Kenya - what is that ?



Kenya - what is that ?

Kenya got it's name from Mt. Kenya . But Mt. Kenya 's original name is Kirinyaga in the predominant Kikuyu language spoken along the slopes. The Europeans, however, approached the mountain from the side where the Meru community lived and lives, who could not pronounce the name Kirinyaga properly. They said Kiinya, the result with the Whites was " Kenya ".

Kirinyaga is a Kikuyu term that roughly means "that which has spots". They called the mountain - "kirinyaga" because of the white spots (snow) they saw on top of it. Consequently, they called their god "Mwenenyaga" meaning, the owner of the white spots on top of the mountain. This rendered the mountain it's huge significance to them and to those who associated with them in terms of barter, covenants and other traditional interactions.

Another story has it that the name has its origin in the Kamba word for what we now call Mt. Kenya . On December 3 1849, Rev. Krapf while on a visit of Kitui, sighted a snow-capped mountain. Asking for its name, the trader chief Kivoi ( actually not a real chief, traditionally Kambas had no aristocracy) told him it was 'kiima ki-nyaa'. Nyaa is Kamba language for ostrich. The name therefore, roughly translated to 'mountain of the ostrich', possibly was named so for its resemblance to the white longer plumage of this bird. Kenia is likely to be the European evangelist's corruption of ki-nyaa.

The Kamba couldn't have known the difference between "nyaga" the ostrich, and "nyaga" the spots since this was deep Kikuyu. Even today the term "nyaga" in reference to spots is hardly used.

Poor Krapf's report of his 'discovery' of a snow-capped mountain which he had named Mt. Kenya, was met with skepticism and outright ridicule by western scholars, till ....,to cut a long story short, in 1920 the British East African Protectorate was renamed the 'Kenya' colony, the precursor to independent Kenya.

Even today many rural members of the 56 different Nations which were packed into the colonial boundaries do only understand the term " Kenya " as the land around the mountain, while they have very distinct names for their own states and homelands.

And who was in Kenya a thousand years ago?

Most tribes one would easily recognize trooped into this area in waves during most of the last millennia. They displaced, assimilated and to some extend annihilated some bushmanoid tribes. Examples of these hunter/gatherer communities were the Gumba (extinct), Athi (most likely extinct), Yaaku (nearly extinct)and are the suviving Watha (often called also Sanye by the Swahili speakers or Waliangulu by the Kamba), the Ogiek and the Aweer (called even by Kenyan officials with the derogatory term Boni), which all often falsely are referred to as Ndorobo (i.e. “poor folk without cattle” in the Maa language of the Maasai).

It is surprising that some groups like the Maasai have taken the mantle of 'indigenous' to describe their status in Kenya , and therefore claim their right of needing special rights. The Maasai are relatively new in Kenya , and their status alike the invading Nilots and Bantu speaking people for the last 500 odd years was akin to that of colonizers.