Africa Guide
Africa travel since 1996
Guide to Africa

Kenya People and Culture

Currently there are more than 40 different ethnic groups in Kenya.

The main groups of tribes are the Bantu who migrated from western Africa, the Nilotic people who originated from Sudan and the Hamitic group, who were mainly pastoral tribes from Ethiopia and Somalia. The main tribes are Kikuyu (21%), Meru (5%), Kalenjin, Luyha, Luo (14%), Kisii, Kamba, Swahili, Masai, Turkana

The other large ethnic groups include the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Kalenjin. There are also some groups of people who form a very small population. This includes the tribe of El Molo.

Kikuyu

The Kikuyu are Bantu and actually came into Kenya during the Bantu migration. They include some families from all the surrounding people and can be identified with the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu and the Chuka. The Kikuyu tribe was originally founded by a man named Gikuyu. Kikuyu history says that the Kikuyu God, Ngai, took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga and told him to stay and build his home there. He was also given his wife, Mumbi. Together, Mumbi and Gikuyu had nine daughters. There was actually a tenth daughter but the Kikuyu considered it to be bad luck to say the number ten. When counting they used to say “full nine” instead of ten. It was from the nine daughters that the nine (occaisionally a tenth) Kikuyu clans -Achera, Agachiku, Airimu, Ambui, Angare, Anjiru, Angui, Aithaga, and Aitherandu- were formed.

Traditionally the Kikuyu are farmers. The Kikuyu homelands, in the foothills of Mount Kenya, are still some of the most intensively farmed areas of the country.
Kikuyu - more about

Maasai

Found mainly in Southern Kenya, the Massai believed that their rain God Ngai granted all cattle to them for safe keeping when the earth and sky split. Since cattle was given to the Massai, they believe its okay to steal from other tribes. The Massai worship cattle because it is their main source of economic survival as opposed to education.

Many Massai believed that education is not important for the herdsman to search for green grass to feed the cows. The Massai have not strayed from the traditional basic ways of life. Farming for the trading of crops such as corn and vegetable is done by some Massai. But the rejecting the cash economy and refusing to settle or become farmers has made life difficult and harsh.

The Massai prefer to remain nomadic herdsmen, moving as their needs necessitate. This is becoming more difficult in modern times as their open plain disappear. In the drier regions of the north, the Maasai subsists on a diet of cow's blood and milk, which they mix together and drink.
Maasai - more about

Samburu

The Samburu are related to the Masai although they live just above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose lives revolve around their cows, sheep, goats, and camels. Milk is their main stay; sometimes it is mixed with blood. Meat is only eaten on special occasions. Generally they make soups from roots and barks and eat vegetables if living in an area where they can be grown.

Most dress in very traditional clothing of bright red material used like a skirt and multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings, especially when living away from the big cities.
Samburu - more about

Turkana

The Turkana are the second largest group of nomadic pastoralists in Kenya who live in nothern Kenya - numbering over 200,000 they occupy a rectangular area bordered by Lake Turkana in northern Kenya and Ethiopia on the east, Uganda on the west, Sudan on the north

Traditional dress and ornaments is of vital importance, much emphasis being placed on adornment of both women and young Moranis (warriors) . Their neck is hidden by brightly colored beads, any object, even the most simple and ordinary in western eye is greatly sought after as an ornament to increase there charm

The Kenyan official national language is English, and it is wide spoken.
There is also another national language, Kiswahili. Both Languanges are taught throughout the country.

It is extremely useful for the traveller to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.

Swahili Online Dictionary
Swahili is the most widely spoken African language, with 50 million speakers in East Africa and Central Africa, particularly in Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Kenya. The new 56,000-entry lexicon is now available online!

There are many other tribal languages. These include Kikuyu, Luhia, Luo and Kikamba as well as a plethora of minor tribal tongues.

A more modern language spoken amonst the younger members of society is Sheng. This is a mixture of Swahili and English along with words of other languages.

A large proportion of the Kenyan population are Christians found mainly outside the coastal and eastern provinces. Muslims make up some 30% of the population found in the coastal areas and in the eastern side of the country - the rest is a combination of other minority religions such as Hindus, Bhuduist and those who follow their ancestral tribal beliefs.

Staple foods include; Ugali, rice, bread, chapati (fried paste of wheat powder).
Meat: beef, chicken, goat, etc.
Fish: Tilapia (a freshwater fish) and other fish varieties.

Popular music in Kenya encompasses a wide range of styles of both local and international origin. Among Kenyans, language is one of the crucial factors in defining their music.
Instruments used for traditional must include the African Sistrum Great which is used for rituals or a fun rhythm instrument, creates an excellent sound two are used at the same at a time. A variety of rattles and shakers, small harps, the Wandidi a Kikuyu fiddle and traditional drums.

Most art and craft production is for the lucrative tourist market.

Items produced for the tourist market include sisal baskets, elephant hair (not real elephant hair) bracelets, Maasai bead jewelry, musical instruments, and silver and gold jewelry, soapstone sculptures, wooden carvings, tribal masks and Maasai figurines. paintings, prints and sculptures, batik cloth, and kangas which are women’s wraparound skirts with beautiful patterns often found with Kenyan proverbs printed on them and kikois a type of sarong for men that comes in many different colors and textiles.

There are arts and craft markets and shops throughout the main tourist centres - each with a great diversity of items offered and quality available.

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