The ethnic tribes of Kenya

There are 42 Kenya tribes, each contributing to the country's diverse and rich culture and heritage.

The tribes of Kenya are known for their unique history, culture, values, lifestyle, language, religion, food and more.

Most visitors to Kenya can easily recall the Maasai tribe and their close kin, the Samburu people. Kenyan tourism has made the Maasai and Samburu tribes the most famous because of their long preserved culture.

By resolutely clinging to their traditions, the Maasai and Samburu have remained two of the few cohesive and culturally authentic ethnic tribes of Kenya. They are thus recognized world-wide as a symbol of Kenyan culture and are favorites among tourists.

Kenya's Ethnic Groups

The indigenous tribes of Kenya fall into three ethnic groups, namely: the Bantus, the Cushites and the Nilotes.

The Bantus

The Bantu ethnic group is the largest ethnic community in Kenya. They make up about 70 percent of the country's population, but they occupy less than 30 percent of the Kenyan land base. The Bantu people in Kenya live mainly in the coastal, central, western and eastern regions of the country. The Kikuyu tribe forms Kenya's largest single ethnic group.

Their closest kin are the Embu and Meru tribes. These are followed closely by the Luhya, who live in Western Kenya, the Kamba people of Eastern Kenya, the Kisii tribe from the Rift Valley region, and the Swahili, Taita and Mijikenda people from Kenya's coast.

Unlike the Nilotes, rural Bantus are agriculturalists who grow much of Kenya's cash crops, including the popular Kenya coffee, tea and other agricultural products such as maize, beans, rice and sugar.

The Cushites

Cushites, or Cushitic people, live in the arid and semi-arid eastern and northeastern parts of Kenya. They reside along a very large area of land that runs from the east of Lake Turkana, stretches to the north of Kenya, and through to the Indian Ocean. Cushites include the Somali, Rendile, Borana and Oromo tribes. Due to the dryness of their habitat throughout most of the year, Cushites are mainly nomadic pastoralists who keep large herds of cattle, camels, goats and sheep. Cushitic people maintain very close ties with their kinsmen - the Cushites of the neighboring countries of Somalia and Ethiopia.

The Nilotes

Kenyan Nilotes reside in the broad Rift Valley region of Kenya, around Lake Victoria. They are comprised of three distinct groups: the River Lake Nilotes; the Luo, who live along Lake Victoria and practice fishing; and the plain Nilotes, who include the Maasai, Samburu, and Turkana people. The plain Nilotes are pastoral tribes who have defied modern trends to retain most of their traditional ways of life. They mainly reside in the Rift Valley where they practice nomadic pastoralism.

The plain Nilotes roam from one part of their territory to another in resonance with the rainfall and in search of water and fresh food for their large herds. The Highland Nilotes are the Kalenjin people who live in Kenya's Western Highlands. Due to their geographical positioning and good climatic condition, the Kalenjins are able to practice both pastoralism and agriculture.

Kenya's other, smaller tribes are independent or sub-tribes of the larger tribes. Just like the large tribes, each of Kenya's small tribes is culturally unique. These tribes are spread out across the country, residing in different parts of Kenya.

The Modern Kenya Tribes

The effects of modern civilization, education and the influence of outside cultures has led to the gradual erosion and banning of some of the most deep-rooted customs and cultures of Kenya's various tribes. Modern law has since forbidden customs such as female circumcision, which was popular among the Maasai and Kisii tribes. Most Kenyans, especially those living in the modern urban cities, have, for the most part, shed their tribal customs to adopt an almost western lifestyle.

Who lives in Kenya's large cities?

Just about anyone from each of the Kenya tribes. As rural Kenyans migrate to urban centers in pursuit of employment, leisure and other economic development activities, most of Kenya's large cities have become densely populated with people from different ethnic tribes. They speak the Kenyan languages of English and Swahili while still retaining some of their native culture and ethnic languages. It is the diversity of Kenya's tribes and their individual cultures that have made Kenya such an adorable and unique country.

TOP of Kenya Tribes

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