A Brief History

The Kamba people, also known as the Akamba, are a Bantu ethnic group of people who primarily live in the eastern region of Kenya (in Machakos, Makueni, and Kitui Counties, an area that is collectively referred to as Ukambani). Others, however, are located in the coastal region of Kenya, while others can be found outside Kenya in Uganda, Tanzania and even Paraguay in South America where the Kamba Cuá are well-known for their intense lively drumming and dancing. The Akamba speak the Kikamba language, and are closely related in language and culture to the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru and Mbeere ethnic groups.  Once a part of the greater Bantu empire, the Akamba broke off and began migrating from Western Africa at around 1000 AD. The fierce Kamba warriors and their families started moving eastward, taking the wealth of those they had conquered and keeping and selling other Africans as slaves to Arab traders. Invading the rich pasturelands of modern Kenya and northern Tanzania, the Kamba warriors shifted from fighting and hunting to farming.

The Kamba are then believed to have migrated from the Mount Kilimanjaro area in northeastern Tanzania where they had settled in at around 1300 AD. This belief is supported by renowned ethnologists Gerhard Lindblom and John Middleton, and is strengthened by the fact that the Kamba share many cultural similarities and common names with the Chaga Tribe of the Mount Kilimanjaro region.  From Mount Kilimanjaro, the Kamba moved to Taita and Mbooni Hills between the 15th and 17th centuries. Due to population pressures, some were forced to migrate and traveled through the plains to the coast, then up to Tana River through Shimba Hills to their current location in South-Eastern Kenya. It is speculated that the first group of Akamba people had arrived in Ukambani by the 17th century and opted to settle around the Mbooni Hills of present-day Machakos County. They selected Mbooni Mountains after generations of wandering the plains in search of better pastures. The Mbooni slopes and valleys were lush with permanent water and fertile soil and very conducive to agriculture, thus an ideal location to settle in. 

As the population grew, the Akamba people spread to the greater Machakos, Kitui and Makueni Districts. The Akamba found themselves in Kitui and Machakos in search of food and security after centuries of migration through the plains, valleys and over mountains. The Akamba were once a compact group occupying the region called Ulu (from the Kamba word meaning “upper”). One group went East of Ulu, crossed the River Athi and separated from the rest of the Kamba group for generations, settling in present day Kitui in the first half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, they extended their settlements into Kikumbuliu.

The name ‘Kenya’ has been attributed to the Akamba. Kenya derives its name from the tallest mountain in the country, Mount Kenya. German explorer Johann Ludwig Krapf wrote the earliest record of the name in the 19th century, and it is alleged that when Krapf was traveling with the local Kamba people, he asked about name of the mountain, and they told him that it was named “Kĩĩma- Kĩĩnyaa” or “Kĩ-Nyaa.” Ice or snow is called Nyaa in Kikamba. So, Mt. Kenya in Kikamba is ‘the place with ice or snow.’

Among the best-known Kamba people are: Chief Kivoi Mwendwa, the first Kamba chief in recorded history who rose to prominence, power, and wealth by trading elephant tusks, minerals, and slaves to the Arab, Indian, and Chinese colonizers on the African coastline; Prophetess Syokimau, a medicine woman and considered the greatest Kamba prophetess as she prophesied the coming of the White Man and the building of the railway line with shocking accuracy; and Muindi Mbingu, a fearless freedom fighter

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