Boma Homestead

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Boma Homes

***** Location: Kenya
***** Season: Non-seasonal Topic
***** Category: Humanity


A boma is a Swahili word for a traditional Kenyan homstead. Most, if not all, ethnic groups in Kenya have boma style homesteads in the rural areas. These have been replaced with stone, mud brick or mabati (corrugated iron) houses in the urban areas.

A boma comprises an enclosed compound of varying structure and composition, with traditional houses for the various members of the family.

The husband may or may not have his own house. The several wives each have their own houses within the boma, and share these with their small children and the daughters up to marriageable age. The older sons will each have their own houses, and there may be a separate house where the men of the family entertain visitors. In most ethnic groups, the smaller animals (e.g. goats) have a separate compartment within each of these houses, where they spend the nights.

Each boma also contains granaries and other storage buildings, constructed in the same style as the main houses.

Depending on the tribe and region, houses are round in shape and may be constructed of mud and wattle, of wood or of thatch. Roofs are almost always thatched, although the thatching materials (grass, reeds, straw) would vary from one region to another. All of them have good insulation properties, making them cool in the hot season and warm when the outdoor temperature is cold.

Nowadays, urban areas lack the space necessary for the construction of bomas, so that urban families by necessity live together in the one house -- something that would have been totally unacceptable in traditional Kenya. More and more, Kenya also lacks the grasses needed for thatching, and the particular soil needed for the mud and wattle construction.

A good place to discover the bomas of the different parts of Kenya, is the outdoor museum "Bomas of Kenya", where the excellent guides explain the houses and the lifestyles of many ethnic groups, which themselves built the homesteads in adjacent forest clearings, near Lang'ata outside Nairobi.

The photos of a visit to Bomas of Kenya may be seen here :
Bomas of Kenya 30.03.2007

Text and photos © Isabelle Prondzynski.

More INFO on Boma homes.


In the Kikuyu village
© Photo Isabelle Prondzynski

rounded beautiful bomas
smooth cow dung floors --
grass thatched roofs

More Haiku from a trip to Busia in the west of Kenya
Anthony Njoroge , 2007

Worldwide use

Things found on the way


Mission to Busia

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The hidden story of the Boma

Lesson from the land beyond the Great Rift Valley

The journey to Busia is perhaps the longest journey I have taken this far. Busia is in the western part of Kenya.

the sun rises
the sun sets
through the bus window

As the darkness engulfs the light, sugarcane plantations become the ruling plantation in the land beyond the Great Rift Valley. Trucks ferrying sugarcane to the factory are everywhere. Some with one light, you may confuse them with motorbikes, some with punctured tires, stood on the road as small dark bushes in the night. Life seemed to be in operation for twenty-four hours in the land that is many kilometres away from the city centre.

As I left Nairobi, I knew very well that I was to spend one week in the unknown land. A land with a different culture, world view and very different life to the urban set up which I have been so much accustomed to. Very early in the morning of the following day, we took a boda boda (bicycle used as a taxi in the rural parts of Kenya and common in the great western part) to our final destination -- a place we were to call home in the whole week that we were to spend there. I was shown a “hut” that would be my room during my stay in that place.

It is the story I unearthed, which I never knew, that I want to share with all of us, who are interested by learning from all the senses. Something learned within a week that which transformed my preconceived mind.

The lady who was to take care of me, took my luggage and summoned me to follow her. She could not hide the joy of hosting a visitor who has come with a noble mission. She sang and smiled, she called me time and again to ensure everything was moving well. I felt held like a newborn baby in the hands of a mother who has just given birth for the first time. Time and again, she looked at the heavens,

lips of joy
hymning to the heavens-
the sun lights up

But in my heart, I felt in the most remote parts of Kenya. How could I live in a grass thatched rounded room. Walls fashioned with mud and earth floors. I had learned from my school that this was a mark of poverty, remoteness and uncivilisation. When the colonial people came, these dwelling homes could not be called houses. They were below their standards. I could foresee uncomfort of all sorts.

In the day we were to leave, I desired to be left behind and live in this room where I enjoyed a lot of peace. During hot sun the rooms were cool and in the cold moments there were very comfortable. They had the mechanism to naturally maintain the room temperature favourable and comfortable in all hours and moments of the day.

The floor was made of a mixture from cow dung well made by the hands of skilled women and applied professionally. A lesson learned and passed down in centuries and made better every time it goes down. The thatched roof acted like a ceiling and barred any unnecessary sound from penetrating. Thus whether it was raining or not everything went on well.

Before I thought that these houses were a sign of poverty and as I have indicated backwardness. It is only after I had visited few homes that I discovered that the rich and the poor in the area had one thing in common in the area -- they all lived in bomas. The doctors, farmers, teachers and business people all lived in these houses. I learned later that coming up with such a home was the desire of every young person. It is more expensive than the houses made from timber and iron sheets. In the land where stone quarries are uncommon, they have a great coping strategy. The houses made of stone have only one advantage over this kind of houses, the permanency they come with.

With the sugarcane plantations taking over the whole land that was previously covered with the special grass used for thatching, the community is losing a great heritage. No technology can provide this. Before the discovery of the air conditioners these African women had discovered a great way to cool and warm. Building a boma is now more expensive so that only few can afford it.

Sunday evening knocked and my stay in this rich place had to come to an end. Rich in culture, food and heart. A land where a visitor is second to God or in other words a Gift from the Great Were, the God of the Luhya. I packed my belonging with one prayer.

an opportunity
to come again is
all I want

Monday morning we were all in the bus for the long journey across the Rift Valley.

i will cross you
time and again
for the fruits beyond your valleys

© by Antony Njoroge, January 2008


This ancient and revered hut retains within its construction the wisdom of harmony.

the roundness
of a boma -- endless

Your account, dear Mister Njoroge, has inspired my imagination.


Related words

***** Rift Valley

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