I begin with the Words of John Mbithi that ‘I am because we are’. This clearly shows that, any person who does not belong to a certain culture is considered to be lacking a sense of belonging in the community in the African cultural context.
Origin, Language and Location
The Kamba people are Bantu ethnic group who live in the semi-arid; they are stretching east from Nairobi towards the Coast and northern part of Kenya. Considering the new form of governance, Kamba land covers three counties that are; Makueni County, Kitui County and Machako’s county.
The Kamba people speak Kikamba (Mother tongue) which is a Bantu language and they are considered to be the fifth largest group. They are closely related in language and culture with other ethnic groups that are concentrated in the lowlands of Southeast Kenya from the vicinity of Mount Kenya to the Coast. The first group of Kamba people is said to have settled in Machakos county in a place called Mbooni Hills around the 17th Century before spreading to the other counties. The Akamba share borders with the Maasai people and they are literally separated by the Kenya-Uganda railway from Athi to Kibwezi.
Culture and Beliefs
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 born. The Akamba believe in a monotheistic, invisible and transcendental God, Ngai or Mulungu, who lives in the sky (ituni). Another venerable name for God is Asa meaning the Father. He is also known as Ngai Mumbi (God the Creator) and Mwatuangi (God the finger-divider). He is perceived as the omnipotent creator of life on earth and as a merciful Father. 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
Like any other culture, for the Akamba people; 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, 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 (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 social economic evolution. The Kamba clans are: Anzauni, Aombe, Akitondo, Amwei (Angwina), Atwii, Amumui, Aethanga, Atangwa, Amutei, Aewani, Akitutu, Ambua, Aiini, Asii and Akiimi.
Naming of Children in Akamba Culture
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 was 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. 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. Sometimes the names were used to preserve the good names for later children.
Like many Bantus, the Akamba were originally hunters and gatherers. They later 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. They later adopted subsistence 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. The Akamba traded in locally produced goods such as sugar cane wine, ivory, brass amulets, tools and weapons, millet, and cattle. The food obtained from trading helped offset shortages caused by droughts and famines experienced in their Kamba land. They also traded in medicinal products known as ‘Miti’ (plants), made from various parts of the numerous medicinal plants found on the Southeast African plains. The Akamba are still known for their fine work in wood carving, basketry, 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. Much of documented pre colonial history about the Kamba people revolves around Kivoi Mwendwa famously known as ‘Chief Kivoi’ (born in the 1780s). He was a Kamba long Distance trader who lived in the present day Kitui. He is best known for guiding first Europeans to reach the interior of the area of present day Kenya where the German missionaries Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), in 1849, discovered Mount Kenya. At that time, Kitui was the home of Kivoi and he had several other possessions along his caravan route. Kivoi commanded a large following, and it was he who met the missionaries in Mombasa, and guided them to Kitui where – on December 3, 1849 – they became the first Europeans to set eyes on Mount Kenya. Back in Europe, their reports of snow on the equatorial mountain were met with disbelief and ridicule for many years after.
Today there is a lot of change among the Kamba people due to exposure, education and technological advancement. Most of the cultural practices have been abandoned though some are still highly practised. MAY GOD BLESS KAMBA PEOPLE.
Scholastic Mbithi Clement Mutie MCCJ