The Culture Of Kenya

Masks for sale at a market in Nairobi, Kenya.
Masks for sale at a market in Nairobi, Kenya.

The culture of the African nation of Kenya is based on multiple traditions associated with the various ethnic communities residing in the country. Although the Maasai constitute a small part of the country’s population, Maasai culture is well known to tourists.

Ethnicity, Language, And Religion

Kenya is home to around 48,397,527 individuals. No single ethnic group has a majority in the country. The ethnic communities with the largest populations in Kenya include Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalejin, Luo, Kamba, Somali, Kisii, Masai, and others. English and Kiswahili are two of the country’s official languages. Many indigenous languages are spoken by the various indigenous tribes of Kenya. Christians including both Protestants, Catholics, and other Christians account for 83% of Kenya’s population. Muslims and followers of traditional African religions also have a significant presence in the country. Many Kenyans incorporate their indigenous religious beliefs into their practices of Christianity or Islam. Belief in ancestral spirits is strong in the country. Diviners are people who are believed to be the link between the spirit world and the real world and are highly regarded in Kenyan society. They are often called to ward off evil spirits or cure diseases. Belief in witchcraft and reincarnation is strong in society.


The cuisines of Kenya varies regionally but cereals like maize, millets, and sorghum are the staples of the cuisine. They are accompanied with meat and vegetables. Some of the most widely consumed Kenyan dishes are sukuma wiki (a dish made with greens), ugali (cornmeal porridge), and nyama choma (a grilled meat dish). The Luhya people residing in Western Kenya prefer chicken and ugali meals. The Kalenjin people of the rift valley have ugali with vegetables and mursik (a type of fermented milk). Tubers like taro and sweet potatoes and legumes are part of the cuisine of the Kikuyu people of Central Kenya. Fish and other seafood are popular in the coastal area of the country. Thus, as one travels through Kenya, the distinct differences in the cuisines become easily visible.

Literature And The Arts

Kenya has a rich heritage of oral and written literary works. The oral literature tradition of the country continues today in several indigenous languages. However, most of the written literature is in English and Swahili. The Story of Tambuka written by Mwengo is an epic poem from the 18th century. It is written in the Swahili language and is one of the earliest written literary works in the Swahili language. Weep Not, Child, a novel by Thiong’o is the first English novel to be published in the country. Many internationally famed foreign authors have also described Kenya in their published works like Out of Africa and The Flame Trees of Thika.

Like literature, Kenya has a wealth of traditional art and craft forms. The country is famous for its wood-carvings and sculptures. Elaborate headdresses and colorful tribal masks are also made to be used in the traditional dance and music ceremonies. Beadwork from Kenya is also known for its beauty. Silver and gold jewelry with unique African designs are also made by Kenyan artisans. Kenyan women of some tribes are known for their basketry and pottery skills.

Performance Arts

Singing and dancing are integral to the culture of Kenya. They are often performed during religious ceremonies, weddings, and initiation ceremonies. Elaborate costumes and masks are usually worn while performing such dances. Kenyan has multiple types of folk music. Drums are the most important traditional musical instrument used in Kenya. Zilizopendwa is local urban music of Kenya. Hip hop is also popular in urban areas. Some of the most famous traditional dances of the country include isukuti, ohangla, nzele, taarab, and others. The Christian gospel music scene and benga have also flourished in the country in recent decades.


Sports in an integral part of the culture of Kenya. Both indigenous traditional sports and modern sports are played in the country. The former includes wrestling, hunting using arrows and spears, bullfights, stick fights, and racing. Modern sports include football, cricket, basketball, volleyball, martial arts, motorsports, swimming, and ice hockey. Kenyan athletes have won medals in many international sports events including the Olympic Games. Globally, the country is known for its dominance in the field of racing. The Kenyan cricket team also has several achievements in its record.

Life In Society

Kenyan society is a patriarchal society where men primarily control money and property. Women, however, usually work more than men. In rural areas, women do not only manage the household and children but also work in the fields, maintain a vegetable garden, cook, and also sell food in the market. Village men often leave their homes to migrate to the cities in search of paid work. In urban areas, women constitute nearly 40% of the workforce. Despite their significant contributions, women still earn relatively less than men and also hold lower-paying jobs. Domestic violence is common in Kenya and wife beating is widely prevalent. Women have little legal help to deal with such issues. Another major problem plaguing the lives of Kenyan women is the practice of female genital mutilation which makes them susceptible to pain and infections throughout their lives. Today, however, many women’s rights organizations are working hard to get the rights of women recognized.

Marriages in Kenya are usually arranged. The tradition of polygamy is still practiced today but is becoming rarer. In polygamous households, the multiple wives are usually assigned separate huts where they live with their children while the man has a hut for himself. In the urban areas, monogamous marriages are more common and nuclear families are growing in number. Men pay a bride price to the bride’s family in exchange for their daughter. The bride price is generally higher for the first wife than subsequent ones. Inheritance is patrilineal in nature.

Children are highly valued in Kenyan families and the entire community including immediate and extended family members take up the responsibility of rearing children. Boys and girls have different upbringings. They are taught gender-appropriate roles at an early age. Primary education is free in Kenya. However, literacy rates are low in the country and its education system is considered to be of poor quality.

Kenyans are considered to be very hospitable and friendly people who value social interactions a lot. Greetings are extended in nature where one shakes hands or hugs and asks about health and family members. Visitors to Kenyan homes are almost always well-fed by the host family. Elderly people are treated with a lot of respect.


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