The Akamba people stem from the Central Bantu. There is a lot of speculation about their origin. Some theories advance that they migrated northward to their present home from the Kilimanjaro; others assert that they branched off from the Coastal Bantus who were heading north. An additional theory says they originated from an ancient dispersal centre among the Mijikenda. Ancient mythology reveals that they exist in their present location courtesy of Mulungu (the Supreme Being) who projected the first Kamba man and woman on to Mount Nzaui.
This first couple was later joined by another from the centre of the earth. Mulungu, it is said, nourished the land they settled in with rain and it became fertile. Regardless of their origin, historical records place their early settlement in a place called Mbooni, at about four centuries ago. Initially they were hunters who kept small livestock and cultivated the land a bit.
The higher rainfall and fertile soil of the Mbooni region could have allowed them to settle down and become agriculturally oriented. From here, they expanded like a bon fire. Early trade interactions were mainly with the neighbouring Kikuyu, Embu, Tharaka, and Mijikenda and involved trade in poisoned arrows and iron implements. The arrival of ivory laden caravans at the Kenya coast signaled a second stage in the development of the Kamba economy.
These were traded for glass beads, salt, cloth, and copper, which were taken inland and used for barter. The Kamba are famed for their spiritual leaders who were often times, able to predict the future with such amazing accuracy. The arrival of the "long snake" (railway) and the Europeans for instance, were prophesied by Masaku, a famous spiritual leader. When the British came to Masaku, they transformed it into a thriving trading centre - the present day Machakos (a corruption of "Masaku").
The town became the primary upcountry administrative centre for the British. The Kamba economy was to later suffer huge setbacks occasioned by the loss of cattle to rinderpest, the arrival of the Europeans, and the subsequent ban on further expansion. With their land no longer fertile, natural erosion settling in and their unwillingness to cut down on their herds, the land finally gave in and triggered long spells of drought and famine that will be long remembered in Kamba land.
The Kamba are skilled craftsmen and make both practical tools and beautiful artwork. Iron and copper wire are used to make bracelets and arrowheads, as well as inlaid stools. Wood carving is a highly developed Kamba skill. Many of the really high quality carvings you will come across in Kenya are from Kamba craftsmen. Their women are also skilled in art of basketry especially using fibers from the baobab and wild fig trees.
The extended family (musyi) forms the basic unit of life among the Kamba. As with many other Kenyan people, political power originally resided with the elders (atumia) and in clan meetings (mbai). The British, however, ended this practice in the 19th century, imposing appointed leaders instead. The Kamba are among the few tribes still practicing clitoridectomy which the Kenyan government has been in the forefront of campaigning against.
In some parts there are two separate stages: the "small" ceremony (nzaikonini), which occurs when the child is between four and five years old and the "big" ceremony (nzaikoneni), which occurs when the child reaches puberty and is a more prolonged period of initiation. Scarring of the chest and abdomen for ornamental purposes is also common.
The Kamba, not surprisingly, valued bows and arrows as a primary weapon. Arrow tips were covered in lethal poison and kept moist by wrapping them in small pieces of leather which also prevented accidental injury. The long fighting sword (simi) and the throwing club completed the traditional Kamba arsenal.