Chief Kivoi: Meet the Chief Who Guided the First Missionaries into Kenya

Kivoi Mwendwa famously known as ‘Chief Kivoi’, born in the 1780s, was a Kamba long Distance trader who lived in the present day Kitui. He is best known for guiding the first First Missionaries into the interior of the area of present-day Kenya.

Chief Kivoi: Meet the Chief Who Guided the First Missionaries into Kenya

According to 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 is 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.

Chief 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.

Chief Kivoi also interacted with Arabs at the coast and Voi town was named after him because that was one of his stop over towns where caravans settled before they entered into the coastal town of Mombasa.

Missionary in Kenya

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 of the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), in 1849, into the heart of Kenya in 1849.

Chief Kivoi: Meet the Chief Who Guided the First Missionaries into Kenya
Johann Ludwig Krapf was a German missionary in East Africa, as well as an explorer, linguist, and traveler.

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 and also considering the fact that the locals fingered him after the death of Chief kivoi, 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.


According to Dr. Ludwig Krapf, Chief Kivoi was killed together with his immediate followers after his caravan was attacked by robbers during an expedition in Tana River 2 miles from present day 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.”

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.

Talk Africana
Talk Africana
Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora


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