Kenya culture is a fascinating way of life that blends the traditions of thousands of years of African social evolution with the modern influences of the 20th century.
The multifaceted culture of Kenya is expressed in different forms, ranging from its people and language, food, music and dance, art, artifacts, theatre and literature to its ethnic values and ethical norms. Combined with other traditions, these forms of expression and lifestyle form an identity that is uniquely Kenyan.
People and Language
The Kenyan population is comprised of more than 40 ethnic groups, each with its own unique dialect. As Kenya’s national languages, Swahili and English bridge the communication gap and unite Kenyans as a single nation.
Kenya Food and Diet
The Kenyan diet is comprised of foods rich in ethnic diversity. Popular staple foods include ugali, rice, bread, chapatti a type of Indian bread), beef, chicken, goat, tilapia and an assortment of fresh vegetables and fruits.
Ever tried charcoal grilled beef or goat meat? Nyama choma – a form of charcoal grilled beef or goat meat, is regarded as Kenya’s national dish. It is a very popular food item found in authentic Kenyan restaurants and pubs
The Nyamachoma craze
Visit Kenya and get a chance to take a bite of this age-old Kenyan delicacy. Nyamachoma or nyamchom, as the locals like to call it, is typically prepared in times of celebration and merry. The most fascinating thing about nyamachoma is not the irresistible taste but the bond that it creates between friends. Walk into two Kenyans enjoying this meal and you will be drawn in by the positive vibe. Ugali, a Kenyan staple food, is usually the main accompaniment for nyamchom, with a side of cooked green vegetables.
The Kenyan diet also includes tea. In fact, in Kenya, anytime is tea time. When it comes to drinks, Kenya tea in the form of Chai (tea with milk and sugar) is the beverage of choice. It is served for breakfast, at mealtimes and also during Kenya’s regular teatime. Clearly, Kenya culture embraces many different cultural influences: teatime is a custom borrowed from the British colonial past and the Chai style of cooking tea originated in India.
Another popular social drink, and one that also makes a good accompaniment for nyama choma, is Kenya’s signature-brand beer – Tusker.
Kenya Art and Artifacts
Another fascinating aspect of Kenyan culture is the art and artifacts that Kenya’s different ethnic groups craft manually, using readily available local materials. Beautifully carved wood sculptures showing exquisite detail and craftsmanship are produced in large quantities and sold to tourists both locally and abroad.
Other popular Kenya artifacts include colorful hand-woven sisal baskets, Maasai beaded jewelry, gold and silver jewelry, musical instruments, soapstone sculptures, tribal masks, figurines, paintings, prints, batik cloth, kangas and the beautiful traditional Kikoys (African sarongs).
Music and Dance
Kenya’s music industry wells with talent and diversity. If you are looking for songs that dig deep into African culture you can go for Kikuyu mugithi hits, Luhya ohangla music and more traditional beats that are backed by drums and guitar instruments. Almost all ethnic tribes also have their own variety of music and dance. Other Kenyan styles of music that are known to fill the airwaves include the contemporary lingala and benga rhythms. Kenya’s coast region is also very popular with taarab music, inspired by Arab and Indian immigrants.
In recent years, initiatives to enhance cultural heritage have seen the rise of customized ‘traditional nights‘. These night outs are exclusively designed to capture the culture, music and dance of specific ethnic communities in Kenya. The Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi is a popular place to visit for a traditional night out.
What about contemporary music?
If you want to get in touch with contemporary music, Kenya also offers a perfect solution. The music industry is blessed with talented artistes. Some of Kenya’s award winning artists (on an international level) in this space include Wyre the love child and mellow voiced singer Amani.
Theatre and Literature
Kenya has a strong oral tradition. This is conveyed through stories which have been passed on from generation to generation, often in the form of songs. The Kenya National Theatre is a performing art center for cultural music, dance, and plays written by Kenyan authors. Original Kenyan literature is contemporarily inspired by the social frictions of the colonial times. Popular contemporary novelists include Ngugi wa Thiong’o, among others.
Cultural values and Etiquette
Kenyans are a friendly and hospitable people, regardless of ethnic affiliation. Greetings are an important part of social and business interaction. Hand-shaking when greeting people you meet for the first time is customary. Eye contact is important to build trust.
Kenyans also place great importance on family. Kenyan families are often large and usually include the extended family. Kenyans honor collective responsibilities and traditional values, which include treating the elderly with respect and reverence.
Kenya’ most popular sport is soccer; however, it’s Kenya’s runners who have gained worldwide renown. Athletes from around the world look up to Kenya’s legends- Kipchoge Keino, Henry Rono, Paul Tergat and Catherine Ndereba, among others.