The Pokomo People are one of the Coastal peoples of the North-Eastem Bantu group which includes the MijiKenda and Wataita, while the remaining North-Eastem Bantu peoples — the Wachagga Wapare and Wataveta, with the exception of some of the Wataveta in Kenya are found further south in Tanzania. The Central Bantu clusters occupy central Kenya around Mount Kenya. The Western clusters have their ancestral homes in areas between the Rift Valley and Lake Victoria, better known as Western Kenya.
The Wapokomo like other Coastal peoples have a common tradition of origin and migration from Shungwaya, the legendary town or territory supposed to have been situated on the southern Somali coast, somewhere in what is now Jubaland. They occupy the Tana valley in an area that extends from the coast into North-Eastem Kenya. The Tana river, which rises from the southern slopes of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares flows east through north-eastem Kenya, before making a south-easterly sweep to the Kenya coast. Tana River is called Ilvana in Pokomo, Galana Maro or dima in Oromo, Kiluluma in Kikamba and Gururuma (upper Tana) by the Swahili.
Traditions of origin and settlements of the Wapokomo are that Shungwaya must have been the original home of a number of clans, not only of the Pokomo, but also of Taita, Digo, Giriama and Segeju/Katwa tribes. The Wapokomo say that they were friends of the Galla until the latter began to covet their herds of cattle, resulting in wars, which made the Wapokomo to emigrate. They re- assembled and settled in a place remembered as Dana Sukutu along the Tana. After some centuries, they were attacked by the Galla.
The ethnographic survey by the International African Institute which was sponsored by the Colonial Social Science Research Council on the timing of the Pokomo migration had the following to say:
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Wapokomo, who pronounce their name as Wapokomo, are divided into four main groups or vyeti and into thirteen sub-groups. The four groups have distinct identities, territories and dialects. The territory of the ﬁrst major group, the lower Pokomo, is from Kipini to Bubesa in Salama location; the upper Pokomo occupy the area from Matanama in Ndera location to Roka near Masabuba; the Welwan (called Malakote by the other Pokomo) live in an area extending from Roka to Garissa; and the Munyo Yaya (meaning “Northern Pokomo” in Oromo; other Pokomo call them Korokoro) occupy an area extending from Garissa through Mbalambala.
The sub-groups or clans do not seem to have very distinctive characteristics. The names of the iyeti are associated with their long residence in their present settlements. Going downstream the iyeti, are in the following order: (l) Korokoro, (2) Malakote, (3) Malalulu, (4) Zubaki, (5) Ndura, (6) Kinakomba, (7) Grano, (8) Ndera , (9) Musina, (10) Ngatana, (l 1) Dzunza or Yunda, (12) Buu or Ngao, (13) Kalindi. The Zubaki are the largest sub-group.
The upper Pokomo call themselves Pokomo and refer to the lower Pokomo as Malachini (southemers) while the lower Pokomo in tum call themselves Pokomo and call the upper Pokomo Watu wa Dzuu (or Northerners); both descriptions have a derogatory tinge. Both the Oromo and the Somali call the Pokomo “Munyo”, meaning sedentary agriculturists. The upper and lower Pokomo speak a dialect of a Bantu language called Kipokomo, which is closely related to the Mijikenda dialects and to Kiswahili. Robert L.Bunger Jr. in the paper Islamization among the Upper Pokomo has written thus:
Although there are many differences in phonology, vocabulary, and grammar, the two dialects are mutually intelligible. Within upper Pokomo there are two sub-dialects, one spoken by the clan alliances of Ndera, Gwano, Kinakomba and Ndura and another spoken by Subaki and Malalulu.
The Munyo Yaya speak Oroma, and the Welwan speak their own language, which is said to be different and not mutually intelligible with Pokomo, Oroma and Swahili. All Pokomo dialects contain many Oroma loan Words as Well as some from Swahili and even English