Economic Change Among The Dorobo/Akiek Of Central Kenya, 1850-1963

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alan K. Smith


Hunters-Gatherers, African history

Subject Categories

African History


This study is of the Dorobo/Akiek, who lived in the forests of central Kenya and of their unique and untypical hunting and gathering society which in the process of cultural change dropped one model of existence for another, but did not physically retreat or become totally absorbed as other hunters and gatherers have done when they had experienced similar external pressures. This is an examination of the Dorobo/Akiek, their economy, and how they reacted to waves of invasion: first of migrating Africans, then of international traders in the nineteenth century, and later of European colonialists. In order to access the nature of these interactions, it was necessary to construct a model of the Dorobo/Akiek's hunting and gathering economy, and then to detail the modifications.

The Dorobo/Akiek have been in the Kenya Highlands for at least several centuries and preceded most if not all of the present occupants. As the Nilotic and Bantu-speaking groups migrated into central Kenya, the Dorobo/Akiek gradually became separated into at least 30 distinct local groups. The migrating African groups helped introduce agriculture and pastoralism the Dorobo/Akiek.

The second major wave of invasion occurred in the nineteenth century when traders from the coast came into central Kenya in search of ivory. The Dorobo/Akiek were active participants in the trade in the role of elephant hunters and even served as middlemen between the coastal traders and the Nandi and the Maasai.

The various elements of the Dorobo/Akiek economy were still in the process of transition as the British established their colonial administration in central Kenya. Some Dorobo/Akiek were driven out of the forests. The colonial government also forced them to participate in labor projects, such as road construction.

As the Dorobo/Akiek began to practice pastoralism and agriculture, economic relations were effected. The men still were in control. The women, however, found a more active role in agriculture, and to some degree in pastoralism, than they had experienced in the hunting economy.


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