Bantus in Kenya
The Bantus in Kenya migrated from Central Africa at about 2000 BC. A sedentary agricultural life pressurized them to move in search of more fertile lands.
The word ‘Bantu’ simply means ‘human beings’. They migrated from Central Africa at about 2000 BC. A sedentary agricultural life pressurized them to move in search of more fertile lands.
The Bantus are divided into three sub-categories: Highland, Inter-lacustrine and North-East Coast groups. The Bantus are industrious farmers.
Bantu speakers account for nearly two-thirds of the population although they traditionally occupy less than a third of the national territory. Their land, however, is among the most fertile and supports agricultural and animal husbandry.
They are the largest group in Kenya and entered the country from the east and south. The Agikuyu, Chuka, Mbeere, Ndia, and Aembu migrated from West Africa, probably Nigeria. The Abaluhya are said to have come from Asia and traveled through Egypt Congo and Uganda into South Nyanza.
The Akamba believe they traveled northwards from Tanganyika although some historians are of the view that they branched off from the coastal Bantu. By 100AD, the Bantu had intermarried with Arab traders who had set base at the Coast. Kiswahili, which was to become the lingua franca of the Coast and eastern Africa, was the result of the union.
Towns such as Mombasa and Malindi also emerged. With the coming of colonialists and subsequent control of the region in the early 1900s, some groups were displaced. The Bukusu, a sub-group of the Luhya, were separated from their cousins, the Bagishu, now in Uganda. The Kenya-Tanzania boundary separated the Maasai who today live in the two countries.
Bantus in Kenya – North, East Coast Bantu
Bantus in Kenya – Highland Bantu
Bantus in Kenya – Inter-clustering Bantu
Although each of the communities shares the root language, their own languages, dialects, and variations are not necessarily mutually intelligible.
The Agikuyu are the largest single group in Kenya. The Luhya are the second-largest Bantu speakers. ‘Luhya’ refers to both the people and the languages, and the group has 16 sub-tribes. The dominant are the Maragoli, Abanyore, Isukha, Abakhayo, and Abanyala in Busia and Kakamega, and Bukusu in Bungoma. Others are Abamarachi, Abatsotso, Abasamia, tiriki, Wanga, Marama, Idakho, Kisa and Abatachoni.
The Luhya are farmers who grow cassava, tea, maize, wheat, rice, and sugarcane. The Bukusu and the Wanga are mainly cash crop farmers and the Saamia fishermen and traders.
The linguistic groupings form the rich cultural diversity that is the basis of Kenya’s development, social cohesion, and peace.
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The diversity is a national driving force linguistically, economically and politically. Groups share many similarities and differences within and among themselves.
Reasons for the Migration of the Bantus from their Original Homeland to Kenya
- Growing population and need for more space.
- The need for more land for cultivation.
- Search for additional pastures.
- Internal quarrels arising especially from population pressure.
- Attacks from neighboring communities
- Prevalence of diseases
- The spirit of adventure
Bantus in Kenya – Video