This diversity extends to Kenya’s cultural profile, a sophisticated kaleidoscope of numerous tribes and clans each with their own traditions, cultural tendencies and beliefs. There are over 70 tribal groups in the country although distinctions between many of these groups are becoming less and less important due to rural-urban migration and the erosion of traditional culture by western values. For a country with so many distinct cultural affiliations, Kenya has, up until very recently had few major cultural conflicts, standing out as shining example to the rest of the world in matters of race and cuture relations. The construction of the Uganda railway at the start of the 19th century gave rise to a large scale migration of Indian workers who were contracted to help build the railway line by the British Empire, the descendants of whom comprise a significant deal of the Indian population in the nation at present. Other people’s from commonwealth nations such as Nubian soldiers used by the British Empire in global conflicts and their families were also settled in Kenya whilst the nation was under colonial rule, adding further variation to an already diverse country.
Kenya has long been elucidated as a land of contrasts by many. Geographically, the nation boasts everything from jagged, snow-capped peaks and alpine glaciers, desert and semi arid landscapes particularly in the North and East of the state, tropical rainforest in the West of the land and sandy, coral-fringed beaches along its coast. From expansive savannah grassland to rugged volcanic terrain sprinkled with moon-like rock outcrops that create a foreboding and awe-inducing feel, Kenya beams with a diversity that few nations can offer.
Major tribes in Kenya
The Kikuyu :
The Kikuyu comprise Kenya’s largest tribal group, at 20% of the overall population. This dominion extends to matters of politics, within which the kikuyu remain the most politically influential tribe (due in part to the influence and status of Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) The Kikuyu are renowned for putting up fierce resistance to the British colonial rule, spearheading the Mau Mau rebellion on the 1950’s, a protest that has been classified as a major factor behind the collapse of British rule in Kenya and the consequent attainment of independence. Though widely distributed throughout the nation, the heartland of the Kikuyu tribe surrounds the slopes of Mt Keny
The luo make up 12% of Kenya’s population, comprising the 3rd largest tribal group. This tribal group inhabits the area around Lake Victoria, to the west of the country and descends from Nilotic populations from Southern Sudan. Family virtues are of particular emphasis within the luo tribe, who stand out from other Kenyan tribes inasmuch as they do not practice circumcision for either sex. Barack Obama’s father was of the luo sect and Obama himself is regarded by many as a true son of the tribe.
The Maasai’s are regarded as a major cultural symbol of Kenya, with a reputation as fierce, proud warriors preceding them. Like the Luo, The Maasai are descendants of the Nilotic peoples of Sudan. The Maasai tribe has maintained a great deal of its traditions and practices by staying out of the development of the nation and clinging to their beliefs and virtues, a feature that has contributed to their global renown.
The Akamba :
Famous for their wood carvings and trade acumen, the Akamba inhabit the region east of Nairobi and down towards Tsavo national park, a homeland they call Ukambani. The Akamba are of Bantu descent and migrated to their current location from around Southern Africa several centuries ago. During colonial times the British Empire valued the aptitude and fighting skills of the Akamba and were as such drafted in large numbers into the British army.
The Luhya are Kenya’s second largest tribal group after the Kikuyu yet occupy a relatively small area in Western Kenya, around Kakamega. Concurrently, the population density of this tribe in this region is one of the highest in the nation. Most luhya are farmers, specialising in the cultivation of groundnuts, sesame, maize and other crops. Many members of the luhya tribe, particularly those that tend to be more traditional hold superstitious beliefs and notions centered around witchcraft although to the passing traveller, this is rarely obvious.
Formely known collectively as the Nandi, the Kalenjin inhabit the Western edge of the central Rift Valley region, around the tea highlands of Kericho and beyond. The Kalenjin are descendants of Nilot populations from Southern Sudan and comprise the Nandi, Kipsigis, Eleyo, Marakwet, Pokot and Tugen sub-groups. The Nandi sub-group of this tribe developed an admirable military reputation during the late 19th century for their efforts in impeding the construction of the Uganda railway for more than a decade, until their chief at the time (Koitalel) was killed. The Kalenjin are also famous for producing many of Kenya’s elite atheletes, such as Paul Tergat, Wilson Kipeketer, Tegla Loroupe and Moses Tanui, many of whom hold global records in numerous disciplines.
The Kisii are a bantu tribe that inhabit the western edge of Kenya, along and around the shores of Lake Victoria where they settled many years ago following migration from The Congo. Their geographical distribution is unique amongst the bantu tribes as they were surrounded by hostile Nilotic tribes at the time they migrated. The Kisii developed a reputation for self defence and toughness over time as they laid claim to their land, which remains one of the most densely populated areas in Kenya today.
The Meru live in the area northeast of Mt Kenya and arrived there from coastal areas around the 14th century as they fleed invasions from Somali tribes from the north. Many Merus are farmers of one sort or another and cultivate the fertile pastures on which they dwell. Sub groups within the Meru tribe include the Chukas, the Igembes, the Tharakas, the Muthambis, the Tiganias and the Imenti.