Kenya - Magical Kenya
Kenya is a country in East Africa with coastline on the Indian Ocean. It encompasses savannah, lakelands, the dramatic Great Rift Valley and mountain highlands. It’s also home to wildlife like lions, elephants and rhinos. From Nairobi, the capital, safaris visit the Maasai Mara Reserve, known for its annual wildebeest migrations, and Amboseli National Park, offering views of Tanzania’s 5,895m Mt. Kilimanjaro.
History of Kenya
It is known that human history in Kenya dates back millions of years, because it is there that some of the earliest fossilized remains of hominids have been discovered. Among the best-known finds are those by anthropologist Richard Leakey and others in the Koobi Fora area along the shore of Lake Rudolf that have included portions of Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis skeletons. The following discussion, however, covers the history of Kenya only from the 18th century. For coverage of earlier periods and for a treatment of the country in its regional context, see Eastern Africa.
The 18th and 19th centuries
Maasai and Kikuyu
The Maasai moved into what is now central Kenya from an area north of Lake Rudolf sometime in the mid-18th century. Their southward advance was checked about 1830 by the Hehe people from what is now Tanzania, but their raiding parties continued to range widely and even reached the coast south of Mombasa in 1859. The Maasai moran (“warrior”) prepared for war under the spiritual direction of the laibon (“medicine man”). Although not particularly numerous, the Maasai were able to dominate a considerable region because the Bantu-speaking inhabitants offered little effective resistance to their raids. The Nandi, who inhabited the escarpment to the west of the Maasai, were equally warlike and were relatively undisturbed by their predatory neighbours. Another group, the Taveta, took refuge in the forest on the eastern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro, while the Taita, who were farther east, used the natural strongholds provided by their mountainous homeland to resist the Maasai raiders.
The Kikuyu, who were far more numerous than the Maasai, also looked to the mountains and forests for protection against Maasai war parties. The Kikuyu had expanded northward, westward, and southward from their territory in the Fort Hall area of present-day Central province, where they cleared the forests to provide themselves with agricultural land. Toward the end of the 19th century, however, they had reached the limits imposed by the presence of the Maasai to the north and south and by the upper slopes of the Aberdare Range to the west.
Famine and smallpox in the 1890s compelled the Kikuyu to vacate much of the land in what is now Kiambu district (in Central province) as they withdrew northward. The Maasai too were passing through a difficult period. An outbreak of disease, either pleuropneumonia or rinderpest, attacked their cattle in 1883; further infestations in 1889–90 continued to decimate their herds, while the Maasai themselves were overwhelmed by epidemics of smallpox. Simultaneously, the death of Mbatian, their great laibon, split the group into warring factions, and it was some time before his younger son, Lenana, was able to restore order. Power was never revived, however, because their problems coincided with the arrival of European traders and administrators who eventually gained control of the region.
Control of the interior
Trading relations had existed for centuries between southern Arabia and the coastline of what is now Kenya; some of the Arab traders remained in the area and contributed to the language that came to be known as Swahili. During the 19th century Arab and Swahili caravans in search of ivory penetrated the interior. One route went from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria and then toward Mount Elgon, but this route was not as popular as the caravan trails farther south, both because of the difficulty of crossing the desert country of the Taru Plain and because of the hostility of the Maasai. The first Europeans to penetrate the interior were two German agents of the Church Missionary Society, Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann. They established a mission station at Rabai, a short distance inland from Mombasa. In 1848 Rebmann became the first European to see Kilimanjaro, and in 1849 Krapf ventured still farther inland and saw Mount Kenya. These were isolated journeys, however, and more than 30 years elapsed before any other Europeans attempted to explore the country dominated by the Maasai.
The British East Africa Company
As Germany, Britain, and France were carving up East Africa in the mid-1880s, they recognized the authority of the sultan of Zanzibar over a coastal strip 10 miles (16 km) wide between the Tana (in Kenya) and Ruvuma (in Tanzania) rivers. The hinterland, however, was divided between Britain and Germany: the British took the area north of a line running from the mouth of the Umba River, opposite Pemba Island, and skirting north of Kilimanjaro to a point where latitude 1° S cut the eastern shore of Lake Victoria; the German sphere, Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania), lay to the south of that line. In 1887 the sultan’s territory on the mainland was conceded to the British East Africa Association (later Company) for a 50-year period; this was later made a permanent grant. Because the British government was reluctant to become involved in the administration of East Africa, in 1888 it granted the company a royal charter that authorized it to accept existing and future grants and concessions relevant to the administration and development of the British sphere in that part of the world. The financial resources of the company, however, were inadequate for any large-scale development of the region. The company also administered territory in what is now Uganda; when it became involved with the kingdoms of Buganda and Bunyoro, it incurred a great debt and therefore was forced to limit its activities to regions nearer the coast. This financial problem was finally resolved in 1895 when the British government made Buganda a protectorate and paid the company £250,000 to surrender its charter to the area that is now Kenya. The East Africa Protectorate was then proclaimed, with Sir Arthur Hardinge as the first commissioner. Initially the British government did not attach much importance to the new protectorate because Hardinge continued to reside in Zanzibar, where he already functioned as the consul general.
People of Kenya
Ethnic groups and languages
The African peoples of Kenya, who constitute virtually the entire population, are divided into three language groups: Bantu, Nilo-Saharan, and Afro-Asiatic. Bantu is by far the largest, and its speakers are mainly concentrated in the southern third of the country. The Kikuyu, Kamba, Meru, and Nyika peoples occupy the fertile Central Rift highlands, while the Luhya and Gusii inhabit the Lake Victoria basin.
Nilo-Saharan—represented by the languages of Kalenjin, Luo, Maasai, Samburu, and Turkana—is the next largest group. The rural Luo inhabit the lower parts of the western plateau, and the Kalenjin-speaking people occupy the higher parts of it. The Maasai are pastoral nomads in the southern region bordering Tanzania, and the related Samburu and Turkana pursue the same occupation in the arid northwest.
The Afro-Asiatic peoples, who inhabit the arid and semiarid regions of the north and northeast, constitute only a tiny fraction of Kenya’s population. They are divided between the Somali, bordering Somalia, and the Oromo, bordering Ethiopia; both groups pursue a pastoral livelihood in areas that are subject to famine, drought, and desertification. Another Afro-Asiatic people is the Burji, some of whom are descended from workers brought from Ethiopia in the 1930s to build roads in northern Kenya.
In addition to the African population, Kenya is home to groups who immigrated there during British colonial rule. People from India and Pakistan began arriving in the 19th century, although many left after independence. A substantial number remain in urban areas such as Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi, where they engage in various business activities. European Kenyans, mostly British in origin, are the remnant of the colonial population. Their numbers were once much larger, but most emigrated at independence to Southern Africa, Europe, and elsewhere. Those who remain are found in the large urban centres of Mombasa and Nairobi.
The Swahili (mostly the products of marriages between Arabs and Africans) live along the coast. Arabs introduced Islam into Kenya when they entered the area from the Arabian Peninsula about the 8th century AD. Although a wide variety of languages are spoken in Kenya, the lingua franca is Swahili. This multipurpose language, which evolved along the coast from elements of local Bantu languages, Arabic, Persian, Portuguese, Hindi, and English, is the language of local trade and is also used (along with English) as an official language in the Kenyan legislative body, the National Assembly, and the courts.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the constitution. More than four-fifths of the people are Christian, primarily attending Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. Christianity first came to Kenya in the 15th century through the Portuguese, but this contact ended in the 17th century. Christianity was revived at the end of the 19th century and expanded rapidly. African traditional religions have a concept of a supreme being who is known by various names. Many syncretic faiths have arisen in which the adherents borrow from Christian traditions and African religious practices. Independent churches are numerous; one such church, the Maria Legio of Africa, is dominated by the Luo people. Muslims constitute a sizable minority and include both Sunnis and Shīʿites. There are also small populations of Jews, Jains, Sikhs, and Bahaʾis. In remote areas, Christian mission stations offer educational and medical facilities as well as religious ones.
Art & Culture of Kenya
The Kenya National Theatre, a part of the Kenya Cultural Centre, is the country’s premier venue for drama. The affiliated National Theatre School (founded 1968) provides professional training for Kenyan playwrights and performers of traditional music and dance. Independent art facilities, such as the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi, offer alternative spaces for artists to express themselves.
Kenya’s pop music is among the most varied in Africa, drawing on diverse sources, including African rumba, traditional Indian musical forms, and a wide range of European and American styles. Popular since the 1960s is an indigenous pop style that emerged in the area around Lake Victoria inhabited by the Luo; called benga, it is perhaps the most distinctly Kenyan form in the musical repertoire. Taarab, a popular music of the eastern coastal region heavily influenced by Arabic styles, is also played throughout the country.
Kenyan literature includes a large body of oral and written folklore, much of the latter collected by British anthropologists. During the colonial era, writers of European origin residing in Kenya, such as Elspeth Huxley (The Flame Trees of Thika, 1959) and Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa, 1937), introduced indigenous themes and settings to broad audiences. The Swahili literary tradition (see also Swahili literature), both oral and written, dates to the 18th century and is represented by authors such as Muyaka bin Haji al-Ghassaniy and Kupona Mwana.
Visual arts are largely confined to the mass production of wood sculpture and Maasai beadwork. Elimo Njau, Etale Sukuro, and Kivuthi Mbuno are noted Kenyan artists employing a variety of mediums. The country’s film industry is small but growing, though viewings of indigenous films are usually confined to theatres in the cities; in smaller towns and villages, film fare is likely to come from either Hollywood or India. Many foreign productions have been filmed in Kenya—such as Out of Africa (1985), To Walk with Lions (1999), Nowhere in Africa (2001), and The Constant Gardener (2005)—owing to its scenic, varied landscapes and generally clement weather.
Daily life and social customs
As is true of many developing African countries, there is a marked contrast between urban and rural culture in Kenya. Attracting people from all over the country, Kenya’s cities are characterized by a more cosmopolitan population whose tastes reflect practices that combine the local with the global. Nairobi’s nightlife, for instance, caters to youth interested in music that varies from American rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and rock to Congolese rumba. The city contains movie theatres and numerous nightclubs where patrons can dance or shoot pool; for children there are water parks and family amusement centres.
For all the modernization and urbanization of Kenya, however, traditional practices remain important. Rituals and customs are very well documented, owing to the intense anthropological study of Kenya’s peoples during the period of British colonial rule; oral literature is safeguarded, and several publishing houses publish traditional folktales and ethnographies.
Kenyan cooking reflects British, Arab, and Indian influences. Foods common throughout Kenya include ugali, a mush made from corn (maize) and often served with such greens as spinach and kale. Chapati, a fried pitalike bread of Indian origin, is served with vegetables and stew; rice is also popular. Seafood and freshwater fish are eaten in most parts of the country and provide an important source of protein. Many vegetable stews are flavoured with coconut, spices, and chilies. Although meat traditionally is not eaten every day or is eaten only in small quantities, grilled meat and all-you-can-eat buffets specializing in game, or “bush meat,” are popular. Many people utilize shambas (vegetable gardens) to supplement purchased foods. In areas inhabited by the Kikuyu, irio, a stew of peas, corn, and potatoes, is common. The Maasai, known for their herds of livestock, avoid killing their cows and instead prefer to use products yielded by the animal while it is alive, including blood drained from nonlethal wounds. They generally drink milk, often mixed with cow’s blood, and eat the meat of sheep or goats rather than cows.
Urban life in Kenya is by no means uniform. For example, as a Muslim town, Mombasa stands in contrast to Nairobi. Although there are numerous restaurants, bars, and clubs in Mombasa, there are also many mosques, and women dressed in bui buis (loose-fitting garments that cover married Muslim women from head to toe) are common.
Rural life is oriented in two directions—toward the lifestyles of rural inhabitants, who still constitute the majority of Kenya’s population, and toward foreign tourists who come to visit the many national parks and reserves. Although agricultural duties occupy most of the time of rural dwellers, they still find occasion to visit markets and shopping centres, where some frequent beer halls. Mobile cinemas also provide entertainment for the rural population.
Kenya observes most Christian holidays, as well as the Muslim festival ʿId al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Jamhuri, or Independence Day, is celebrated on December 12. Moi Day (recognizing Daniel arap Moi) and Kenyatta Day, both in October, honour two of the country’s presidents, while Madaraka (Swahili: Government) Day (June 1) celebrates Kenya’s attainment of self-governance in 1964.
Go on Safaris!
The diversity of game in Kenya is simply astounding. From the big five to the small five, Kenya’s game parks, reserves and other wildlife protection areas host some of the wildest game thus the reason why this is home for the safari. Dotted in their unique landscapes, geographical features, a vast array of game ensues. The icing on Kenya’s wildlife cake is the annual Wildebeest Migration at the infamous Maasai Mara migration between mid-August and late October. This is the best example of wild nature at its best as hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, Thomson’s gazelles, topi and elands.