Chief Kivoi Mwendwa (born in the 1780s) was a Kamba long distance trader who lived in the present day Kitui. Kivoi is associated with guiding missionaries into the interior of the present day Kenya after he guided Rebmann and Krapf in to visit Mount Kenya.
He met the Europeans in Mombasa and traveled with them into Ukambani where the German missionaries Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), in 1849 became the first white people to see Mount Kenya. At that time, Kitui was the home of Kivoi and he had several other possessions along his caravan route.
Chief Kivoi commanded a large following which included slaves, and it was he who met the missionaries in Mombasa, and guided them to Kitui where – on December 3, 1849 – they became the first Europeans to set eyes on Mount Kenya.
Back in Europe, their reports of snow on the equatorial mountain were met with disbelief and ridicule for many years. Chief Kivoi interacted with Arabs in the coast and Voi town was named after him because that was one of his stop overs towns where caravans settled before entered into the coastal town of Mombasa. According locals of Voi Town, Kivoi settled along Voi River in the mid 1800s.
His actual birth date is unknown as is not recorded but he its believed to have lived between 1780s to 19 August 1852. His descendants are not known in historical context but he was adversely mentioned by Dr. Ludwig Krapf in his Mission to Africa.
According to Dr. Ludwig Krapf, he was killed together with his immediate followers after his caravan was attacked by robbers in the second expedition in Tana River 2 miles from Yatta.
According to his diary entry Ludwig Krapf says, “This expedition proved most calamitous, and, as already mentioned, Krapf’s ‘escape with life was a marvel’.”
Chief Kivoi Mwendwa
Chief Kivoi Mwendwa, 1849
||August 19, 1852
“When within a mile or two of the Dana, the party was suddenly attacked by robbers. The greater part of the caravan was instantly dispersed, Kivoi’s people flying in all directions; Kivoi himself was killed with his immediate followers; Krapf fired his gun twice, but into the air, ‘for’, said he, ‘I could not bring myself to shed the blood of man’; and then he found himself in the bash, separated from both friend and foe, and flying in what he supposed to be the best direction.”
After the death of Chief Kivoi, Ludwig Krapf was accused of causing his death and the Akamba condemned him to die also. At midnight he managed to escape, and fled in the direction of Yatta. His perils were now greater than before, as he was in an inhabited country, and feared to travel by day lest he should be detected and murdered, while at night he frequently missed his way, and in the dense darkness of the forests his compass was of little use.
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us (Acts 17:26-27).
Today the Kamba people are one of the largest of the 43 tribal nations in Kenya. Once part of the great Bantu empire, they began migrating from western Africa around 1000 AD. The fierce Kamba warriors and their families moved eastward, taking the wealth of those they conquered and keeping and selling other Africans as slaves to Arab traders. Invading the rich pasture lands of modern Kenya and northern Tanzania, the Kamba warriors shifted from fighting and hunting to farming.
It’s easy for us to fall into the politics of division, forgetting that the history of every people on earth, including the Kamba, is one of conquering and being conquered, fulfilling God’s eternal plan.
The first Kamba chief in recorded history was Kivoi Mwendwa (1780s – 1852). Kivoi rose to prominence, power, and wealth by trading elephant tusks, minerals, and slaves to the Arab, Indian, and Chinese colonizers on the African coastline. Contemporary Kamba language and culture are highly borrowed from these interactions nearly a millennia ago.
Although Roman Catholic monks from Portugal arrived on the coast of Kenya in the 1400’s, they were largely rejected by the overwhelmingly Muslim population. It was Chief Kivoi who guided the first Christian missionaries, Johann Krapf and Johannes Rebmann, into the heart of Kenya in 1849.
The traditional religion of the Kamba centered on an invisible, all-powerful sky-god called Ngai or Mulungu who was far removed from the daily cares of his creation. The Jesus of the missionaries was different. He was a visible God who lived, loved, and gave His life for the Kamba; yet the evangelistic efforts of the two missionaries were considered unsuccessful.
Feeling defeated, Krapf left Kenya in 1853, counting only a dying cripple and a social outcast as converts. Within 35 years, however, Kambas not only embraced the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, but were sending out their own evangelists deeper into Africa.
Today there are 807 Kamba living in Paraguay. How they got to South America 200 years ago is a story for another day.
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