Akamba are a Kenyan people who speak ki-kamba and are mostly found in the Central Eastern part of the country (Kitui, Machakos, Makueni, and Mwingi districts). Early pioneers in iron smelting within the region, the Akamba had advanced weaponry (e.g., iron-tipped arrows) that gave them an edge over surrounding communities and earned them a reputation as gallant warriors, great marksmen, and tradesmen. Trading mainly in ivory, beer, honey, iron implements, and beads, they bartered their wares with neighboring Maasai and Kikuyu, as well as with the Arabs along the coast.
The sociopolitical structure of the Akamba includes the family unit, musie (both nuclear and extended), which subsequently is a part of the small and the big clan (mbaT). A clan traces its origins to a known hero. There are about 20 big clans, each distinguished by its distinctive animal totem, with members considered close kin who predominantly practice exogamy. Initiation/ circumcision, nzaTko, provides another basis of defining subsets within the population. Occurring between the ages of 10 and 15, it sorts the population into age sets/groups.
At the clan level, ad-hoc councils of elders, nzama ya atunna—men and women selected by virtue of their old age (senior most age group), perceived wisdom, and respect in society—govern both the administrative and judicial affairs of the community. The elders comprise the highest formal authoritative body and have the final say on community matters. In this capacity, male elders administer a special oath (kubitu) with great mystic and magical potency meant to elicit information. Fear and respect for the medicine man (mundU mue) and the controller of evil (mUndu mUoU) also served as a primary component of social control.
According the Akamba creation myth, after creating the ancestral or spirits clan (mbaTya aimU), the Supreme Being (MUlungu/MwatUangi) created the first man and woman and placed them on Mt. Nzaui in Machakos. Imprints of God's feet are said to still be visible there. Spirits (and the living-dead), aimu, mediate between the dead and the living, as well as punish by inflicting illnesses and physical damages. For this reason, sacrifices are offered to them. The spirits also play a crucial role in the continuation of the community because they are understood to form the fetus in the woman's womb. At death, the human soul departs from the body and goes to the spirit world, becoming a living-dead.
Sacrifices to the Supreme Being and the spirits were performed at designated shrines and usually included chickens, goats, sheep, cattle, and, on rare occasions, a human child. In the latter case, only during national disasters such as famines, epidemics, and so on was a child from the ancestral clan sacrificed (usually at the foot of the sacred MUkuyii tree). This was the price that the ancestral clan had to pay for their failure to make designated blood sacrifices to the Supreme Being.
- Linblom, G. (1920). The Akamba in British East Africa (2nd ed.). New York: Negro Universities Press.
- Ndeti, K. (1972). Elements of Akamba Life. Nairobi: East African Publishing House.