Introduction / History The 'Pokomo' are an ethnic group of Kenya, from the Bantu language group. They are predominantly agriculturalists and fresh water fishermen living along the River Tana in the Tana River County. They speak Pokomo language: 'Kipokomo'.
Where are they located? They live along the River Tana in the Tana River County.
What are their lives like? Pokomos are found along the Tana River riverine and the flood plains. 'Tana' comes from the word 'Chana', which means river. The Pokomo have always referred to River Tana as 'Chana Maro', that is River Maro. Probably the word 'Chana' is coined from either side with the Kikuyu word 'Chania', which is the same word that Kikuyu use to refer to one of the tributary of Tana: River Chania . Pokomos are mainly farmers and have all along depended on the flooding regime of River Tana to grow rice, bananas, green grams, beans and maize. The staple food of the Pokomo is rice and fish. Other famous food staples include 'Matoli'-cooked banana chips mixed with fish, ' Marika'- cooked banana mixed with fish and smashed together,'Konole'-cooked mixture of sifted maize and green gram/beans,'Nkumbu'-ash baked or boiled banana. Currently, 'sima' or 'ugali' in Kiswahili or stiff cornmeal porridge in English has become the main Pokomo dish due to changing or nonexistence of river flooding regimes and weather that is not able to support the cultivation of rice.
What are their beliefs? 'Kijo' is a group of elders who were believed to possess spiritual powers and were sought whenever the community needs spiritual guidance. There were times during the year when people would gather near the sacred places in the night singing and dancing 'Gangana' and the spiritual leader would emerge from the forest in the middle of the night walking on poles covered with a white dress and his face covered with a mask. He will walk around and go back into the forest, leaving behind a hysterical group of people believing that their prayers have been answered. Within the Kijo there were two other groups i.e. the 'Gangana' or healers and the 'Chawi' or witches. 'Kijo' were very powerful and they had absolute powers to take by force family lands, and banish anybody from 'gaga dya Maro'- Maroland if he goes against the Pokomo norms. The Political governance of the Pokomo was headed by the 'Gasa'. This was also a group of council of elders who were revered and believed to possess wisdom on solving political and administering justice. The 'Gasa' is the only elder group which is still in existence and it is sought to give political guidance to the Pokomo community to date. The Gasa has also been formally recognized to dispense justice on land and family cases.
What are their needs? Currently, Pokomo need education and opportunities of exposure.