The Akamba (Kamba) people of Kenya
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 in kikuyu which 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
7. Amotei – trappers
12. Atui – blacksmiths
11 Minor Clans
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
The Kenyan economy is bulging with numerous new opportunities for investors. Many existing sectors merely require improved efficiency and better public relations to compete with other global giants.
This year, 2013, marks 50 years after Kenya’s Independence in 1963. This hub commemorates the Jubilee by highlighting the thoughts of the founding father of the nation on that day.
Here, you will get a brief background of the Kikuyu people before progressing to the language, its structure, and vocabulary. There are simple dialogues to aid you in conversation practice.