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People & Culture

People | Languages | Religion | Cooking & Recipes | Music | Art & Craft


Currently there are more than 40 different ethnic group 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 People
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 People - more info...

Recommended Book
Facing Mount Kenya   Jomo Kenyatta provides a detailed insider description of the Kikuyu peoples of Kenya. The book takes a structural functionalist approach to anthropology, providing a very detailed description covering virtually all aspects of tribal life. A native Gikuyu,son of a medicine man, Kenyatta reveals his wonderful anthropological ability in a storybook fashion. A must read for anyone interested in learning about African culture.

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Maasai Tribe
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 Tribe - more info...

Recommended Book
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior : An Autobiography   It gives the picture of a boy growing up as a real Maasai and the new life in civilized world of Germany and USA - a man between two cultures and the difficult question to decide which way to go along. Makes yourself wondering about the way we Western people are living and gives a chance to see our world with other eyers.

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Samburu Tribe
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.

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Recommended Book
African Warriors : The Samburu An intimate, sometimes striking photo-essay detailing the folkways of the Samburu, a warrior-based society of northern Kenya. The author lived among the Samburu for six years, recording the daily rhythms and significant ceremonies of this traditional culture, whose members depend on herds of cattle, goats, and camels for their survival.

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Turkana Tribe
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

Recommended Book
Turkana : Kenya's Nomads of the Jade Sea
After traveling and living among the Turkana of northwestern Kenya over the course of more than 40 years, Nigel Pavitt now presents a book which describes and pictures their daily battle to keep their traditional ways alive. 226 color illustrations.

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Listen to Kenya National Anthem
Words of the Kenya National Anthem


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

It's extremely useful for the traveller to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and in remote parts of the country.
Recommended Audio Casssette
Swahili - Teach yourself Swahili (Teach Yourself (Book and Cassette))  Buy from USA  Buy from Europe
Joan Russell has created a practical course in spoken and written Swahili that is both fun and easy to work through. Based on the Council of Europe's Threshold guidelines on language learning, the course contains 18 graded units of dialogues, culture notes, grammar, and exercises; pronunciation guide; and Swahili-English and English-Swahili vocabularies.

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 a 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 Vegetables

How a Dinner is Served in Kenya

Ugali - Cornmeal Porridge - The national dish of Kenya

Sukuma Wiki - Collard Greens

Steak and Irio

Pilau rice with beef stew

Kuku na Nazi (Chicken with coconut milk)

Maharagwe (Spiced red beans in coconut milk)

Mtuza wa Samaki (Baked curried fish)

Plantains in Coconut Milk

Vegetable Curry

Chicken Tika

More recipes from Kenya


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.

Recommended Music
Kenya & Tanzania: Witchcraft & Ritual Music Nairobi Beat: Kenyan Pop Music Today The Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya & Tanzania
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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—women’s wraparound skirts with beautiful patterns, and often Kenyan proverbs printed on them and kikois - 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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