Since the Kenya Wildlife Marathon is not only meant to be a great opportunity for trail runners to enjoy a scenic run through Kenya's breathtaking scenery but also a sound possibility for our guests to learn more about the Eastern African nation, we dedicate this blog article to some lessons about Kenya's culture.
In total, one can meet around 42 different tribes in Kenya. Each of these tribes has its own unique culture, but majority of them with intertwining cultural practices brought about by the close resemblance in the languages, the similar environment and physical proximity of the tribes. Thus, one can group these tribes into different larger sub-groups which are based on linguistic as well as cultural similarities. These sub-groups of tribes are not only present in Kenya but span a vast area of East, Central and Southern African Region as a whole.
In terms of ethnic diversity, Kenya is set up as follows: 22% Kikuyu, 14% Luhya, 13% Luo, 12% Kalenjin, 11% Kamba, 6% Kisii, 6% Meru, 15% other African cultures and approximately only 1% non-African [Asian, Arab and European].
Most Kenyans have been raised bilingual in Swahili and English. Swahili is a intercultural African language which evolved over numerous decades. It encompasses many Arabic, Persian and other Middle Eastern and South Asian loan words and evolved as a lingua franca for trade between the different tribes and people of Kenya. Besides, a large percentage of the Kenyans speaks the mother tongue of their ethnic tribe next to English and Swahili.
So many cultures, languages, traditions, heroes and symbols! Kenya is truly diverse.
Generally speaking, it can be said that there are three major unifying categories of Kenyan languages: The Cushites speaking people who are mainly composed of pastoralists and nomads in the rather dry North Eastern part of Kenya, the Bantu speaking cultures who are people of the Coastal region, the Central Highlands and the Western Kenya Region. Last but not least, there are the Nilotes who are mainly found in the Great Rift Valley and the Lake Victoria.
Here is a little preview of the biggest Kenyan communities:
- Nomadic People
- Their daily life rotates around looking for water and grazing cattle
(This is a lifestyle which has not changed for centuries)
- distinguished by their complex character: Impeccable manners, impressive presence and almost mystical love for their cattle
- Believe in the 'sky god' who was once on earth and went back to the skies. From there, all the world's cattle has been sent to the Massai for safe keeping of them.
- Exploited by the tourism industry for purely commercial purposes. This is also why many people have had heard of the Massai tribe
The Ameru/Meru Tribes
- Originated from slaves escaping from Arab lands around the year 1700
- This group comprises the Luo, Kalenjin, the Turkana and the Maasai
- The Kikuyu
- Kenya's most popular ethnic group
- They cultivate the fertile central highlands and are also the most economically active ethnic group in Kenya
- Their roots sit in the North of Kenya: The region of the Nyambene Hills to the northeast of Mount Kenya (Kirinyaga)
- The tribe is believed to have arrived in the hills as early as the 1200s
- There are numerous different stories and explanations of their origins.
- The Luhya
- Bantu ethnic group in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania
- Kenya's second largest ethnic group (14% of the nation's total population)
- Cultivate the fertile highlands of Western Kenya
- One of the most culturally, politically and economically active ethnic groups
- Made up of 16 sub-ethnic groups in Kenya [One sub-ethnic group is in northern Tanzania and four are in Uganda]
- The Swahili People
- Most prominent of the coastal people
- They are not really a tribe but rather a product of centuries of intermarriage between indigenous Kenyans and foreigners from Persian gulf, the Portuguese and Omani who came to conquer the coast
- Excel in art, literature and architecture
- Majority of coastal people are Muslims but have embraced a relaxed way of life that is worlds away from stricter practices of the Middle East
We hope you have gained a slight insight into Kenya's cultural diversity. It is definitely important to be aware of these differences. Isn't it also spectacular how so many people from different backgrounds life in piece in one country? Kudos, Kenya!