Kamba -The people

In this post have combined all the information i could lie my eyes and ears on The Kamba community, tribe, Culture and everything...just all i could think of!


The Bantu-speaking Kamba are numerically Kenya's fourth-largest people, and live in the largely semi-arid hills of Ukambani north of the Nairobi-Mombasa road, between Nairobi and Mount Kenya and eastwards towards the Tsavo East National Park near the coast. They came originally from the region of Mount Kilimanjaro in the south, and are known in Kenya both for their skill at wood carving, and for the way in which they have successfully eked out an agricultural living from the marginal lands on which they live.
Less westernized than the Kikuyu, the Kamba have nonetheless long been in contact with Europeans, ever since the missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf arrived in 1849. 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 and missionaries.
Still, the poverty of their land ensured that the Kamba remained less affected by European colonisation than the related Kikuyu, as the British saw little value in settling in Ukambani.
The Kamba were much involved in the struggle for independence, and were included in the post-independence government. Many Kamba traditions have disappeared or adapted to modern economic and social realities over the last few decades, such as their religion, political and social structures. Their traditional music, especially drumming, has now all but gone. In its place is a vibrant Kamba pop music - part of the "benga blast" wave of the 1980s.

Facts & Figures

Also known as: Akamba, Ukamba, Masaku, Kitui, Mumoni.
Ethnic group: Central Bantu (Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Kikuyu-Kamba). They are related to the neighbouring Kikuyu and Embu peoples.
Neighbouring tribes: Embu/Mbeere, Kikuyu, Maasai, Meru, Mijikenda (Giriama), Orma, Pokomo, Taita.
Language: Most Kamba are at least bilingual in Kikamba (Kekamba) and Kiswahili, and many also speak English. Dialects include Masaku, South Kitui, North Kitui and Mumoni. 67% lexical similarity with Gikuyu, 66% with Embu, 63% with Chuka, 57% to 59% with Meru. 25% to 50% literate (this is possibly an underestimate).
Population: 2,448,302 (1989 census), comprising roughly 11% or 11.5% of the Kenya's population. A more recent estimate (1995) puts the number of Kikamba-speakers at around three million.
Location: Machakos, Kitui and South Central Districts of Eastern Province, to the southeast of Mount Kenya, and north of the Nairobi-Mombasa road. The area is locally known as Ukambani (or the Ukamba Highlands), and consists mostly of the high cliffs and maize-covered slopes of the Mbooni Hills ("place of the buffalo"), ranging between 500 and 2100 metres in altitude. The main towns are Machakos and Kitui. There's a small emigrant population near Kwale in Coast Province, and elsewhere in Kenya.
Way of life: The Kamba were traditionally agriculturalists and traders, and have long been involved in the police and armed forces. Agriculture remains the primary activity; small herds of cattle, sheep, goats are also kept. They are known in Kenya for their excellence in wood carving.
Religion: 60% Christian, 39% traditional religion, 1% Muslim. Contact with Christianity began around 1850, and it seems likely that many more Kamba have now become Christian than the figure stated above.
References: This information has been gathered from a number of sources. The best general sources about Kenyan culture are Andrew Fedders & Cynthia Salvadori's excellent "Peoples and Cultures of Kenya" (1979: Transafrica, Nairobi), and the equally good series of booklets produced by the Consolata Fathers in Nairobi, sadly now out of print. Specific sources that have been of help in writing this site are credited where appropriate. also noted is David Solomon's basic knowledge of the tribe.

Kambas make up about 11 percent of Kenya's total population. They speak the Kamba (or Kikamba) language.
Kamba people have special skills in woodcarving and basketry. They are also involved in other activities such as hunting, farming and pastoralism.

History of the Kamba Tribe

Kambas were involved in the long distance trade during the pre-colonial period. In the mid-eighteenth century, a large number of Akamba pastoral groups moved eastwards towards the Tsavo and Kibwezi areas along the coast. This migration was the result of extensive drought and a lack of pasture for their cattle. The Kambas settled in the Mariakani, Kisauni and Kinango areas of the coast of Kenya, creating the beginnings of urban settlement. They still reside in large numbers in these towns, and have become absorbed into the cultural, economic and political life of the modern-day Coast Province.

Culture & Lifestyle

In Kamba culture, the family is central to the life of the community. Before marriage, a man must pay a bride price (known as dowry), made in the form of cattle, sheep and goats, to the family of the bride. In a rural Kamba community, the man, who becomes the head of the family, undertakes an economic activity such as trading, hunting or cattle herding. He is known as Nau,Tata or Asa. The woman works on the land she is given when she joins 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, arrowroot and cassava. Traditionally, it is the mother's role to raise the children.
Very little distinction is made between an individual's own children and the children of their sister or brother. Children address their uncle or aunt as tata (father) or mwaitu (mother). They often move from one household to another with ease, and are made to feel at home by their parents' siblings. Grandparents (Susu and Umau) help with the less strenuous chores around the home, such as rope making, tanning leather, cleaning calabashes and making arrows. Older women continue to work the land as their source of food, independence and economic security.
The Kamba tribe is also called the Akamba, and individuals of the tribe are referred to as Mukamba. The group is from the dry eastern and central regions of Kenya, between the cities of Nairobi, Tsavo and Embu.

While other Kenyan tribes can usually be categorized by certain trades or occupations, the Kamba tribe is involved in many economic areas. The Kamba are farmers as well as nomadic pastoralists. They wield quite a bit of economic power, as traders in all forms of goods. Traditionally, the Kamba traded with many other tribes, like the Kikuyu, Masai, and Meru.

History of the Kamba

The origins of the Kamba begin in western Tanzania, where they migrated from. Coming through the Usambara Mountains, they settled into eastern Kenya.
Some of the tribe were forced to migrate closer to the coast due to 18th century droughts in their homelands. Many of the modern coastal cities have sizable populations of Kamba, though there are still large numbers living in rural areas.
Their settlements along the coast, and trading ties with inland tribes made members of the Kamba tribe very valuable as guides to the first European settlers. From guides, many Kamba ended up then serving in the British military during both World Wars.
As the colonization of Kenya continued, the Kamba did not lose as much of their land as some other tribes due to its dry and somewhat unproductive climate. Though they did not lose as much land as others, they did lose their unique trade routes with the coming of the British railway through the country.

Kamba Culture and Lifestyle

Before marriage, a man pays a substantial price in cattle to the family of the bride. The husband is head of the household, and the wife is responsible for all duties in the home including tending the family's crops. Extended families live close together, and children tend to move freely among the adults, staying with parents as well as aunts and uncles.
Initiation into adulthood is marked with circumcision, for males and many females as well. Female circumcision is officially banned in Kenya, but many among the Kamba still hold the tradition.
The tribe is well-known for its artistic abilities, especially wood carving, basket making and pottery. Their work is found all over Kenya in shops and galleries.

Kamba Religion

The traditional god of the Kamba tribe is Ngai, or sometimes he is called Mulungu. He is considered a merciful god, but not approachable by man. People make offerings to the spirits of their dead ancestors to intercede with Ngai on their behalf. These beliefs are not as common as in the past, with most of the Kamba being converted Christians.

Related pages:

For more pages check on the archives of these website.

David Solomon, Kamba, my people Mwingi Kenya.


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