The people of Kenya are comprised of 42 ethnic groups or tribes, each with its own unique values, skills, language and cultural practices.
Kenya’s population consists of indigenous Kenyans (black), Europeans, Asians and Arabs. However, above all other traits, it is the hospitality, warmth, resilience and hard-working nature that make Kenyan people exceptional.
Kenyan people rise above race and color. They treat each other with respect. Even when their own government fails them, Kenyan people remain optimistic and do not wait for their government to meet all of their needs. Kenya young manKenyans live free of their colonial past; they are not hung up on placing blame on the British who colonized the country. Instead, the Kenyan people feel they are in charge of their fate and destiny.
As people, Kenyans live a highly social and collective lifestyle where their extended family, large pool of friends and community shape the course of their existence and well being. People are very friendly and neighbors are not strangers in Kenya. You will arrive as a visitor and leave as a friend.
Kenya Tribes and Linguistic Groups
Indigenous Kenyan people fall into three major linguistic groups: the Bantu, the Nilotes and the Cushites.
Kenya’s Bantu people live mainly in the coastal, central, and western regions of the country. a Kenyan lady at workThey occupy less than 30 percent of Kenya’s land base but form more than 70 percent of the population. The most notable among the Bantu are the Kikuyu, Luhya and Kamba tribes.
The Kikuyu or Agikuyu are Kenya’s single largest ethnic group, comprising 22 percent of the total population. They are prolific farmers, inhabiting the very fertile Central Kenya highlands. Most of Kenya’s world-famous coffee comes from the Kikuyu region.
Highly enterprising by nature, Kikuyu people dominate business in major Kenyan towns and cities. Kikuyus also have great influence on the Kenyan political scene. Notable Kikuyu people include Kenya’s first president, the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Kenya’s current president – H.E. Mwai Kibaki – is also Kikuyu. Kenya bantu man
The Luhya, also known as the Abaluhya, is the second largest tribe, living in the Kenya’s Western Province. The tribe is comprised of 17 sub-tribes, each speaking a different dialect. The most dominant of these sub-tribes are the Bukusu and Maragoli.
Other sub-tribes include the Banyore, Gisu, Idakho, Isukha, Kabras, Khayo, Kisa, Manyala, Marachi, Saamia, Tachoni, Tiriki, Tura, Wanga and Watsotso and others.
Kenya’s Kamba people are renowned for their exceptional wood carving skills. Their unique sculptures are sold in art, crafts, curio and gift shops around Kenya and abroad. Kambas constitute the fifth largest ethnic group in Kenya.
Other Bantu tribes include the Embu, Kisii, Kuria, Mbeere, Meru, Mijikenda and Taita.
The Nilotic People
Nilotes are traditionally pastoralists and fishermen. They reside in Kenya’s broad Rift-Valley region, around Lake Victoria. The Maasai, Turkana, Samburu, Luo and Kalenjin are arguably the most significant Nilotic tribes.
Maasai peopleThe Maasai, Samburu and Turkana are nomadic pastoral tribes that have defied modern trends to retain most of their traditional ways of life. Most members of these tribes still dress in their traditional bright-red regalia, adorned with beautiful ornaments made of beads, feathers and copper.
The Maasai people are recognized world-wide as the epitome of Kenya’s culture. Of all of Kenya’s people and tribes, the Maasai are the tourist favorite.
The Luo live on the shores of Lake Victoria and are Kenya’s third largest ethnic group. Known for their fishing culture, they too have played a very active role in Kenya’s opposition politics.
The Kalenjin are most recognized for their athletic prowess. Many legendary Kenyan distance runners, including Boston Marathon runner Paul Tergat, Kipchoge Keino and Tecla Loroupe, are from the Kalenjin ethnic group. Perhaps the most well known Kalenjin personality is former Kenya president Daniel T. Arap Moi.
The Cushitic People
Cushitic people live in the arid and semi-arid eastern and northeastern parts of Kenya. Kenya somali woman Most are nomadic pastoralists who own large herds of camels, sheep, cattle and goats.
Cushitic people maintain close ties with their kinsmen in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.
In fact, the Somali are the largest Cushitic ethnic group in Kenya. Another Cushitic group is the Rendille.
The Asian community in Kenya is largely Indian, descendants of laborers brought to Kenya during the 19th century to construct the Kenya-Uganda railway. They live in very close-knit societies and are among the most successful business people in Kenya.
Kenyan Arabs reside along Kenya’s Indian Ocean coastline. Kenyan arab familyThey descend from Yemeni, Omani, and Persian traders of the pre-colonial times. The Swahili people are an ethnic group that resulted from Arab-Bantu intermarriage.
They, too, live very humble lives in the coastal region of Kenya.
The majority of Kenyan Europeans are of British origin, many of whom opted to become Kenyan citizens after the country’s independence in 1963. Most Kenyan Europeans live very private lives with little involvement in political or public affairs. A number of them also own large pieces of land in the Rift-Valley Province, where they practice agriculture and ranching.
Kenya as One People
Kenya people shaking hands Despite having so many ethnic divisions and languages, the people of Kenya have one important quality in common – they are proud to be Kenyans.
They are united by their national language – Swahili – and their quest for life.