The region east of Nairobi towards Tsavo National Park is the traditional homeland of the Akamba people (Ukambani). They migrated here from the south several centuries ago in search of food, mainly the fruit of the baobab tree which was accorded great nutritional value.
The Akamba were great traders and ranged all the way from the coast to Lake Victoria and up to Lake Turkana. Ivory was one of the main barter items but locally made products such as beer, honey, iron weapons and ornaments were also traded. They used to obtain food stocks from the neighbouring Maasai and Kikuyu, as their own low-altitude land was relatively poor and couldn’t sustain the increasing population which followed their arrival in the area.
In colonial times the Akamba were highly regarded by the British for their intelligence and fighting ability and were drafted in large numbers into the British army. Thousands lost their lives in WWI. When it came to land, however, the British were not quite so respectful and tried to limit the number of cattle the Akamba could own (by confiscating them) and also settled more Europeans in Ukambani. The Akamba response was the formation of the Ukamba Members Association, which marched en masse to Nairobi and squatted peacefully at Kariokor Market in protest. After three weeks the administration gave way and the cattle were eventually returned to the people.
All adolescents go through initiation rites to adulthood at around the age of 12, and have the same age-set groups common to many of Kenya’s peoples. The various age-set rituals involve the men, and the women to a lesser extent, gaining seniority as they get older.
Young parents are known as ‘junior elders’ (mwanake for men, mwiitu for women) and are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the village. Once his children are old enough to become junior elders. Themselves, the mwanake goes through a ceremony to become a ‘medium elder’ (nthele), and later in life a ‘full elder’ (atumia ma kivalo) with the responsibility for death ceremonies and administering the law. The last stage of a person’s life is that of ‘senior elder’ (atumia ma kisuka) with responsibility for the holy places.
Akamba subgroups include Kitui, Masaku and Mumoni.