Kenya Cultural Tribes
We partake to facilitate your opportunity to explore and enjoy the diverse kenya cultural and kenya traditional practices of different tribes of Kenya.
The major tribes in Kenya are Luo, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu and Luhya which together account for 70% of the total population. In their rural homes, these tribes exhibit distinct cultural code of practices and traditions peculiar to each [pretty different from the others]. We are flexible in these itineraries as the number of days depends on which tribe, season, occasion and distance from the starting point. Bellow is a brief description of some of the tribes adding to the marvel of this unique Nation.
This is a Nilotic tribe settled around Lake Victoria mainly due to their ageless traditional occupation of fishing. History traces their migration to this area from South Sudan around the 15th century in search of pasture and fishing areas. In real sense this is the biggest single tribal block in the country, speaking one language and believing in a common route or origin [not sub-tribes put together] and they form about 15% of the total population in Kenya, save for those in Tanzania and Uganda.
The leading lights in political arena, especially the struggle for independence from this tribe were Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Joseph Mboya [assassinated in 1969]. It remains the most cohesive political block in Kenya.
The luo have influenced the music scene decisively stamping the popular "Benga style" that has since spread to other countries.
Their unique initiation, the removal of six lower teeth, has since changed and they also never circumcised nor practiced FGM. Polygamy is widely practiced and respect, recognition and preference are to those with many wives and children.
There is organization and family is part of a larger grouping of families [Dhoot] or clan, which combine to form Oganda. Several ogendni (plural for oganda) form Piny.
In Luo, age, wealth and respect are converging, and elders control family resources including representation of the family in affairs beyond the compound.
Occasional hunting sprees are organized and gathering is still practiced in small scale.
Although referred to as a single ethnic entity, Kalenjin is a loose collection of several Nilotic groups including Turgen, Kipsigis, Nandi, Marakwet and Pokot people. They have a distinct tradition and lifestyle but different dialects of the same language. They amassed a considerable political power during the leadership of president Moi [1978-2002].
Kalenjin are traditionally along the western edge of the central Rift Valley region including Eldoret, Kericho, Kitale, and Baringo and around Mt. Elgon area.
Today farmers primarily, Kalenjins were pastoralists except for the Kipsigis who still adore cattle, occasionally putting them on war-Perth with their neighbors.
They owe their farming skills to the Luo and Luhya between 16th and 17th centuries.
Koitalel, a Nandi chief, organized a heavy resistance to the construction of the Kenya -Uganda Railway causing delay until he was killed. Their doctors were women skilled in the use of herbs.
Initiation was by circumcision and age-groups set then. They are athletes, notable for world-class long distance runners.
This is the definitive symbol of "East Africa" yet forms only 5% of the total population in Kenya and Tanzania. They have conserved their ethnic identity and tradition against all odds and opposition from all corners of the world.
They still posses large herds of cattle and lead semi-nomadic life, despising agriculture and the idea of land ownership.
Their artistic traditions can be seen vividly in the striking body decorations and beaded ornaments worn by both men and women. Women are especially famous for their magnificent beaded plate-like necklaces.
Their initiation involves circumcision and part of the ceremony where a man becomes a Moran [warrior] entails men going out at around 14 years to build small livestock camps after their circumcision and only return home to marry after 8 years.
They share a lot of cultural practices and language with the Samburu of northern Kenya.
This is the biggest conglomeration of sub-tribes in to one ethnic group in the country that comprise 20% of the total population.
They are Bantu believed to have migrated to the area around Mt. Kenya, locally known to them as Kirinyaga [meaning the mountain of brightness], around the 16th century. They have the nine original clans known as mwaki, tracing their origin to Gikuyu and Mumbi. Each mwaki is made of a group of many families, Nyumba, whose administration was by the council of elders. Witch doctor, medicine man and blacksmith were highly placed.
Kikuyu God, Ngai, is believed to reside on Mt. Kenya, and even today most of their homes are built facing Mt. Kenya.
Initiation consists of circumcision of boys and clitoridectomy for girls, though the later is becoming less common.
They played a great role in the struggle for independence through Mau Mau and remained pretty dominant in politics of the country and business. The first president of the nation was a Kikuyu. This has proven to be a big source of ongoing friction with other groups and a persistent stumbling block on Kenya's path to national integration.
The Borana are one of the cattle herding Oromo peoples, indigenous to Ethiopia, who migrated into South Northern Kenya in the early years of the 20th century. They are now concentrated around Marsabit and isiolo. Life revolved around the family’s animals, traditionally cattle, but also goats, sheep and sometimes camels.
The Borana observes strict role segregation between men and women, men being responsible for care of the herds while women are incharge of the children and day-today life. Borana group may pack up and move up to four times in a year, depending on whether conditions and available grazing land. As a nomadic group their reliance on oral history is strong with many traditions passed through song.
This tiny tribal group has strong links with the Rendile. Their close neighbors on the shore of L. Turkana. The El-Molo relies on L.Turkana for their existence living on a diet mainly of fish and occasionally crocodile, turtle and other wildlife. Hippos are hunted from down palm rafts with harpoons, and great social status is given to the warrior who kills a hippo.
An ill- balance protein-rich diet and the effects of too much fluoride have taken their toll on the tribe, which, over the centuries, has become increasingly vulnerable to disease and attacks from stronger tribes. At one stage there were just 500 El-Molo, living in two small villages on islands on the lake. Intermarriage with other tribes and abandonment of the nomadic lifestyle has helped to raise their numbers to about 4000 who now live on the main land near Loyangalani. Traditional costumes are now uncommon and the traditional dorm-shapes huts of the El-molo are slowly being replaced by permanent concrete homes.
This small pastoral tribe of striking Arabic-looking people in the north of Kenya, from the shore of lake Turkana up into Ethiopia. Many Gabbra converted into Islam during the time of slavery. Traditional believes include the appointment of an abbra-olla (father of the village), who oversees the moral and physical well being of the tribe.
Fathers and sons from strong relationships and marriage provides a lasting born between clans. Polygamy is still practiced by Gabbra, although the practice is becoming less common as old attitudes to women as status symbols and unpaid workers are being eroded. Gabbra men usually wear turbans and white cotton robes, while women wear ‘kanga’, thin pieces of brightly colored cotton. Although nagaya (pieces) is a core value of thee Gabbra, tribal wars with the Samburu were once common. The Gabbra are famous for their bravely, hunting lion. Rhino and elephant in preference to weak animals such as antelope.
The Gabbra lost many of their cattle herd to drought and under pest epidemics in the 19thc and were decimated by malaria and smallpox before being driven into the chalbi desert from their lands in Ethiopia by the army of Emperor Menelik. Somehow the Gabbra survived this and today continue to live in the harshest environment in Kenya.
The Gusii inhabited an area in the western highlands, east of L.Victoria, forming a small Bantu-speaking island in a mainly Nilotic-speaking area. They were driven from their original territory near Mt. Elgon to the Kisii highlands about 200 years ago, as the Luo, Maasai and Kipsigis advanced into their lands. The Gusii strongly visited the British advance and were later consipted in the large numbers into the British army.
The Gusii family typically consists of a man, his wives and their married sons, all of whom live together in a single compound. Initiation ceremonies are performed for both boys and girls, and rituals accompany all important events. Traditionally the Gusii are primarily cattle herders and crop cultivators and some also brew millet beer.
As is the case with many of Kenyan’s tribal groups, medicine men (abanyamon’go) have a highly privileged and respected position. They are responsible for maintaining the physical and mental well being of the group performing the combined role of doctor and social worker one of more bizarre practices was (and still is) trepanning: the removal of sections of the skull or spine to aid maladies such as backache and concussion.
The Luhyas are the Bantu origin and are made up of 17 different groups. They are the second largest group after the Kikuyu, but occupy a relatively small area in western Kenya centered on Kakamega where they settled around the 14thc. Population densities here are incredibly high.
In times past Luhya were skilled metal workers, forging knives and tools that were traded with other groups, but today most Luhyas are agriculturists, farming groundnuts, sesame and maize. Small holders grow large amount of cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane.
Many Luhya are superstitious and still have a strong believe in witchcraft, although to the passing travelers this is rarely obvious. Traditional costumes and rituals are becoming less common, due mostly to the pressure of the soaring Luhya population.
The men arrived in the area North-East of Mt. Kenya from the coast around the 14th century, following invasions by Somalis from north. The group was led by a chief (Mogwe) up until 1974, when the last incumbent converted to Christianity. Justice was administered by a group tribal elders (njuuni) along with Mongwe and witchdoctor, who would often carry out summary executions by giving poison-laced beer to child to face Mt. Kenya and then blessing it by spitting on it. Circumcision is also still common
The Pokot are Kalenjin by language and tradition, but their diet is dominated by meat, supplemented with blood drawn from a cattle, milk and honey. Pokot warriors wear distinctive headdresses of painted day and feather, similar to those of Turkana. Flat aluminium nose ornaments shaped like leaves and lower-hips plugs are common among men. Circumcision is part of the initiation of men and many Pokot women undergo female genital mutilation at around 12 years old.
The postural Pokot herd their cattle and goats across the waterless samb of north lake Baringo and the charangani hills. Cattle rading and the such for water and grazing, has often brought them into the conflict with the Turkana and Samburu and the Uganda Karamajong.
Pokot hill farmers are a separate and distinct group who grow tobacco and keep cattle, sheep and goats in the hills north of Kitale, on the approaches to Marich pass. Those hill farmers have a strong craft tradition, producing pottery and mental work, as well as snuff boxes from calabashes or horns.
The Rendile are pastrolist who live in small nomadic communities in the rocky Kaisut Desert in Kenya’s northeast. They have strong economic and kinship links with the Samburu and rely heavily on camels for many of their daily needs, including food, milk, clothing, trade and transport. The camels are bled by opening a vein in the neck with a blunt arrow or knife. The blood is then drunk on it’s own or with milk.
The colonial in this region found the Rendile to be a thorn in its side, as they managed to avoid taxation and forced labor through indifference and outright hostility. Rendile society is strongly bound by family ties and those center around monogamous couples. Mothers have a high status and the eldest son inherit the family wealth. It is dishonorable for a Rendile to refuse a loan, so even the poorest Rendile often has claims to at least a few camels and goats.
Rendile warriors often sport a distinctive visor-like hairstyle, dyed with red ochre while women wear several kilos beads.
Closely related to Maasai, and speaking the same language, the Samburu occupy an arid area directly worth of Mt. Kenya. It seems that when the Maasai migrated to the area from Sudan, some headed east and became the Samburu.
Like the Rendile, Samburu warriors often paste their hair with red ochre to create a visor to shield their eyes from the sun. Age is an important factor in assigning social status and a man passes through various stages before becoming a powerful elder in his 30’s.
Circumcision heralds a boy’s transition to a moran, while female genital mutilation is performed on the day of marriage for girls (usually at around 16 years old). After marriage, women traditionally leave their clan, so their social status is much lower than that of men. Samburu women wear those similar colorful bead necklaces to the Maasai. Samburu family live in a group of huts made of brunches, mud and dung surrounded by a fence made of thorn bushes. Livestock, which are kept inside the fence perimeter at night, are used for their milk rather than for meat.
Nomadic, camel-herding Somali have long lived in the arid deserts of Kenya’s northeast. Indeed, the cushites-speaking peoples, amongst whom the Somalis are numbered, arrive in Kenya before any of the Bantu-speaking people. The northern towns where Somali are in the majority are now largely off limits due to security concerns where they often run hotels, general stores and mechanical workshops.
Somalis are generally tall and thin with fine equiline feature and all heil from the same tribe, which is divided into nine clans. The clan in particular and genealogy in general is of tremendous people; storytelling and poetry are considered highly.
Many Somalis claim to have originated in the Arabian Peninsula, but historical and linguistic evidence disputes this.