Arch. D’études Orientales


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There have never [says Lindblom] been any chiefs,3 although occasionally a rich person with a commanding personality has succeeded in attaining to the leadership within an extensive territory, as did Kivui in Kitui. Kivui lived in the time of Krapf, and was personally known to him. He was practically a kind of chief, a position which he had gained through his higher intelligence and his great physical strength. At the same time he was a great medicine man, and possibly provides an illustration of Frazer’s theory that kings and chiefs have their origin from medicine men, whose social influence sometimes advances them to the position of chiefs. He made his people victorious against their enemies, and many Akamba are said to have paid him taxes, and so even the Masai living at Donyo Sabuk.

In times of war, however, experienced warriors were selected as leaders, the so-called asilili and apiani, but their authority was only temporary, and in times of peace they occupied no public position in the tribe. On account of their great reputation, however, they often represented it in transactions with the Arabian merchants and other trading caravans which came up to Ukamba from the coast. They usually decided whether the caravans should be allowed to pass unmolested, and the leaders of the caravans were anxious to enter into a sworn brotherhood with them, according to the usual Kamba custom, so that they might thereby obtain protection for themselves and their property.

The home government is in the hands of a council of the elders, nzama, of which only atumza are members. This corporation is of a purely local character, and there is no authority for the whole country. The matumza grade does not in itself carry with it the right to a seat in the nzama, for which a separate and special payment is exacted. The most important function of the nzama is to act as a court, in which all cases are tried and decided. It also decides on wars of aggression (plundering raids); kzgole, lynching, which is practiced by the Akamba, may also only be ordered by the nzama. . . .

These old men and women of the nzama and the zpaembo (place of sacrifice) are the custodians of the tribe’s traditions, in the manners and customs pertaining to which they are well versed. They see that they are maintained, and they have, on the other hand, authority to prevent the rise of customs which they consider harmful, and can even abolish customs which are already in existence. Anyone who is in doubt as to how he ought to proceed in a certain case, according to the custom of the tribe, goes to a mutumza wa nzama for information, for which he pays a small fee, such as a goat, or, if he is a rich man, a bull.

This short description of the system of government, however, no longer tallies with the actual facts, since there is no sphere in which contact with Europeans so quickly makes itself felt on the old order of things as the political. Englishmen certainly follow in their colonies a principle of allowing the old order to remain as far as possible, and in consequence, among other things, the nzama still remains as the judging authority; but by the side of it, a system of chiefs has been established, the country being divided up into small districts, each having a "chief" (and under him "headmen"), who is responsible for the payment of the hut tax within his district. At first the most influential man in a district was appointed chief on principle. However, since the older men seemed to have a difficulty in understanding and appreciating the reforms for which they are required to work among the people, during the last few years intelligent younger men, who showed a better understanding of the new order of things, have been appointed. A "government school" has been established in Kitui, and to it are sent the sons of these "chiefs," to learn to read and write, in order that they may succeed to their fathers’ offices. Perhaps in time a hereditary chieftainship will be established in this way. The institution is still quite new, and most of these chiefs find it very difficult to assert their authority over the other atumza, who have never been accustomed to acknowledge any other authority than the nzama, of which, indeed, they were usually members themselves.1

3 Hobley does not treat of the system of government in his work, but mentions that the Akamba have chiefs, and even hereditary chiefs. From his description one inevitably gets the incorrect idea that chieftainship is one of their original institutions, while in reality it is very characteristic of the political organization of the Akamba that they have never had chiefs.

1Lindblom, G.n/an/an/an/an/a, "The Akamba," , 17: 149–151.


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Chicago: "Arch. D’études Orientales," Arch. D’études Orientales in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 11, 2023,

MLA: . "Arch. D’études Orientales." Arch. D’études Orientales, Vol. 17, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 11 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , 'Arch. D’études Orientales' in Arch. D’études Orientales. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 11 December 2023, from