Kwavi people

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The Kwavi people were a community commonly spoken of in the folklore of a number of Kenyan and Tanzanian communities that inhabited regions of south-central Kenya and north-central Tanzania at various points in history. The conflicts between the Uasin Gishu/Masai and Kwavi form much of the literature of what are now known as the Iloikop wars.

Etymology[edit]

Johnston (1886), noted that "'Kwavi' is supposed to be a corrupted version of 'El-oigob'"(i.e Loikop). He also noted that the term Loikop at the time implied settled residence.[1] In another account (1902) he states "...'Kwavi',a name that no Masai can recognise or explain, but which has been perpetuated owing to it's adoption by Krapf".[2]

Origins[edit]

Mythology[edit]

Krapf (1860) recorded a reference to the Kwavi in Wanyika mythology. According to the myth, 'the Galla, Wakamba and Wakuafi had one common father whose eldest son was called Galla'. Galla is said to have raided another community's cattle upon which his brothers Mkamba and Mkuafi asked for a share of the booty but were refused by their brother Galla. Mkuafi is said to have then raided Galla following which he in turn was robbed by his brother Mkamba and vice versa. From that time arose deadly enmity between the brothers which has had no end.[3]

Territory[edit]

Thompson (1883) noted that a community referred to as "Wa-kwafi (I here use the name for convenience)" fragmented following a series of misfortunes that befell them "about 1830 - as far as I can gather".[4] The original home of the 'Wa-kwafi' was "the large district lying between Kilimanjaro, Ugono and Pare on the west, and Teita, and Usambara on the east.[4]

Way of life[edit]

Writing in the mid-19 century, Krapf detailed a way of life that he noted was common to the 'Wakuafi' and the 'Masai'.

Residence[edit]

When the Kwavi and Masai settled at a place for a period of time, they built a large town known as Orlmamara. A smaller town was known as Engany, and a settlement that promised to be important and was large was styled Enganassa. These settlements consisted of huts, covered with cow-hide or grass and were surrounded by thorn hedges and ditches for protection against enemy attack.[5]

Subsistence[edit]

Krapf noted that the Kwavi were nomadic, settling for months at a time when they found pasture and water. They lived entirely on milk, butter, honey and the meat of black cattle, goats, sheep, and game. The Kwavi supplemented their herds by raiding other communities for cattle based on a mythological belief that all cattle on earth belonged to them (and Masai) by divine gift. A notable food belief held by the Kwavi was that nourishment provided by cereals enfeebles and was thus only suited to the tribes of the mountains in their territories. The opposite was held to be true, that a diet of meat and milk gives strength and courage and were thus the only proper food for the Kwavi.[6]

Warfare[edit]

The weapons of the Kwavi and Maasai consisted of a spear, a large oblong shield, and a club that was round and thick at the top. The latter was used with great precision and to devastating effect at a distance of fifty to seventy paces and it was this weapon above all that struck fear in East African communities, 'the Suahili with their muskets not excepted'.[5]

The fighting force was composed of all Kwavi men roughly between the ages of twenty and twenty five. They were known as Elmoran.[5]

c.1830 misfortunes[edit]

Thompson, on his journey through Masai land in 1883, wrote of a series of misfortunes that befell and seriously enfeebled the Kwavi people.

About 1830 - as far as I can gather - a series of misfortunes fell upon them. In a great war raid against the Wa-gogo to the south, they suffered a severe repulse, and great numbers were slaughtered. The same disaster fell upon them in a raid against their brethren of Kisongo. The saying that misfortunes never come singly was well exemplified by their case, for nature took up the work of ruin. A cloud of locusts settled on the land, and left not a blade of grass or other green thing, so that the cattle died in enormous numbers through starvation.

— Joseph Thompson, 1883[7]

The 'Kisongo' referred to here by Thompson being the Wa-hehe, who according to Johnston(1902), "had been virilised by a slight intermixture of Zulu blood".[8]

Maasai - Kwavi war[edit]

While the Wa-kwafi were in this unhappy plight,the Masai of the plains to the west fell upon them and smote them hip and thigh, and thus broke up and revenged themselves upon the most powerful division of the tribe.

— Joseph Thompson, 1883[9]

Diaspora[edit]

Thompson in his account notes that the Kwavi were "not all scattered thus, however". He notes that two large divisions of the Kwavi kept together, one cutting through Kikuyu and settling in 'Lykipia' while the other crossed the Rift to settle in Uasin Gishu. He further records that "In both districts they found superb grazing-grounds and plenty of elbow-room, and there for a time they remained quietly, and increased rapidly in numbers".[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Johnston, Sir Harry Hamilton (1886). The Kilima-Njaro Expedition: A Record of Scientific Exploration in Eastern Equatorial Africa. London: K. Paul, Trench, and Co. p. 313.
  2. ^ Johnston, Harry Hamilton (1902). The Uganda protectorate : an attempt to give some description of the physical geography, botany, zoology, anthropology, languages and history of the territories under British protection in East Central Africa, between the Congo Free State and the Rift Valley and between the first degree of south latitude and the fifth degree of north latitude. London: Hutchinson. p. 800.
  3. ^ Krapf, Ludwig (1860). Travels, researches, and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa. London: Trübner and co. p. 199.
  4. ^ a b c Thompson, Joseph (1887). Through Masai land: a journey of exploration among the snowclad volcanic mountains and strange tribes of eastern equatorial Africa. Being the narrative of the Royal Geographical Society's Expedition to mount Kenia and lake Victoria Nyanza, 1883-1884. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. pp. 240–241.
  5. ^ a b c Krapf, Ludwig (1860). Travels, researches, and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa. London: Trübner and co. p. 358-359.
  6. ^ Krapf, Ludwig (1860). Travels, researches, and missionary labours, during an eighteen years' residence in Eastern Africa. London: Trübner and co. p. 358-359.
  7. ^ Thompson, Joseph (1887). Through Masai land: a journey of exploration among the snowclad volcanic mountains and strange tribes of eastern equatorial Africa. Being the narrative of the Royal Geographical Society's Expedition to mount Kenia and lake Victoria Nyanza, 1883-1884. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 241.
  8. ^ Johnston, Harry Hamilton (1902). The Uganda protectorate : an attempt to give some description of the physical geography, botany, zoology, anthropology, languages and history of the territories under British protection in East Central Africa, between the Congo Free State and the Rift Valley and between the first degree of south latitude and the fifth degree of north latitude. London: Hutchinson. p. 800.
  9. ^ Thompson, Joseph (1887). Through Masai land: a journey of exploration among the snowclad volcanic mountains and strange tribes of eastern equatorial Africa. Being the narrative of the Royal Geographical Society's Expedition to mount Kenia and lake Victoria Nyanza, 1883-1884. London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. p. 241.