Ilchamus people

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The Ilchamus (sometimes spelled Iltiamus, also known as Njemps), are a Maa-speaking people living south and southeast of Lake Baringo, Kenya. They number 32,949 people in 2019[1] and are closely related to the Samburu living more to the north-east in the Rift Valley Province They are said to be the smallest ethnic group in Kenya.[citation needed] Their language is one of the Eastern Nilotic Maa languages, closely related to the Samburu language (between 89% and 94% lexical similarity), to the point of it being considered a Samburu dialect by some. Together, Samburu and Ilchamus form the northern division of the Maa languages.[2][3]

In their oral traditions, the Ilchamus economy underwent a succession of elaborations: from foraging and fishing to a sophisticated system of irrigation, and then this was mixed with pastoralism under the influence of Samburu immigrants and neighbouring Maasai. These changes involved a series of embellishments in their culture and social organization.[4] However, this evolving system did not survive the challenges of the capitalist economy in post-colonial Kenya, leading to a more polarized society with diminishing prospects for the majority of Ilchamus.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census Volume IV: Distribution of Population by Socio-Economic Characteristics". Kenya National Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  2. ^ Heine, Bernd (1980). The Non-Bantu languages of Kenya. (Language and Dialect Atlas of Kenya 2). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  3. ^ Vossen, Rainer (1982). The Eastern Nilotes. Linguistic and historical reconstructions (Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik 9). Berlin: Dietrich Reimer.
  4. ^ Spencer, Paul (1998). The Pastoral Continuum: the Marginalization of Tradition in East Africa. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 129–203.
  5. ^ Little, Peter D. (1992). The Elusive Granary: Herder, Farmer and State in Northern Kenya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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