Meaning of History

History simply means an account of events that took place in the past; history may be defined as a branch of knowledge with past events of human beings and their responses to their environment over the years.

History as a science

  1. History is the study of anything; of the earth, man, disease or animals.
  2. History is a branch of knowledge dealing with past events.
  3. History is a science concerned with past human actions.

The study of the past can be classified systematically into:-

  • Social history
  • Economical history
  • Political history

Social history deals with the traditions, values and cultural practices of the people.

Economical history refers to means of livelihood of the people such as hunting, gathering, agricultural and trade.

Political history deals with the control systems in a society, for example maintenance of law and order, leadership and security.


Derived from the verb to govern, which means to exercise authority over.

It also means to rule or control; it implies having power to direct or conduct the policies and public affairs of a country or an institution.

The term government therefore refers to a group of people within a state given authority to organize, direct and control affairs of that state or country.

In Kenya we have three arms:-

  1. The legislature; commonly referred to as parliament. It includes national assembly and the president; this is the law making arm of the government.
  2. Executive; includes the cabinet, president and the civil servants. This is the arm that implements law.


Socio – Economic and Political organization of Kenya

Communities in the 17th Century


Western Bantus; Abaluhya, Abagusii and Abakuria.

Eastern Bantus; Mijikenda, Akamba, Agikuyu, Ameru and Aembu.

Social organization

  • All the Bantus of Kenya were organized in clans; made up of people who were believed to have descended from the same ancestor.
  • Circumcision was an important aspect in the social organization of all the Bantu groups.
  • Bantu communities e.g. Abaluhya and Akamba only circumcised boys and others circumcised both boys and girls especially Abagusii community.
  • After circumcision, the initiates were taught the values and customs of their community also the initiates joined the age sets.
  • All Bantus believed there existed supernatural powers, a god that controlled their destiny.
  • Abaluhya believed in their god called Were/Nyasaye.
  • Bantus believed in the existence of evil spirits who acted as intermediaries between them and the gods.
  • Diviners and medicine people were also present in these communities.
  • Bantus celebrated life both in song and dance.

Political organization

  • Had decentralized forms of government except the (Wanga); a section of the Luhya, who had decentralized government.
  • The Bantus were divided into clans; members of the same clan are believed to have originated from a common ancestor.
  • The clan was governed by the council of elders.
  • The council of elders performed settling disputes, presided over religion ceremonies.
  • Council of elders preached good relations with neighbouring communities; they served as spokesmen on behalf of their communities.
  • They sat and decide on matters that affect the entire community.
  • Bantu age set system was important in their political organization e.g. Agikuyu – boys joint age set after initiation; since it was very important institution.

Economic organization

  • Trade; all the Bantu speaking people participated in trade with their neighbours; they practiced Barter trade e.g. exchange what they have with what they don’t have; Luo – Luhya (fish and basketry).
  • Crop cultivation; Bantus grew sorghum and millet, cassava among other crops.
  • Livestock keeping; most communities kept domestic animals e.g. cattle, sheep and goats of which they used in payment of dowry.
  • Fishing; This was only practiced by Bantu communities who lived along the rivers, Luhyas (R. Nzoia and L. Victoria)
  • Pottery and basketry; many Bantu communities of Kenya especially the Abaluhyas and the Abagusii made baskets and pots.
  • Iron working; iron implements were made by the Bantu communities; they made items like spears, knives, hoes.
  • Hunting and gathering; was done to supplement their food.
  • Cattle raiding; they would raid their neighbours for cattle e.g. Abagusii still raid the Maasai for cattle.


Smallest linguistic group in Kenya inhibiting the northern part of the country; they are nomadic, san speaking group and is shared by all these community languages of this group.

Social organization

  • Had a part lineal society, they traced their origin through the father.
  • Society was divided into clans which were made up by related families; they believed in common ancestor, a fact that created a bond of unity that exists among them and has made their kinship system strong.


Social organization

  • Family is the basis unit.
  • Each family has its head who is the father.
  • Initiate boys and girls.
  • After the initiation they joint the age sets.
  • It was during initiation that boys and girls were educated on the basic values of the community.
  • The Agikuyu believed in their god called
  • They believed to reside in Kirinyaga.
  • They had diviners and medicine men.
  • The Agikuyus had the designated places for worship.
  • They believed in ancestral spirits.
  • Marriage in the community was a very important section in the community.

Economic organization

  • Trade with their neighbours e.g. Maasai and Akamba, also trade among themselves.
  • They also practiced farming e.g. Cassava, millet and sorghum.
  • They were also iron workers; produces jembes, arrows, pangas.
  • They practiced basketry.
  • They kept livestock e.g. cattle, sheep and goats.
  • They engaged in hunting and gathering (poaching).

Political organizations

  • Decentralized community.
  • Family was basic headed by the father.
  • Several families made a clan headed by Kiama; several council of elders made a higher council of elders.




Social organization

  • Luos allowed intermarriage with other communities.
  • Polygamy was really accepted among the Luo community.
  • Dowry was paid usually in the form of animals.
  • They practiced informal education; the female children were being taught by grandmother, while men were taught by grandfather; they were taught on how to provide security in homes.
  • They believed in the supreme God called Nyasaye in shrine, big trees, and rocks.
  • They had diviners who acted as a link between the communities and the Supreme Being.
  • They spoke different languages by different dialogue.
  • They conducted and played games such as bull fighting, rope skipping.
  • Luos name their children after their ancestors.
  • They initiated their youths by removing the six lower teeth and they could marry after this.

Economic organization

  • They practiced fishing along L. Victoria.
  • They were pastoralists.
  • They practiced pottery and basketry.
  • They cultivated crops such as sorghum and millet.
  • They made iron implements.
  • They traded with their neighbours e.g. exchange fish for cereals with the Kalenjin neighbours.
  • They practiced hunting and gathering to supplement their food.

Political organization

  • They were a decentralized community.
  • At the lowest political structure was the family; had a leader called jaduon’g.
  • Several families made a clan.
  • The council of elders were responsible for judicial matters under the lineage councils (buch dhoot).
  • Beyond the dhoot the new grouping of clan called oganda; a group which was headed by the chief.

Responsibilities of Buch Dhoot

  • Settling major of interclan conflict.
  • Declare wars
  • Punishing serious criminals

One of the members of the council of elders has the responsibility of war.

The Luos were warriors; this distinguished young men who raided their neighbours’ animals.

Luo religious leaders such as diviners and rain makers also influenced their politics.


Social organization

  • The Nandi had age set system.
  • Nandi boys and girls undergo initiation at liberty circumcision marked the adult hood.
  • It is after circumcision that a boy would join age set.
  • Among the Nandi, informal education took place during initiation of which were thought.
  • Among the Nandi, intermarriage within the clan was much prohibited.
  • The Nandi were highly religious.
  • They had a God called Asis.
  • They believed in ancestral spirits.
  • They had a single leader within the community called the
  • The family was important to communities, related communities were made clans.

Economic organizations

  • Nandis were mainly hunters and gatherers.
  • They were pastoralists.
  • They kept cattle and goats mainly.
  • The Nandis were cultivators.
  • Trade with their neighbours e.g. traded with Agikuyu, Luos, Luhyas
  • Self sufficient in terms of food.

Political organization

  • Basic political unit was the family.
  • The head of the family was the father whose responsibility was punishment, security among others.
  • They had council of elders called
  • There was a collection of a group located in the same geographical area called Pororiet; this is the largest political group.
  • The Pororiet council of elders comprise of representative from all council of elders.
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