13 decades of anticolonial memory

Wanga power was real at the time the Mzungu came to Kenya

In Summary

• Wanga is the only hinterland kingdom apart from the imported one of Omani Arabs

Kakamega town in Western Kenya. The Wanga Kingdom is found in the county.
Kakamega town in Western Kenya. The Wanga Kingdom is found in the county.

It is an old adage that others struggle to be royal in life, and others are born with royalty coursing through their veins. One hears this adage donated orally hither and thither in western Kenya. It is rampant near the lands of the Wanga who reside around Mumias in Kakamega county. 

The Wanga have run a kingdom in Kenya for centuries. It is the only hinterland kingdom apart from the imported one of the Omani Arabs that dominated the Coast for centuries.

First, they ruled that coast from Muscat and then from Zanzibar. They did that at the long Swahili coast, and the kings of Wanga dominated the western zones around Mumias. Some say the Wanga kingdom arrived from Uganda under a fleeing prince of the Baganda. Some say it is the reverse. A fleeing prince of Wanga founded the Buganda kingdom.

It is a keen eye that decides what is what by comparing the wealth and status of the Wanga kingdom today and that of the Buganda one. The conclusion is out there in the wind.

When the Europeans started arriving in western Kenya in search of adventure and more, history was at the late half of the 19th century. They found Mumias already a thriving commercial hub serving the East African coast. Introduction of the gun, cowries and demand for ivory had peaked.

Old warrior nations of the hinterland like the Maasai had succumbed to civil war, sorcery and natural calamities. Some of their clans, defeated by superior cousins, had sought refuge in Mumias. New warlords like the Nandi had taken over deserted Maasai grazing fields, vast acres from Uasin Gishu plateau to the dusty plains of Nakuru.

Europeans found the solid presence of the Wanga intact and fed by trade as Shiundu and Mumia collected the scattered warriors of the Maa nation and turned them into standing armies. Wanga power was real.


To urinate and still see the majestic Mount Elgon from the sugarcane fields of old Mumias, you have to face north. On a hazy day, you can use your smartphone to show you where the north is.

On a clear day under the vast blue skies, surrounded in Mumias by the scent of sugar fields, to see the Elgon you peer into the horizon to your north. To get to her, looming out there in the distance, vast and mystic, you will cross a few modest rivers from Mumias. And a vast one.

The vast river you will cross is called the Nzoia. It is a wonder to behold as it thunders from the north at the feet of the Cherengany Hills in Trans Nzoia county and the Elgon in Bungoma county, swallowing smaller streams, before marching through Bukusuland all the way to Busia, where it donates its mighty waters to the River Nile via Lake Victoria.

The land between the Nzoia, the Elgon and the steep rolling hills of Cherengany is the ancestral land of the Bukusu. They are the northern neighbours of the old Wanga kingdom for centuries. The two, the Wanga and the Bukusu are today part of the larger federation of tribes called the Abaluhya.

The Wanga and the Bukusul, together with 15 other cousin communities,  form the second-largest ethnic group in the homeland of Kenya. They occupy four counties of Kenya as a federation: Vihiga, Kakamega (where Wanga Kingdom is found), Busia, where the Nzoia enters Lake Victoria, then Bungoma and Trans Nzoia, where the mighty river sets forth at the dawn of time as a mighty aquatic serpent.

The Bukusu have not always lived where they live today in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia. Centuries ago, they arrived in what we call Kenya today from the neighbouring land of Uganda. Back then, they were a confederation of more than 30 clans. Some clans were populous and mighty.

Others had a few souls and fowls. Others were considered original and some were adopted along the ways of migration and settlement from neighbouring communities by and by. The arrival of the Bukusu into the lands of Kenya was by way of ancient Mount Elgon and its southern slopes.

They had dwelt for centuries in Uganda with their old cousins the Bugisu and even older cousins the Basoga and others. When they crossed River Lwakhakha that still a border between Kenya and Uganda is, in Sirisia constituency, the lands of western Kenya, north of Wanga, were the homelands of hostile Nilotic tribes.

The Bukusu, who back then were pastoralists, mainly cut through this land and grazed all the way to the flat grasslands we call Uasin Gishu today. Back then, the area was called Sirikwa. Three centuries ago. Perhaps more.

It is in the Eldoret region that the Bukusu nation multiplied and prospered. There they would have a war and peace arrangement with the Nandi, Marakwet, Then and Pokot who were marginally fewer and relatively isolated in their kinship unlike today.

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