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Kenyan People, Tribes & Traditions

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Kenya has a very rich variety of tribes and currently, there are more than 60 different ethnic groups. Most express their traditions in their ways of life, ceremonial attires, dances, Arts, songs and rhythms and home settings. Majority of Kenya people are of the Bantu tribes such as the Kikuyu, Akamba, Luyha and Embu; are believed to have migrated from western Africa.
Of the Nilotics origin include Luo, Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, Kalenjin, and Pokot. This specific group covers the best percentage of the total population in Kenya. The Nilotes originated from Sudan, and the Hamitic group mainly pastoral tribes originated from Ethiopia and Somalia.
There are also some groups of people who form a very small population such as the El Molo.

Kikuyu Tribe

The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe are Bantu who entered Kenya during the Bantu migration. They base their organization on the family unit and as a tribe and it includes families identified with the Meru, the Akamba, the Embu and the Chuka. The Kikuyu was founded by a man called Gikuyu. Kikuyu record asserts that “Ngai” –a Kikuyu god took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga and instructed him to stay there. He was also given his wife, Mumbi and later got nine daughters. It was from these nine daughters that the nine Kikuyu clans of Achera, Agachiku, Airimu, Ambui, Angare, Anjiru, Angui, Aithaga, and Aitherandu- came into existence.
Traditionally the Kikuyu are heavily agricultural cultivating at the foothills of Mount. Kenya the most intensively farmed areas in Kenya. They cultivate crops ranging from sugarcane, bananas, yams, arum lily, maize, beans, millet, black beans and a variety of vegetables. They also raise cattle which provide hides for sandals, bedding, and carrying straps. Sheep and goats are used for purification and sacrifices.

Turkana Tribe

The Turkana people numbering over 200,000 are the second largest group of nomadic pastoralists in Kenya and occupy a rectangular area bordered by Lake Turkana in northern Kenya with Ethiopia lying on the east, Uganda on the west, Sudan on the north. They are basically warriors and attach great significance on traditional attire plus ornaments which are of vital importance, especially for both women and young warriors. They hide their neck in brightly coloured beads. They greatly seek any object to make ornaments in order to raise their charm.

Luo Tribe

These are the country’s third-largest group, making up 12% of the population of Kenya. They live around the showers of Lake Victoria and they are the county’s most powerful political groups. The group formerly pastoralist, have adopted farming and fishing.
The group, unlike other tribes, does not practice circumcision, however, at initiation four to six teeth are removed and the people live in family groups in enclosed fences.

Maasai Tribe

The Masai are nomadic herdsmen, found mainly in Southern Kenya. According to tradition, the Masai believed that their rain God “Ngai” granted all cattle to them to keep after the earth and sky split and therefore believe it’s sanctioned for them to steal cattle from other tribes. The Masai have not drifted from their traditional ways of life. They have preferred to remain nomadic herdsmen with their livelihood and economy centered on Cattle since it’s seen a sign of wealth. Their main diet is cow’s milk mixed with blood. Some are farmers and grow commercial crops such as vegetable and corn. Many still believe that education is not important for their survival. Cattle is worshipped because it is their main source of economic survival as opposed to education

Samburu Tribe

The Samburu people are related to the Maasai and occupy the region just above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. They are semi-nomadic pastoralists and dress in very traditional attire usually made of bright red material, multi-beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Their lives revolve around their animals. Milk is their main diet and at times mixed with blood. Meat is only eaten on special occasions. They make their soups from roots and barks and eat vegetables.

Akamba Tribe

The Akamba are Bantu-speaking people, who migrated from the south about 200 years to settle in Eastern Nairobi towards Tsavo national park. They are renowned for their fighting ability and it’s this that they are well represented in the Kenyan defence forces and security organizations.

Kalenjin Tribe

This is one of Kenya’s largest groups, living on the western edge of the Rift Valley. “Kalenjin” is a group of small tribes including Nandi, Tugen, Pokot, Marakwet and Kipsigi speaking the Nandi tribe but in different dialects but living similar lifestyles and cultures. Occupy the Baringo, Eldoret, Kericho areas surrounding Mt. Elgon and Kitale. The Kalenjin practice circumcision objectively to initiate boys to manhood. They also do some farming but are originally pastoralists.

Luhya Tribe

The Luhya are Bantu people, and these form the second largest ethnic group of Kenya, occupying the most densely populated area, with about 4.6 million people. They are agriculturalists growing a range of crops like cassava, Tea, Maize, Wheat, Rice and Sugarcane.
Polygamy is allowed traditionally in the Luhya culture and was the norm. Their culture revolves around the extended family and traditional marriage is widely practised.

Pokot Tribe

The Pokot people, who speak the Pokot language, are found in Baringo districts and West Pokot in Kenya. The Pokot are divided into two groups; the Hill Pokot- who are both farmers and pastoralists occupying the rainy highlands in the west and in the central south; and the Plains Pokot- these live in the dry and infertile plains and their major occupation is herding. Among the Pokot, Tororot is considered the supreme deity. Prayers and offerings are made to him during communal gatherings, including feasts and dances. Pokot art is associated with body ornamentation such as beadwork, coiffures and wigs worn by young men which is a signal of their membership in a given age-category.

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