The Untold History of Pokomo [Part 1]


The Pokomo are classified under the Eastern Bantu. This is the group of Bantu that migrated to East Africa and inhabited the region between the highland areas of north-eastern Tanzania all the way to the Kenya highlands and down to the coast. According to the Pokomo oral traditions, they migrated towards East Africa a long time ago. They remember passing through the country inhabited by dwarfs with big heads whom they referred to as vitunusi (singular: kitunusi).

These could have been the dwarfs who inhabited the Congo Forest. A striking similarity, however, is the existence of the Mbokomo clan of the Chagga in Tanzania. There are, also, people in the Comoro Island who have striking resemblance with the Kenyan coastal people.

Their language, too, is closely related with the Pokomo language. For instance, the Comoros refer to their parliament as “Gasa”, which means “council of elders” among the Pokomo. The migration of the Pokomo is further collaborated by their oral traditions which assert that they came from a place called Masimo ya Kora (the Wells of Kora). As the name suggests, there must have been many sources of water in the area. The water was plenty for both people and animals.

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The Pokomo stayed in this area for a long time and prospered. Not much though is known about Kora. Nor do we know exactly where Kora is today. There is only a striking similarity in name between Masimo ya Kora and Kora Wells on the Equator near Mbalambala, just around the border between Tana-River and Garissa districts.

The present day Kora Wells is situated right on the Equator on Longitude 38.70E in the Rahole National Reserve, at the border of Garissa and Isiolo District, to the north of Kora National Reserve in Tana-River District between the tributaries of the River Tana called Bisanadi and Rahole. Kora National Reserve is the most commonly known game reserve in the area. It was made famous by the renowned conservationist, George Adamson, until his death in 1989. Kora area has many small seasonal streams which feed the main River Tana. It is plausible that these seasonal streams might have been permanent ones during the migration of the Pokomo thereby providing them with the precious sources of water for domestic use, fishing and other purposes.

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Read Also: The Untold History of Pokomo [Part 2]

The Pokomo lived happily as a community depending on agricultural produce, fish and wild animals to supplement their diet. For many years, they lived in Kora area. Later, the population increased such that agricultural land started becoming scarce. There was need to look for more fertile land for cultivation. When epidemic diseases struck, the Pokomo believed it was a sign of bad omen and they migrated away from Kora.

Pokomo traditions assert that they migrated closely together with the other Bantu groups and finally settled at a place which many historians refer to as Shungwaya. The Pokomo called it “Singwaya”. This area has been identified by historians as being somewhere in southern Somalia near the present day Port Durnford. The name “Singwaya”, according to the Pokomo, referred to both the name of a town and the name of a region. Historians believe the town of Singwaya could have been built near the current town of Bur Gao in Port Durnford area of southern Somalia.

Among the Pokomo, it was not surprising to have one name referring to both place and region. For instance, one finds Ngao Village, Ngao Sub-location and Ngao Location; Garsen town and Garsen Division; Bura town and Bura Division; Galole town and Galole Division, etc. The Pokomo assert that they were at Singwaya with other groups like the Mbeere, Akamba, Digo, Taita, Giriama and some strangers they nicknamed Wakoshoro. The word mkoshoro in the Pokomo language is a slang meaning “stranger.

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Then the worst happened. The Somali started expanding southwards with large herd of cattle, sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. They appeared on the scene around the mid 16th century. They invaded the Bantu at Singwaya. The Bantu were timid people who did not like wars. On sensing imminent defeat, the Bantu dispersed in different directions away from their attackers.

The Pokomo fled from Singwaya and settled at a place called Kiamboni. Once again, this peaceful settlement was disrupted by the hostile Somali. They attacked the Pokomo plus the other Bantu at Kiamboni, who in turn, fled away to escape the wrath of the Somali.

To be continued

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Edward M. Yesse is a Pokomo from Ngao. He was born on 18th December, 1957. He passed through Ngao Primary School, Tarasaa High School and the University of Nairobi where he graduated with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Public Administration in 1986. In addition, he has a First Division Diploma in Constitutional Law and a First Division Diploma in Parliamentary Institutions and Procedure from the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, India, which he obtained in 1990. He is also a Parliamentary Fellow from the same Institute. He passed the Administrative Officers' Examination administered by the Public Service Commission in 1990. He obtained a Diploma in Business Management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2003. He attended numerous other courses. He is currently pursuing his MBA. He opted for an early retirement in June, 2013 as Regional Manager with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to personal reasons. E-mail: Mobile No: 0722647327 or 0733860825



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