The Akamba Community

The Akamba people are part of the Central Bantu linguistic group found in Kitui, Machakos, Makueni and Mwingi Districts in South Eastern Kenya. The area inhabited by the Akamba is called Ukamba. A large community of Akamba is also found in Kwale District of the Coast Province, having migrated there for economic reasons. Their common language is Kikamba.

Kamba traditional oral literature says that the Akamba originated from Kilimanjaro, a theory well supported by such renown ethnologists as Gerhard Linblom and John Middleton. This theory may be argued also by the fact that they share certain cultural aspect with the Wachagga of Kilimanjaro, for example one finds names that are common to both. That being the case, it is clear that the Akamba find themselves in Kitui and Machakos after centuries of migration through the plains, valleys and over mountains in search of food and security. One branch of the Akamba clan went East of Ulu, crossed the River Athi and separated themselves from the rest for generations. They settles in present day Kitui. Lindblom dates crossing of the River Athi and settlement in Kitui from Ulu in the first half of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century they extended their settlements into Kikumbuliu as well.

The Akamba were apparently once a compact group occupying the region called Ulu (from the Kamba word meaning “upper”). They considered Mbooni Mountains as the place where they settled after generations of wondering in the plains in search for better life. The Mbooni Mountain slopes and valley proved to lush with permanent water and fertile soil and so conducive to agriculture, and so they settled here.

Long before the arrival of the Europeans, the Akamba were great traders and organized caravans that brought ivory to the Arab traders in Mombassa (some 500 miles from their homes and back). There they exchanged the ivory for copper, bracelets, beads, rolls of cloth and salt. These items were taken back to Ukamba trading centers in Machakos, Kaani and Kitui. By the time the British arrived in Kenya, Machakos (local name to this date is “Masaku”, a name given to the commercial center in honor of the famous Elder of the place called Masaku, but the British could not pronounce the name, so it ended up as Machakos) had become an important commercial center.

Among the well respected people for their wisdom and guidance among the Akamba were two women seers (prophets), Syo Kimau (wife of Kimau) and Syo Ngonga (wife Ndonga, actually neighbor of the author). Syo Kimau foretold that a snake (trail) would carry people and run from the North (Nairobi) to the Sea (Mombasa) passing through the plains. Syo Ndonga foretold that people would carried by a flying bird (an airplane), and that soon people would arrive carrying fire in their pockets (match boxes). She also foretold that the new people with far superior knowledge would be speaking a language like the birds (English). These prophecies soon became true.

The Imperial British East Africa Company opened an office in Machakos in 1892 and a few years later he first Indian-owned stores opened and the use of currency was introduced In 1895, The company laid down its charter and a Protectorate over British East Africa was declared, the administration being taken over by the Foreign Office and later by the Colonial Office. A police office was soon established in Kitui in 1893 with the purpose of checking slave caravans. The British administration began only in 1898 with Machakos as the first capital of Kenya. However, with the building of the railway line from Mombasa, another more suitable place on he plains overlooking the Ngong Hills was discovered, Nairobi. This later became the new capital, only 70 miles from Machakos. And so the Akamba lost the capital.