HOW KENYA WAS NAMED AFTER A TRADITIONAL KAMBA MEAL

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By: Musoma JM (Activist, Publicist and Linguist)

History has it that Colonial masters coiled the name of our republic “Kenya” from Kinaa a traditional Kamba meal. Kenya was until 1920 known as the British East Africa Protectorate after the 1884 Berlin Conference that ushered in the Scramble for Africa. The continent had informal boundless territories ruled by community leaders before the Imperial partitioning, invasion, occupation, division and colonization of most of Africa by seven Western European powers which placed Kenya under the British.

When Dr. Ludwig Krapf the first missionary arrived in the country via Coast he was introduced to Chief Kivoi wa Mwendwa by the Sultan of Zanzibar in Mombasa. Since Kambas were reknown long distance traders who understood the terrain of the country well Dr. Ludwig Krapf picked Chief Kivoi to be his tour guide as he traversed the interior lands occupied by different communities.

On 3rd December 1849 Dr. Ludwig Krapf and a fellow missionary Johannes Rebmann of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS) began a tour in Central Kenya led by Kivoi Mwendwa. The influential long-distance and slave trader carried his packaged food called “Kinaa” a Kamba delicacy that can last for several days without going bad. Kinaa is some kind of Ugali made using a mixture of fermented sorghum and millet flour and is usually accompanied by some fermented milk called isandi.

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As Kivoi ate his packed food while climbing the mountain slopes, Dr. Krapf who was on a lower ground behind him pointed at the mountain peak and asked him what they called the mountain. As observed by Wangari Maathai in her autobiography “Un-bowed Woman” Kivoi mistakenly thought Ludwig was asking about the food he was eating and responded Kinaa. Dr. Krapf who couldn’t cope with the Kamba pronunciation of the word Kinaa only mention it with his European accent Kenyaa. When he went back to Germany and wrote about the discovery of the snow glazed equatorial Mt. Kenyaa it was met with disbelief and ridicule for many years. However the Country was later named Kenya a short form of Kenyaa which was hard for the colonial regime to pronounce.

Chief Kivoi Mwendwa resided along a river where Ukambani bounders Coast. The Arabs who did slave trade with Chief Kivoi named the place after him because that was one of his main stopover towns where his slave caravans settled before entering into the coastal town of Mombasa. Since they could not mention his name fully they called him Chief Voi instead of Kivoi and the town “Kwa-Voi”,which means the town of Mr. Voi.

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Another town named after Kivoi’s trade influence was Mariakani which means the “place we left our many weapons”. Kamba long distance traders led by Chief Kivoi had an agreement with the Sultanate of Zanzibar that they will not enter the town of Mombasa armed. They had to leave their bows and arrows at the nearby town centre. Mariakani is the Swahili pronunciation of “Mathyakani” a Kamba phrase derived from “Mathyaka” the plural of the word Thyaka. Thyaka is a Kamba name for the leather bag used to carry many arrows. Every trader left his Thyaka at that designated place under a huge tree hence the word “Mathyakani”. They carried the weapons for their security but they often used them for hunting wild animals along their way.

Chief Kivoi was born in 1780 in Kitui County and died on 19 August 1852 in the company of Dr. Ludwig Krapf. According to Dr. Ludwig Krapf, Chief Kivoi wa Mwendwa was killed together with his close slave trade associates after his caravan was attacked by armed robbers in the second expedition at Tana River two miles from Yatta. However craft escaped alive after firing gunshots in the air amid claims that he murdered Chief Kivoi to end slave trade. Dr. Ludwig Krapf luckily managed to escape the wrath of agitated supporters of the Chief who were baying for his blood and travelled to Yatta at midnight. He was since then labelled an enemy of the community and fled, shuttering his dream to settle in Ukambani.

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There are other versions of the naming of Kenya allegedly from an ostrich invested mountain “Kirima Kiri-nyaga”. However we cannot erase history, you and me know that ostriches don’t live in mountains. President Uhuru Kenyatta on his Mashujaa day 2021 speech affirmed that indeed Kenya was named after the Kamba word Kinaa that came from an important conversation between Dr. Ludwig Krapf and Chief Kivoi wa Mwendwa.

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