Kenya High Commission
 in Botswana

Culture

Kenya is bestowed with well over 40 different ethnic groups with different languages and dialects, traditional arts & crafts, architecture in homestead designs, clothing and jewellery, food, social and economic activities. Successive migrations and invasions, right until the British colonisation in the late 19th Century, have left their mark in the rich mixture of tribes, race and customs seen in Kenya today. If any one thing of Kenya speaks of this unique character, it is the modern melding of traditional societies and culture. Kenya’s culture is both diversified and fragmented, born of myriad sources and influences both new and old.

In Kenya the modern and the traditional live side by side, and at times the lines blur. For many visitors to Kenya, this is evident within minutes of arrival. In Kenya it is possible to leave Nairobi, a city with a thriving business heart powered by the latest information technology, and drive in just a few hours to a place where life is lived in accordance to tradition and custom, where warriors armed with spears drive cattle into thorn brush enclosures to protect them from lions at night.

Languages

The country has at least 40 different ethnic African groups (including the Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin tribes, Luo, Kamba, Somali, Kisii, Meru & Embu, Mijikenda, Turkana and Maasai) who speak a variety of mother tongues. These languages fall into there categories - Bantu (Niger-Congo) languages which are spoken by around 65% of people, the Nilo-Saharan group of languages spoken among another third of the population and the Cushitic language, an Afro-Asian tongue spoken in the north by around 3% of the population.

Swahili is the national language and is especially Bantu infused with Arabic, Asian and European elements. English is the official language.

 Kenya is also home to large populations of Europeans, Arabs, Indians and Pakistanis, many of whom came to the country in the 19th century.

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Music

The most popular music genre include traditional song and dance, Benga, Taarab and the Afropop

Traditional Song and Dance

Songs and dance have always played an important role in African culture, used especially to mark important events and ceremonies. These are played during traditional weddings, initiation such as circumcision, and National Days such as Madaraka and Jamhuri days

Taarab

On the coast, the growth of Swahili culture saw the growth of a unique style of music, called Taarab. Combining elements of African percussion with Arabic rhythms, Taarab become a popular form of music that remains a coastal favourite today.

Benga

One of the most popular forms of pop music is Benga, which combines traditional African drum and dance rhythms with modern electrical sounds and melodies.The two main influences are from the South African Jazz and Zimbabwean ‘highlife’ guitar work; and from the West, the distinctive rumba rhythm of Congolese pop. Many of these artists remain popular today, such as Luo musician DO Misiani , Luhya legend Daudi Kibaka and venerated Kikuyu singer Kamaru Afropop

The 90’s and the 21st Century have seen a great deal more Western influence, and the adoption of reggae, rap, rhythm and blues and swing into Kenyan music. A new wave of popular musicians is creating a form of Kenyan music which fuses traditional elements with the many external influences to produce something new and very interesting.

Basking in the glory of this new genre that has been wildly embraced by young Kenyans include performers like Gidi Gidi Maji Maji, Kalamashaka, Necessary Noize, Nazizi, Poxi Presha and Mercy Myra.

Food

Kenya is a multi-racial society, the majority of people comprising native ethnic groups. The rest of the population is Asian, Arab, and European. The official languages of Kenya are Swahili and English.

Traditional Kenyan foods reflect the many different lifestyles of the various groups in the country. Most Kenyan dishes are filling and inexpensive to make. Staple foods consist mainly of corn, maize, potatoes, and beans. Ugali (a porridge made of maize) and meat are typically eaten inland, while the coastal peoples eat a more varied diet.

food

Education

The education system provides for eight years of primary, four years of secondary and four years of university education. This is referred to as the 8-4-4 system of education. Currently, Kenya has five public and many private universities, polytechnics, institutes of technology and technical training institutions. There are a number of international schools catering for various educational systems e.g. American, British, French, German, Japanese and Swedish.

Religion

The Constitution of Kenya guarantees freedom of worship and there are hundreds of religious denominations and sects in the country. The followers of Christian faith are the majority, with 40% being Protestant and 30% Roman Catholic. Islam is the main religion for most of the communities along the coast and the Somali community. The Asian community is mainly Hindu. Some Kenyans observe traditional methods of worship.

Etiquette and Customs in Kenya

Meeting and Greeting

  • The most common greeting is the handshake.
  • When greeting someone with whom you have a personal relationship, the handshake is more prolonged than the one given to a casual acquaintance.
  • Close female friends may hug and kiss once on each cheek instead of shaking hands.
  • When greeting an elder or someone of higher status, grasp the right wrist with the left hand while shaking hands to demonstrate respect.
  • Muslim men/women do not always shake hands with women/men.
  • The most common greeting is “Jambo?” (“How are you?”), which is generally said immediately prior to the handshake.
  • After the handshake it is the norm to ask questions about the health, their family, business and anything else you know about the person.
  • To skip or rush this element in the greeting process is the height of poor manners. People are generally addressed by their academic, professional or honorific title followed by their surname.
  • Once a personal relationship has developed, you may be able to address a person by their title and first name, first name alone, or nickname. Wait for the Kenyan to determine that your friendship has reached this level of intimacy.
  • Women over the age of 21 are often addressed as “Mama” and men over the age of 35 are often addressed as “Mzee”. Children generally refer to adults as Aunt or Uncle, even if there is not a familial relationship.