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The Akamba (Kamba) people of Kenya

The Akamba are famous for wood curving of wildlife, humans and stools.

The Akamba are famous for wood curving of wildlife, humans and stools.

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.

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14 Major Clans

1. Akanga

2. Aketdini

3. Aketutu

4. Ambuane

5. Amoei

6. Amoieni

7. Amotei – trappers

8. Anzaone

9. Anzio

10. Asii

11. Atangoa

12. Atui – blacksmiths

13. Eembe

14. Ethanga

11 Minor Clans

1. Adine

2. Akeimei

3. Akuu

4. Amena

5. Amokabu

6. Amomone

7. Amooi

8. Amouti

9. Anilo

10. Aoani

11. Athonzo

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.