Getting to Know Kenya

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.. .. .. .. .. Getting to Know Kenya

The peoples of Kenya

Kenya is a huge country, comparable with the whole of Europe, rather than any individual country within the continent. The population of 29 million people (1999 census) live in hugely different circumstances, depending on their location -- from desert to beach, from the fertile plateau to sodium lakes, from well watered hills to arid bush, from uninhabited areas to urban conglomerations. Some areas are densely populated, while others know only semi-nomadic seasonal pastoralists.

Within Kenya live 32 nations, each with its own language, as well as numerous others who speak dialects of these 32. The national language, which only a small minority speak as their mother tongue, is Swahili (in Swahili : Kiswahili). By means of this second language, all people of Kenya can communicate, not only with each other, but with the people of the neighbouring countries.

To compare with Europe again -- if all Europeans learnt Esperanto as their second language and used it to communicate with each other, rather than learning dozens of each other's languages, the same efficient effect could be achieved. English in Kenya is the third language, used for secondary and tertiary education throughout the country, as well as for primary education in the melting pot of Nairobi. Each child therefore prepares for adult life through education in her or his third language from secondary school at the latest. There must be few other countries who do this! Most Kenyans therefore, who have attended school beyond the age of 14, are trilingual -- though not of course equally competent in each of these languages.

In Kenya have met 3 great families of nations, the Bantu, the Nilotic and the Cushitic -- a rich mix which has not occurred in any other country. If we compare with Europe, this is populated above all by Indo-Europeans, but there are also Finno-Ugric peoples (the Finns, Estonians and Hungarians) and Basques (apparently related to no other people on earth). In other words, English and Hindi are more similar than Kikuyu and Luo (to mention the two largest nations within Kenya).

The political system is, of course, the same for all. Legally, some differences exist, as each nation may have its own law in matters such as matrimony and inheritance.

Culture and attitudes differ vastly between these nations -- and of course between individuals!

Kenyans were not in the past happy emigrants -- preferring their own country to those of others. More recently, there has been a change, with a search for the crock of gold... that same crock which eluded most of the Irish emigrants of the past...

Isabelle Prondzynski

............................ Further reading :

1999 census summary (one page of interesting highlights) :

General introduction to the peoples of Kenya :


History of Kenya

In 1911, the german enthomologist prof. Kattwinkel fell down a ravine while he was pursuing an unusual butterfly. The place was Olduvai Gorge, in Serengeti. The fall was hard, but the scientist somehow managed to save his life. Then he raised his eyes, and only a scientist would have appreciated that the rocky wall was an extraordinary fossil bed... And this changed the conception man had of his own origin.
To tell the history of Kenya, we must go right to the start, to the dawn of mankind.
... kenyalogy.com

More reference about KENYA


Great Photo Collection of Kenya

Group of Samburu dancers performing traditional tribal jumping dance.


Kenya -- Folklore

Kenya's many ethnic groups have a well developed and sophisticated folklore which embodies their history, traditions, mores, world-view and wisdom. Their legends recount the movement of people to and from the rift valley, into the highlands, the grasslands and the lake regions. Famous historical figures such as the Kikuyu Gikuyu and Mumbi or the Luo culture hero Liongo are represented in myths and legends. Myths include accounts of how cattle were given to a certain people by God. The Maasai have this legend, so when they went on cattle raids they were getting back what was rightfully theirs. The Kikuyu also have a similar story.

Folk tales try to answer etymological questions, such as why the hyena has a limp and the origin of death. In many Kenyan cultures the message that men would not die was given to a chameleon, but he was so slow that a bird got to man before him and gave them the message that men would die. Folk tales also recount the adventures of tricksters. In Kenya, tricksters are usually the hare or the tortoise. The ogre is another popular, if evil, character in many Kenyan folk tales. The ogre devours whole communities but is eventually vanquished by the actions of a brother and sister. The brother then cuts the toe of the ogre and all the people it ate come out.

Each ethnic group has a large store of riddles, proverbs and sayings, which are still an important aspect of daily speech. Riddles were usually exchanged in the evening before a storytelling session. Riddling sessions are usually competitions between two young people who fictionally bet villages, or cattle, or other items of economic life on the outcome. Many cultures have a prohibition on telling riddles during daylight hours. The Kikuyu had a very elaborate sung riddle game, a duet called the enigma poem or gicandia set text poem of riddles. It is sung in a duet and the players are in a competition. The duet is strikingly different than the normal singing of the Kikuyu performed by a soloist and a chorus. The poem is learned by heart. A decorated gourd rattle accompanies the singing One gicandi may consists of 127 stanzas.

Proverbs are social phenomenon and as such they can be defined as a message coded by tradition and transmitted in order to evaluate and/or effect human behavior. Proverbs reveal key elements of a culture such as the position and influence of women, morality, what is considered appropriate behavior, and the importance of children. For example the Luo have these proverbs:
(1) The eye you have treated will look at you contemptuously.
(2) A cowardly hyena lives for many years.
(3) The swimmer who races alone, praises the winner.

Some Kikuyu examples includes:
(1) Women and the sky cannot be understood.
(2) The man may be the head of the home, but the woman is the heart.
(3) Frowning frogs cannot stop the cows drinking from the pool.

There are also several proverbs in Swahili and English that have become part of Kenyans' daily life. For example: Haraka Haraka haina baraka (hurry hurry has not blessing) and also, When elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.

The Swahili people on Kenya's coast have had a rich oral tradition that has been influenced by Islam. Stories of genies are told side by side with stories of hare and hyena. There is also a very rich tradition of popular poetry that has been part of Swahili cultural life for over four centuries.

Kenyan radio and television shows use folklore as part of their daily programming. Oral literature is part of the secondary and university syllabus. Part of the requirement in these classes is for students to collect folklore from their parents and grandparents. Kenyans believe that folklore is an important part of their heritage and culture and are taking steps to preserve and encourage folklore and education. While global culture in the shape of movies, music and literature is replacing folklore, Kenyans are actively involved in its maintenance.

For Further Reading:
African Studies Center
© Kenya -- Folklore


Biovision - plants, humans, animals, environment
source : infonet-biovision.org


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