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Kenya communities can be classified into three linguistic groups namely the Bantu, the Nilotes and the Cushites. They migrated into Kenya and came into contact with the earliest inhabitants who were of the Khoisan stock.


Communities of Kenya.




Classification of Kenya communities.


a)  Bantu

The term ‘Bantus’ refers to people who speak related languages. These people call Man ‘Mtu’ and their origin is Zaire (formerly known as Congo).

From their original homeland, they migrated slowly eastwards until they reached and settled in Kenya. The Bantu may be split into two categories:

i)  The Eastern Kenya Bantu

This category includes the Akamba, Kikuyu, Ameru, Embu, Taita, Giriama, Kombe, Chonyi, Digo, Rabai, Jibana, Pokomo, Duruma, Kauma and Ribe.

From Congo forest they reached Mt. Kilimanjaro and moved to Taita hills where they dispersed in different directions. Those who went and settled at Shungwaya were later forced to migrate into the interior of Kenya following the course of river Tana by the Oromo. A few such as the Mijikenda were left at the Coast.

ii)  The Western Kenya Bantu

This category includes the Abagusii, Abaluhyia, Abakuria, Abasuba and the Abakhene. This group of people settled in western Kenya. Some like the Abagusii entered Kenya from Uganda.

b)  Nilotes

The Nilotes migrated into Kenya from Sudan but they passed through Uganda.

They may be split into three categories:


i)  The River-Lake Nilotes

 This category includes the Luo who live on the shores of Lake Victoria. They migrated from south-eastern Sudan in the Bahrar – el -Ghazal region and entered Uganda. Later they left Uganda and moved into Kenya.

ii)  The Plain Nilotes

This category includes Samburu, Maasai, Karamojong, Teso and Turkana. They entered Kenya from Southern Ethiopia and passed along the shores of Lake Turkana.

iii)   The Highland Nilotes

This category includes the Nandi, Keiyo, Tugen, Marakwet and Kipsigis. They migrated from North-West of Lake Turkana in Ethiopia.




c)  Cushites

The Cushites entered Kenya from the North Eastern direction. They were coming from the horn of Africa which was their original homeland.

The Cushites may be split into two categories:

i) The Eastern Cushites

This category includes the Oromo, Somali, Rendile, Gabbra, Shangilla and Burji.

ii) The Southern Cushites

These migrated into Kenya from the Ethiopian Highlands. They went southwards and settled between Kenya and Northern Tanzania.

This category includes the Sanye, Dahallo and Boni living at the mouth of River Tana.


The causes and effects of the migration of the Bantu communities (e.g. Kikuyu, Kamba, Meru and the Mijikenda)


a)  Causes of migration

  • Over population
  • Civil wars or internal wars
  • External attacks
  • Need to move for adventure
  • Need for better pastures for their livestock
  • Draught and famine
  • Need for cultivable land
  • Outbreaks of diseases or epidemics
  • Knowledge of iron smelting and making of superior iron weapons encouraged the Bantu people to migrate


b)  Effects of migration

There was assimilation of communities the Bantu people came across e.g. the Southern Cushites were assimilated by the Bantu who came into contact with them. The Kikuyu assimilated the Athi, Dorobo and Gumba.

Intermarriages with other communities occurred. For instance, the Kikuyu intermarried with the Kamba and Maasai.

New political institutions developed for instance the institution of ‘Muthamaki’ among the Kikuyu. Bantu communities borrowed the cultural practices of the people they came across. The Kikuyu for example borrowed the cultural practices like circumcision of the Gumba and the Athi. They also borrowed the age-set system.

Migration accelerated wars with other communities. Some communities were displaced after being conquered and made to disperse. The Bantu communities interacted with people of other linguistic groups through trade, raids and marriages.

There was enrichment of language through word borrowing. Some Bantu communities were forced to change their economic way of life for example to change from cultivators to pastoralists.


Why the Nilotic communities migrated from the Sudan into Kenya.


  • Due to epidemics which attacked people and animals.
  • Due to drought and famine.
  • Due to internal or civil wars.
  • Due to external attacks
  • Due to love for adventure
  • Due to need to look for pastures for their animals.
  • Due to over population
  • Due to the need to look for cultivable land by communities who farmed.
  • Due to family and clan quarrels.


The effects of the migration of the Nilotes


  1. There was assimilation of communities.
  2. There was change in the economic activities of some communities for example the Luo became fishermen.
  3. There were inter marriages with other communities especially their neighbours for example the Abagusii and the Abaluhyia.
  4. There was interaction with communities the Nilotes came across.
  5. There was conquest and displacement of some communities.
  6. Wars increased between communities.
  7. There was borrowing of cultural practices by the people who came into contact with the Nilotes.
  8. Some communities developed new political institutions for example ‘Oloiboni‘ by the Maasai and the institution of ‘Orkoyiot‘ by the Nandi.
  9. There was enrichment of language through word borrowing.






Migration and settlement of the people of Kenya.






















Reasons for the migration of the Cushites.


The reasons why the Cushites migrated were need for pastures for their livestock, search for fertile land for cultivation, love for adventure, outbreak of diseases, external attacks, internal wars and clan feuds, over population and natural calamities such as drought and famine.


The effects of the migration of the Cushites.


The Cushites came into contact with other communities and there was cultural exchange. There was language enrichment as Cushites interacted with others. They assimilated other weaker communities. There was population increase after settling in better lands. Also there was expansion of trade.

There was interaction through trade, intermarriage and wars. The wars increased as the Cushites tried to acquire better pastures for their livestock. The Cushites for example the Oromo conquered and displaced the communities they came across in the process of migration. For instance, they dispersed the Bantu Communities who had settled at Shungwaya.


Review Questions.


  1. How did the Kenya communities interact during their migrations and settlements?
  2. Describe the migration of the:
    1. Cushites
    2. Bantu
    3. Nilotes

3. Identify the impact of the migrations of the following:

  1. Bantu
  2. Nilotes
  3. Cushites

4.  Describe the effects of the interactions of the Agikuyu and the people they came into contact with during migration.

5.  Describe the course and effects of the migration of the Luo.

6.  Why did the Bantu migrate from Shungwaya?

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EcoleBooks | History and Government Form 1 Notes : CHAPTER 4. THE PEOPLES OF KENYA UP TO THE 19TH CENTURY.


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