The Northern Kayas of the Mijikenda: A gazetteer, and an historical reassessment

The Mijikenda consist of nine ethnic groups, linguistically and culturally closely related, who live on the southern half of the coast of Kenya and the immediate hinterland. Officially the nine are Giryama, Kauma, Chonyi, Jibana, Kambe, Ribe, Rabai, Duruma, and Digo, though this list is liable to change. Originally the Mijikenda are said to have migrated from Singwaya to the north. They built six initial kayas (fortified hilltop villages), to which three were added later. Sometime around 1830 the people began to move out of the kayas. However, any count will show that the number of kayas far surpasses nine. Some are late creations and others have been described as ‘subsidiary’. The compilation of this gazetteer is a preliminary attempt to re-examine Mijikenda historicity. The author lists and gives the geographical locations of all the kayas from the Mwache river north, accompanied by a short history. He challenges the close relationship between ethnicity and particular kayas, preferring to see the latter as ritual centres. A new interpretation begins to emerge of the ‘kayas’ as a place of power and conflict, not the embodiment of a harmonious, consensual past. New kayas were not subordinate or a replacement, they represented real challenges to entrenched powerholders. (Source: ASC Documentation).

Title: The Northern Kayas of the Mijikenda: A gazetteer, and an historical reassessment
Author: Willis, J.
Year: 1996
Periodical: Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa
Volume: 31
Pages: 75-98
Geographic term: Kenya
Discipline: Geography
Abstract: The Mijikenda consist of nine ethnic groups, linguistically and culturally closely related, who live on the southern half of the coast of Kenya and the immediate hinterland. Officially the nine are Giryama, Kauma, Chonyi, Jibana, Kambe, Ribe, Rabai, Duruma, and Digo, though this list is liable to change. Originally the Mijikenda are said to have migrated from Singwaya to the north. They built six initial kayas (fortified hilltop villages), to which three were added later. Sometime around 1830 the people began to move out of the kayas. However, any count will show that the number of kayas far surpasses nine. Some are late creations and others have been described as ‘subsidiary’. The compilation of this gazetteer is a preliminary attempt to re-examine Mijikenda historicity. The author lists and gives the geographical locations of all the kayas from the Mwache river north, accompanied by a short history. He challenges the close relationship between ethnicity and particular kayas, preferring to see the latter as ritual centres. A new interpretation begins to emerge of the ‘kayas’ as a place of power and conflict, not the embodiment of a harmonious, consensual past. New kayas were not subordinate or a replacement, they represented real challenges to entrenched powerholders. (Source: ASC Documentation).