who settlled in the areas near river Thaana ( Thagana or Tana) later after dispersion from Mbooni Hills and other areas.The dispersion from Mbooni is highly likely. I am a "Thaisu" Kamba who belongs to Atangwa clan originating from a place known as Utangwa in Mbooni while i come from Migwani, bordering Embu and Mbeere. The Atangwa are scattered all over Ukambani region.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Hello Rogers Mutunga,

Your ideas are spanners in the works and that is good. Misyi Kenda was an ancient way of grouping people and hieroglyphs talk of 'nine of the bow', a people in southern Egypt who used bows and arrows and were frequently fought or incorporated as mercenaries. These could very well have been the Akamba but Egyptologists prefer to say they were Nubians. Note that the Ibo also have 'nine villages of Umuofia.'


Rogers Mutunga 4 years ago

I dont know if its true but my father once told me that some Kambas-probably due to famine-migrated to kikuyu land and were assimilated forming the 'Kirinyaga kikuyu' -if there is such a term, this may account for the different accent and alleged different culture as far as witchcraft is concerned.

An uncle of mine also claimed that the Kamba may have formed the mijikenda, in Kikamba "Misyi Keenda".

I think these two claims may have basis and need further investigation.

OTHERWISE THIS DISCUSSION IS VERY HEALTHY.


peter AKA petero 4 years ago

Thanks Mr Kariuki, being the first time to read this column, It was a very interesting that most of the facts about Kamba community that you have mentioned are true. i say true because they a same as what my grandmother used to tel us long time when i was growing up. few similarities i noted, like the word Ndia, its also a kamba ward meaning a pool of water, hence the kamba name Wandia. Another fact i read somewhere, the Name Kenya comes from a kamba ward Kinyaa meaning a mountain with ostriches ie MT kenya (kirinyaga in kikuyu)I noted a ward from Mwaria that maybe Swahili copied some kikuyu wards, but from what am sure is that swahili came as a result of interaction between the arabs and the early bantu speakers during those eras of trade, and the slave trade too, during the time which the Akamba could take Elephant tasks and honey from Kambaland to coast were the trade used to happen, same time inter marriage between the locals and the Arabs resulted to the modern day waswahili people at the coast as i may put it.

thanks for this discussions, they thrilling to know and to learn.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Kamau that is difficult to say. This is partly because the clans were fluid, marrying into each other and therefore transferring names. Though I believe Muchembi is from Musembi of the Kamba, it is highly unlikely that it has anything to do with the Aceera Clan that originated from the Akamba in antiquity.


Kamau 4 years ago

You mentioned that the Aceera might represent the Kamba among the Gikuyu. If you remember, I have the name Muchembi in my family and coincidentally, we come from the Aceera clan. Could that have any significance?


Kamau 4 years ago

The Kikamba equivalent of the Gikuyu Wanjiku is Wanziku, what do you think this could mean in terms of the clans? Could be that the two tribes were a lot closer than generally believed. Personally, the myths of creation are very suspicious to me, way too close to the christian one...


Mwaria 4 years ago

Ngureco, your ideas regarding migration of the gikuyu people on their last leg seem plausible. Just like Emmanuel, I believe migration of various peoples in traditional Africa was a continuous process and was only halted first by population growth and then by the Berlin Conference so to speak. Therefore, gikuyu would sojourn in an area for generations, and due to lack of written word, the history of previous migration routes was lost in antiquity. There was no way those who were last to leave ‘shungawaya’ for instance, could remember when and how their ancestors arrived in that place in the first instance. Similarly, for many African traditional societies, the universe went only as far as the horizon, and the most dominant feature within the ‘horizon’ was deemed to be supernatural, or related to what was perceived as the supernatural.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 4 years ago

Like Mwaria has suggested, rivers played a very important role in migration and marking of either major or minor boundaries. The Kikuyu shares some clans with Kamba and Chagga people. If one assumes these Bantus were at one time in Mt Meru/Chagga/Taita region, then, one group comprising of Kamba and Kikuyu may have migrated upstream the Athi River. The Kikuyu in this group crossed the Thika River, and thus Thika River had to act as the boundary between the Kamba and Kikuyu. To the north east, the Thagana River from Gatunganga in Nyeri to the confluence with Thika River may have confined the Kikuyu in Metumi in that area without crossing into Kirinyaga and Mathira.

The other group comprising of Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru (and perhaps Embu, Chuka, and others) may have migrated from Mt Meru/Chagga/Taita region downstream the Athi Galana River and into the Kenya coastline and into Shungwaya. All may not have been well in Shungwaya and after a short stay they turned back from Shungwaya and migrated along Tana River through Galla people to Meru, Embu, and the Kikuyu in that group settled in Kerinyaga, just next to the Kikuyu who were in Metumi. The Kikuyu in Metumi would call them Ndia or ‘irigia’ meaning the last to arrive. The group that settled in Kirinyaga had by then acquired a different accent due to the long period of separation from the Kikuyu who were already in Metumi. Most of the migration to Kabete and Gaki happened after the Kikuyu of Kirinyaga had arrived. One thing that is certain is that crossing the Tana River anywhere down the Thika/Thagana confluence was a difficult task to these people and required lots of time and preparations. The way the Ndia/Gichugu, Metumi/Gaki/Kabete, and Kamba are defined by Thagana and Thika Rivers today may be the very same way they were defined 500 years ago after they migrated to Mount Kenya region.


Mwaria 4 years ago

It is also noteworthy that rivers played some role in migration and segregation of communities. For instance, I believe the Gikuyu sojourned at the coast for some time (this is because I believe Swahili language borrowed from gikuyu language in antiquity). The Gikuyu must have followed river thagana (tana) on their way to the slopes of aberdares and mt Kirinyaga. I believe the kamba must have migrated from tanzania a little bit later, but were segregated from the gikuyu largely by river thagana. Likewise the gikuyu in kirinyaga, the embu and meru could easily interact as they all lived on the edge of mt kenya’s forest. It would be easier for gikuyu in kirinyaga to interact with gaki as well. The metumi on the other hand could interact easily with kabete. The rivers got wider in the plains and more difficult to cross. River tana must also have formed a natural barrier between gikuyu and kamba, at least in some way


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

@ mutemi

thanks for your opinion. I am merely advancing a different theory. For example the Nyaga in Kirinyaga is contentious. Some people like me believe it has nothing to do with ostriches. However, I welcome differing opinions so that the truth with out.


Peter Mutemi 4 years ago

I think Mbooni(a place of buffaloes) has nothing to do with breeding. Its the kamba name for buffalo. Closely interlected with Kikuyu, meru n embu's 'Mbogo'


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Hello Mwaria,

My belief is that even administrative names had a basis. Sometimes the word was a corruption of another word that the Colonial Administrator found difficult to pronounce. Take Machakos for Masako, or Kisumu for Kisuma and Kajiado for Olekejuado. Even Gicugu and Ndia had some significance to the local community of that area. The naming of places (culturally) is a whole science in itself. Someone told me that Mathira and Mazeras are related and are an indication of the Nyeri/Kikuyu areas of settlement. I cannot dismiss it and I cannot prove it.

The Embu as I have said somewhere in one of my hubs were at one time called Kembu. They played the same role that the Kiambu Kikuyu played - to ward off the Maasai before help arrived from the interior. I would agree therefore that the distance from the centre has contributed to the Embu accent (it is not a dialect). I think you can tell us sincerely if the Gicugu and Ndia have deviated enough to be termed a dialect.

I would also agree, if you propose so, that proximity to the Akamba has caused borrowing that introduces words that are not common in Muranga, Kiambu and Nyeri. In the same vein, proximity to the meru would cause some borrowing or pronouncing some words in the Meru manner. This can lead to enrichig an accent and perhaps acceletate its progression into a dialect.

I beg to disagree with your view that an Embu wife's children would cause a new dialect to form when they interact with the children of the Kikuyu wives. The Children would merely choose the dominant accent and work hard to conform. Incidentally, I know of a Nyeri man who married a Kirinyaga woman. The boys Identified with their father and speak to this day in a Nyeri accent. The girls speak in the Kirinyaga accent and you can guess who their heroine was. This is a natural experiment where a new dialect did not come into place.


Mwaria 4 years ago

Thanks Emmanuel, Thanks Ngureco.

Your research on origin and history of various African communities reads like a breath of fresh air, as it us to interrogate what we learnt in history books. Regarding my comment on gicugu and ndia, these are administrative names which were given to these constituencies at independence and therefore they are of no greater significance than names such as othaya, mathioya, mathira, etc. Hence my claim that the names gicugu and ndia may not really represent identity of the people in these areas per se. However, let the discussion continue on why their dialect is different from metumi, gaki and kabete. Regarding my comment on intermarriage with embu and impact on language.. take for instance a gikuyu man with 5 wives in the traditional setting. The man would occupy a different hut while each of the wives would a different huts with her children. If one of the wives is from Embu, don’t you think the children, having limited interaction with their gikuyu father, will end up speaking a language somewhere between gikuyu and embu? However, they will end up adopting the father’s clan as per the norm. I think there was more interaction between gikuyu in kirinyaga with embu people than say metumi. I also note that people in kirinyaga and embu tended to name people after animals, i.e. nyaga, ndwiga, ngari, munyi, njogu, etc


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Happy New Year Ngureco.

This is a very wild guess about the origins of Gichugu. The Kikuyu word for pigeon pea is Njugu (Nzuu in Kamba).

Could it be that these people were the first to introduce the 'pigeon pea' (Cajanus indica). The plant's history stretches 3500 years according to the Wikipedia. It crossed into East Africa from India and may have coincided with the migration of the 'Gicugu' - Great pegion pea.


babe 4 years ago

it soo nice


ngureco profile image

ngureco 4 years ago

I would want to thank Mwaria for stopping by, and for his views. I hope he will be visiting here frequently as there are very many issues we may be interested in discussing with people from these three places: Ndia, Gichugu and Embu.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks Teresa for encouragement and fan mail.

Mwaria, you have given me an different angle to Ndia. I have always imagined the word to mean 'the last one,' from the Kikuyu word Kurigia and the clan 'Warigia.' Now that you have attached 'pond' to Ndia, that makes it even more interesting because my theory is that the Kikuyu came from around lake Tana in Ethiopia. Since I also believe that the Ndia were the last group in the migration, associating them with water is quite appropriate. I do agree with you that Gicugu and Ndia are Kikuyu and their language is a mere dialect that is intelligible to Muranga, Nyeri and Kiambu groups. The difference is not so much the distance from the centre (it is not much of a distance geographically) but the time of separation during migration. The Meru who are now distictly different linguistically would have been separated the longest, but they still had an affinity to the Kikuyu. Kikuyu Embu and Meru cooperated long before colonialism and the forming of the GEMA political group.


Mwaria 4 years ago

Allow me to make some statements about gicugu and ndia as i come from there..

'gicugu' and 'ndia' are more of administrative names more than identity of the people. 'Ndia' means 'pond forming along a river'. In ancient world, this is where gikuyu people used to bathe as there were no bathrooms in present day sense. I have no idea on origin of the name 'gicugu'.

The people of ndia and gicugu themselves do not doubt if they are gikuyu or not. Their forefathers observed all the known gikuyu rituals. Regarding their accent, I attribute this to distance from the center and intermarriage with Embu and Meru. FYI, in gicugu division itself, there are over 4 different accents - they vary depending on distance from Embu and Nyeri / Muranga on the other side. I could be wrong. Over to you Emmanuel


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Very interesting anthropological study. Human dispersal is always interesting to investigate and understand. Many factors contribute to clan and tribe formation in all parts of the world!


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Thanks for this querry. You are right that a clan should ordinarily grow and grow, producing subclans within it and eventually becoming a subtribe. As you have rightly observed, the Mt. Kenya region clans of 9+1 have remained the same fore centuries with no sizable subclans to talk about. The reason, as I have always maintained is that the nine girls were not real daughters in the true sense. These were section heads in the Pharaohs harem. When they all moved out they arrived in many places where the girls felt they had more class than the males around who had different cultures and not of 'royal' connections. Note royoal connection does not mean born in a royal family. The men had first to adopt ancient Egyptian ways like circumcision and religion before the girls would agree to 'TAKE THEM.'


ngureco profile image

ngureco 4 years ago

Recently I had the opportunity to check with Gichugu and Ndia and found out that all the 9-plus clans are well blend there, just as it is in Gaki. I believe this should also be the case in Metumi and Kabete.

The variation in dialect between Gichugu and Ndia on one hand and Gaki, Metumi and Kabete on the other hand would suggest the two may have at one time lived separately for perhaps 20, 50, 100 years or so. When the two groups eventually found each other, did they use the names of the clans to determine they are the same people?

In anthropology, what happens when a clan becomes too big? It becomes a tribe, chiefdom, or a state and the smaller sub-clans become new full clans. The old name of a sub-clan will become the name of the new clan. If the clan becomes too big it can also split and a few sub-clans may combine forming a new full clan. The combining sub-clans will have to sort out among themselves the name of the new clan.

If the 9-plus clans are well blend in Gichugu, Ndia, Gaki, Metumi and Kabete, would this suggest that the 9-plus clans had formed themselves before their migration into the Mount Kenya, as well as before the variation of the dialect?


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

You have introduced an interesting angle. The Somalis practice that kind of FGM. And they are very numerous, stretching from the Ogaden in Ethiopia to Somalia and down to the North Eastern Kenya. It is not a practice that would have been embraced by a small community as it would have heralded its demise. It follows then that captive communities in Egytp rushed to abandon the practice once they were out. They however maintained a 'little snipping' as a rite of passage. The fact that the Akamba appear to have gone overboard may imply that the community was under serious threat of extinction due to drought, disease and probably harassment by a more powerful group.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

Thank you for the update you have done to this article.

FGM is one issue in a culture that has been very difficult to eliminate among many Bantus of Kenya. Pharaonic (FGM type III) cut was the favorite for ancient Egyptians under the pharaohs since this would “seal” a girl completely till marriage to the lucky selfish male. This in itself is in line with the belief that virginity is very precious to a girl and her society. How would one explain that the Kamba people, who at one time might have been people of Amenemahats (pharaohs), would dare accept virginity as a despised state?

And it looks very attractive that the Kambas were at one time in Shungwaya. It would seem like most Bantus of central and eastern Kenya had waves moving up and down between Shungwaya, Kenya and Tanzania.

And I would agree with you that the separation between the Kikuyu and Kambas happened a little bit earlier outside Kenya.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

Note also the ostracised 'Osu' of the Igbos in No longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe. The Igbos had nine villages (read clans) and I strongly believe that these osu are the same Thagishu but ware not completely accepted in igbo, hence the taboo of marrying into them.

correction: Using Gishu above should Uasin Gishu

I have found a text by a colonial era scholar who groups the Aceera and Agaciku as having come from the Akamba.

The Thagicu issue as you say is complicated and might need an independent study.

The text above is now updated


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

Thank you for explaining this. The issue of Thagicu has always baffled me. At one time the history portrays them as a very powerful group that is untouchable, and then the next century they are almost completely assimilated by new comers. This makes me wonder if the new arrivals deliberately used assimilation as a strategy rather than a natural occurrence? Indeed, the history of the Thagicu around mountain Kenya seems very complicated.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

My theory is linguistic. Kamba is the antique language among the closely related Mt. Kenya Languages. I'd like linguists to comment on this. Kamba is monosyllabic, while Kikuyu has signs of monosyllabism with words enriched by prefixes. This I have concluded by comparing with ancient Egyptian Cognates. I theorise that when a separation occurred in Ancient Egypt during the reign of Thothmes, present day Kikuyu spoke a tongue akin to present day Kamba. The Thagicu in my opinion, represents remnants of the Kingdom of Kush. They seem to be represented in every community south of Ethiopia under names that end with 'isu; ishu.' The area that is today called the 'Using Gishu' may be the core and dispersal point of these 'Ishu' people who were arbsorbed by variuls communities.

In my opinion, any splitting of communities around the Mt. Kenya is very recent, and cannot cause distinct differences like 'Kikuyu and Kamba or Meru and Kamba. Perhaps the difference between Embu and Kikuyu can happen in a space of less than 500 years.

Perhaps I should have said that Kikuyu is the later linguistic variant when compared with Kikamba; Kikamba is the more ancient language liguistically, and that may mean the culture as well.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

“Kikuyu are descended from the Akamba” – that is a very strong statement. Traditionally, the Kambas of Kitui are called Uthaisu. Uthaisu maybe what kikuyu call Thagicu. What may have happened is that a larger grouping of people called Thagicu, with varied accents of Thagicu language, may have split forming several smaller groups called Kikuyu, Kamba, etc, but still retaining the die hard pockets of those who insisted in continuation of their name as thagicu or a variation of that name. The Kambas of Kitui may be one of the die hard Thagicu who refused to change their name but insisted on calling themselves the original name, Uthaisu.

This is like what happened when kanu disintegrated. If you look in the neighborhood of river Thagana/Chania, you will notice Uthaisu in Kitui, Thagicu in Mavulia location of Mbeere district, Thagicu in Tharaka distict and some other pockets of people with the same name along the Tana river.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya Author

It's always great to hear from you Ngureco.

You are right about the Ethaga being the same as the Ethanga of the Akamba. I think it is Kenyatta in 'facing Mt. Kenya who says that the Ethaga represent the Chagga of Mt. Kilimanjaro area. I have heard that the aceera are the ones representing the Akamba in among the Kikuyu. I don't know about the Agaciku.

Clan, ideally should be the descendants of one patriarch or matriarch as the Kikuyu clans as supposed to be, going by the Mumbi story. But this supposition is defeated when an entire tribe like the Chagga is represented among the Kikuyu. I think a group of migrants from one tribe to another could also be the beginning of a clan. For example if a group of IDP's from the luhya settle among the Kikuyu and adopt the culture, their progeny would eventually be a distinct clan. I think this is what happened is some cases among both the Kikuyu and the Akamba.

A clan was also associated with its trade, eg. the Atui - Blacksmiths; Ambura (of Nyambura)- the rain makers.

I personally believe as some accounts have stated that the Kikuyu are descended from the Akamba, and therefore the Kamba culture is the older one. Traditions of the Akamba claim this too. I will be adding more material later.

Your last question on distribution of the clans would require further reading. I have no idea, and hopefully someone will give us a clue here.


ngureco profile image

ngureco 5 years ago

This is another good article and I have liked it, from you, Kariuki. I have to comment but first I have to apologize for my comment will touch on Kikuyu clans more than the Kamba clans.

It is said that Kambas are “cousins” to Kikuyus. I believe the Ethanga clan mentioned here for the Kambas is the same clan as the Ethaga (Ambura) in the Kikuyu clans. I have also heard elsewhere that the Agaciku and the Aceera clans of the Kikuyu people are said to be descendants from the Chagga people of Kilimanjaro?

Now, was the formation of clans based on association of persons descended from a common ancestor, or could as well have been an association of persons specializing in a certain job/trade? Ideally, persons descended from a common ancestor would tend to concentrate on one region. How is the distribution of the nine-plus Kikuyu clans in Kabete, Metumi, Gaki, Ndia and Gichugu?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working