Pre Colonial Kenya History
Pre Colonial Kenya: There were three main ethnics groups during the pre-colonial period: Cushites, Nilotics, and Bantu. The Cushites migrated from Northern Africa to East Africa around 2000 B.C. and were the earliest group to settle in Kenya.
The Rift cushites were hunters and gatherers while North-East cushites were herders and pastoralists, dealing with agricultural livestock. The next group was the Nilotics, who emerged from Nile Valley. There were highlands nilotes, plain nilotes, and river lake nilotes. Plain nilotes dominated western and northern Kenya, while river lake Nilotes were pastoralists living near lake Turkana, where they also did a lot of fishing. Today, most river lake Nilotes are pastoralists. The last group was Bantu. They migrated to west, central, and eastern Kenya during the peak of Bantu migration in 1000 BC and they are the largest group in Kenya. Bantu were mostly mixed farmers. They cultivate, raised animals, trade among themselves and other for a living. Although they were classified as a group, the Bantu were so diverse that they have 16 different dialects. Other than these 3 major groups, there was the Swahili, which consisted of Persian and Arabian traders and immigrants.
Anciennt Kenya was inhabited by variety of groups that none established themselves as a kingdom. Each group had government represented by groups of elders, but possessed no specific centralized government. Although pre-colonial Kenya did not have any kingdom or great rulers, a kingdom was established in the 18th century called the Wanga Kingdom. Wanga has a centralized system with a king as a leader, whom they call a Nabongo. The predominant religion in Kenya today is Christianity. However, ancient people believe in spirits of their dead ancestors and that they will bring them good luck. Islam was introduced through merchants and immigrants during the 1st to 5th century and by the 8th century, Islam is accepted by some group rulers. Today, Islam is the second ranked religion in Kenya.
Visitors during the pre colonial period included traders, explorers and tourists who came in from various parts of the world such as Portugal, Arabia, Roman empire, India and Greece. They visited mainly the East African Coast from as early as the first century A.D. While the majority of the visitors went back to their countries, some settled, and intermarried with the local populations giving rise to a new Swahili culture along the Coast.
The civilisation base of craft industries, farming, fishing and international trade gave rise to both Coastal city states such as Siu, Pate, Lamu, Malindi, Gede, Mombasa and Vanga . Islam and Kiswahili language were also introduced . The traders from overseas brought such items as clothes, beads, wines, iron weapons, porcelain and handicrafts. These were exchanged for ivory, timber, gold, copper, rhinoceros horns, animal skins and slaves.
The first major European presence in East Africa started with the arrival of the Portuguese in the East African waters in 1498 when Vasco Da Gama’s fleet made its initial forays on its way to the East Indies. On the first voyage his only negotiations were with the ruler of Malindi and, indeed, for the next hundred years this alliance was the foundation of the Portuguese network in the region. Their quest to control and dominate the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, the conquest of several city-states along the coast, and the establishment of their dominance, lasted 200 years.
But their presence was hated and resisted and there were many insurrections against them. For example, on the 16th August 1631, the Arab Sultan of Mombasa called Dom Jeronimo Chingulia entered the Portuguese Citadel of Fort Jesus with a band of followers through the passage of the Arches. He killed the Portuguese Captain, Pedro Leitao de Gamboa, and then gave the signal to his followers outside the Fort to set fire to the Portuguese houses in the town. There was no marked resistance and in the course of the next two weeks all the Portuguese were killed. The Portuguese were finally kicked out of the Coastal towns through a combination of local nationalisms, aided by the Omani Arabs. To ensure the Portuguese did not return, Sultan Seyyid Said of Oman moved his capital to Zanzibar and ruled the entire East African Coastline until the establishment of British rule.