Economic Activity In Ukambani

During the pre-colonial period, long before the arrival of colonials, the Kamba were acclaimed long distance traders who organized sophisticated caravans that shipped ivory from Ukambani to Arab traders along the Kenyan Coast – a distance of 500 miles. Ivory was exchanged for copper, bracelets, beads, cloth, and salt. These items were transported back to trading centers in Machakos, Kaani and Kitui.

By the time the British arrived in Kenya, Machakos was already a thriving commercial center. The Akamba locally referred to it as “Masaku,” named after a famous Akamba Elder called Masaku. The British transformed the word ‘Masaku’ into ‘Machakos’ though many Akamba still call it Masaku. 

Their proximity to the coast, and the need to trade (especially in times of drought), meant that the Kamba were also traders, and became deeply involved in the Zanzibar-dominated ivory and slave trade. Their knowledge of much of the Kenyan interior was thus a great help to the early western explorers.

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