Kenya has more than 40 tribes. With 17% of the total population, the Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya. The Kikuyu are a Bantu ethnic group with more than 8 million members that emerged in Central Kenya. Following closely behind respective population shares of 14.3% and 13.4% are the Kalenjin and Luhya tribes.
Each Kenyan tribe has unique traditions, practices, and purposes when it comes to objects like drums, horns, gourds, and more. Explore the tribes of Kenya through these objects and ornaments.
Kenya is well-known for cultural safaris (especially safaris from Nairobi) worldwide due to the various tribes found here. Many centers in and around Nairobi work to uplift and protect these tribes. Nairobi has often been deemed the best transit city when it comes to exploring the cultures and tribes of Kenya.
Are you traveling to Nairobi to discover the cultures of Kenya? Looking for the best staycation hotels in Nairobi? Want to know more about the best places to visit in Nairobi? Stay at the Ole Sereni for a memorable sojourn and explore the unique objects that tell the history of Kenya while you are there.
Explore the History of Kenya & Top Hotel in Nairobi –Ole Sereni
It is not just the most top-rated 4 star hotel in Nairobi but also the only hotel that borders a National Game Park is Ole Sereni. Looking for hotels near Wilson airport Nairobi? It is just a short drive from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wilson Airport, the city center, and the central business district as well. It is one of the top airport hotels in Nairobi.
The hotel’s name is derived from the Maasai term that means “place of tranquility.” It perfectly captures the spirit of Nairobi, the only city in the world with a natural game park inside its limits. Views of wildlife in their natural habitat at the park’s waterhole are available to hotel guests from its restaurants, bar, swimming pool, and other areas.
Being the top hotel in Nairobi, it offers world-class facilities and personalized services to business as well as leisure travelers. Over three floors, it offers 148 luxuriously furnished air-conditioned rooms and suites. There are 106 cozy rooms and 26 club rooms with city or park views, and 16 Nairobi executive suites with private Jacuzzis facing the park to choose from. As it is one of the best hotels within Nairobi, satellite TV and high-speed internet are available in every room.
There are many dining options at Ole Sereni. Do you want to dine at the best restaurant in Nairobi? The Big Five restaurant is the primary dining option overlooking the park and offers many cuisines like Chinese, Mongolian, Italian and Indian. While the Ngong Pool Bar looks out over the Nairobi skyline and the watering hole of the Nairobi National Park, the waterhole snack bar is the ideal place for snacks and light meals with a great selection of wines. Do you want to eat the best food in Nairobi? The elegant Eagles restaurant is the place to be for fine dining, featuring an ideal lounge setting and a view of the National Park.
Guests can unwind at one of the top heated pools in Nairobi that looks out over the park, one of the best gyms in Nairobi, the aerobics room, or the sports lounge. Looking for the best spa in Nairobi? At the Massage Centre, one could also take advantage of unique treatments.
Other services include a Unisex Salon and Sauna & Steam Facility, Currency Exchange, Laundry Services, a Gift Shop, and more. Are you still looking for the best place to eat in Nairobi? Just try their outdoor catering in the wilderness of Kenya. Besides this, it is also one of the top wedding venues in Nairobi and offers all modern conference facilities in Nairobi. Without a doubt, the unmatched experiences make it one of the best hotels in Nairobi Kenya.
Before going on a Nairobi city tour, discover the history of Kenya through the 11 unique objects below.
A Journey into the History of Kenya & Its Unique Objects
What Kenya is famous for? How many tribes are in Kenya? Traditions within Kenya’s 44 tribes show the nation’s vibrant culture. With the help of these 11 objects, learn more about the tribes and history of Kenya.
1. Kenyans Express Through Jewelry
Image credit – Google Arts & Culture.
Jewelry is a way for Kenyans to express their ethnicity, social status, age, and beliefs. Traditional jewelry can take many forms like belts and earrings, among others showcasing the history of Kenya. They come in a wide range of materials like leather, brass, stone, bone, iron, beads, and more.
A person’s social status was known by the ornaments’ design and material. Only leaders or members of elite groups wore jewelry made of priceless materials like ivory or gold in some tribes. A Suk woman with many jewels was a sign that she is married and that of her husband’s wealth. An elderly Chuka woman with a lack of cowrie shell jewelry showed that she can no longer bear a child. In most cultures in Kenya, cowrie shells are a symbol of fertility.
2. Tribes Could Talk Through a Huge Horn - The Swahili Siwa
One of sub-Saharan Africa’s most iconic ceremonial items is the Siwa, a side-blown horn. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Swahili leaders used it during weddings and cultural events. The Nairobi National Museum’s Hall of Kenya contains a rare Siwa. The Siwa is one of the museum’s most vital objects.
It was believed that The Siwa had magical abilities and was a symbol of unity among the Swahili people. Tribes living far away would be able to hear the Siwa’s sound. The sound announced an event and invited the tribes to take part in it.
3. Ear Piercing was a Tradition in Most Kenyan Tribes
Image credit – stocksy.com
The history of Kenya shows that all tribes pierced their ears. The reason for piercing, the size of the hole, and the gender of those who had their ears pierced varied from tribe to tribe. Ear piercing was done as part of transition rituals, notably when people graduated from childhood to youth and from youth to adulthood. Young warriors made other piercings in their ears so they could adorn themselves with decorations that served as symbols of their courage.
In tribes in the Rift Valley counties, as well as the central and western regions of Kenya, stretching the earlobes to create longer and wider holes was a common practice. These tribes used heavy hardwood logs. The gradual stretching of the ears started with a small tear. In Kenya today, the custom of ear stretching is not very common. Only a small number of tribes like Maasai practice it. They adorn their pierced earlobes with snuff containers.
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya.
The women of the Lamu-based Bajun tribe wore crafted earplugs made of silver and gold. Both Bajuni men and women had pierced ears, but the women were more likely to wear earplugs. In modern Kenya, men are less likely than women to have their ears pierced. But historical records show that the majority of tribes in Kenya pierced their members’ ears regardless of gender. Some people today still view the practice as taboo.
4. Each Kenyan Tribe Wears Beads in their Own Way
Tribes of Kenya are well known for their bead jewelry. In the history of Kenya, every tribe wore some form of beadwork, though the designs, hues, and kinds of beads depended on the socio-cultural setting. In the 19th century, they were brought from Europe. Long-distance traders like the Kamba tribe acquired the beads from the coastal regions of East Africa and traded them with tribes.
Image credit – barakafm
Before glass beads became popular, people made their own beads out of things like shells, seeds, wood or stone objects, bones and ivory, leather and skins, baked clay, gold, silver, and more. Tribes from all over Kenya created their bead patterns based on their unique cultural ideas of what they viewed to be good or bad, or beautiful or ugly. The Maa community used the kemakua and kenare (acceptable and unacceptable) principles to determine how beads should be arranged to create a culturally defined pattern.
Not all beadwork was worn around the neck; some were worn as bracelets, as head pieces, on the legs or waist. In other cases, beadwork charms were worn for personal safety. Many articles of clothing and useful objects were also adorned with beads. In the modern era, thriving tourism in Kenya includes jewelry made of beads. The cultural meanings that beadwork had in its original cultural contexts are absent from modern examples. These beaded items are now purchased for aesthetic reasons.
5. Identify Sub-tribes by their Shield - The Elongo
Image credit – Google Arts & Culture.
The Maasai tribe was well-known as brave and superior warriors. The “Elongo” or Maasai shield is one of the many types of artifacts that combines elements of fine art and craft for practical purposes in the history of Kenya. Here are the top five things to know about Maasai shields.
- The most crucial weapon a Maasai warrior had for hunting and combat was a shield. They provided both physical and symbolic safety.
- The Oloibon (spiritual leader) would bless the warrior’s shields with “entasim” charms. It was believed to enhance their power and ensure safety and success in cattle raids.
- Shields served as status symbols as described in the history of Kenya. Many designs, age groups, and more were used to distinguish all Maasai sub-tribes.
- Each warrior crafted his own shield from buffalo hide gained through hunting. The convex Maasai shield was made of buffalo hide stitched to a wooden frame. The shield’s handle was wrapped in leather strips and attached at its center back. The shield’s surface was adorned with sizable, nearly symmetrical crescents in the colors red, white, and black.
- The brothers Senteu and Lenana were two of the most well-known Maasai warriors. They inspire courage and confidence among the modern-day people in Kenya.
6. There’s a Gourd for Every Tribe
Image credit – Wikimedia.
There is more to the rich history of Kenya. Gourds come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors and are made from plant fruits. The gourds are used for fermentation, measurement, and storage. The masterpiece at the Nairobi National Museum is made up of many gourds that have been taken from various Kenyan tribes.
Around the gourd’s mouth and side, handles and covers are woven or tied. The covers and handles are made from plant materials, leather, corn cobs, wood, and other gourd parts. The gourd’s split halves are known as a calabash. The calabash can be used as a cup or a scoop.
7. The Apron was a Wardrobe Staple
Image credit – National Museums of Kenya.
Tribes in Kenya used many skirts and apron styles to cover their bodies before modern clothing became popular. The aprons covered the front of the body and were fixed around the waist. They were worn for practical, ceremonial, and aesthetic reasons.
The materials used to make the aprons were leather, animal skins, bark from trees, leaves, and beads. The wearer’s identity, community, marital status, and more were revealed by it. A person’s ritual or social standing was revealed by the color of their skirt or apron as well. The Turkana tribe was well-known for its vibrant skirts, and aprons, and is a vital part of the rich history of Kenya.
8. Masks Gave a New Identity to Kenyan Tribes
Image credit – Wikimedia.
Masks are a crucial aspect of the culture and rich history of Kenya and have played a key role in their ritual and ceremony. Kenyan masks are works of art, and for those who make them, they depict much more than just aesthetic appeal. It gives the wearers a new identity and allows them to thank and praise the spirits.
Masks are used in ritual dances and social and religious events. Both the artists who make masks and the people who wear them during events are given a special status. The art of making masks is passed down from father to son along with the wisdom of the symbolic meanings of these masks.
In the past, craftsmen created masks in a variety of shapes and forms using materials that were accessible. Some of the materials used to make them were wood, ivory, metals, and animal skin. They are available in a wide range of hues like red, black, orange, and brown. Masks are created to resemble people, animals, and other symbols of identity. Animals are a common motif. While most masks only cover the face, some, like this seclusion mask worn by the Maa community, cover the entire body.
Because they were used to amuse the crowd, masks were crucial during events. The masks gave the dancers a more exciting look, which greatly increased the audience’s interest. Some tribes have a ‘shameful’ mask made for public shaming. Iron masks were used to punish social outcasts. In the past, masks were worn to convey a kind of authority and power to the wearer as well.
9. Drums are the Beating Hearts of Kenyan Tribes
Image credit – Google Arts & Culture.
Each Kenyan tribe has used the drum for a different purpose over the years. Its sound, style, craft, and use have all changed over time. When dancing or carrying out rituals, drumming was common when we talk about the history of Kenya. In some tribes, only men would play the drum. In others, only women would use specific drums.
A Pokomo medicine man used many tools and his drum played a vital role in a healing ritual. Eastern Kenya’s Kamba people had their own dances like Kilumi with a unique drumming style.
10. Find Leaders by their Headdresses
Image Credit – Eric Ledoux
A work of art worn on the head to signify one’s high social status is the African headdress. On special occasions, people in positions of authority, spiritual leaders, and wealthy people in society wore it. These were made using feathers and animal skins to rise in height from the crown of the head. The headdresses featured beads, paint, embroidery, and more as well.
While the majority of African headdresses had deep cultural value, some were worn solely for their beauty when making social appearances, like at dances. Others were only worn so that the wearer would be kept safe from the elements as they went about their daily life.
Different tribes had a unique headdress that denoted the wearer had attained a level of wisdom and authority. As a result, such gear was only reserved for the tribe’s chiefs and elders. The Turkana chief wore an ostrich feather headdress for a formal occasion. The Maasai warriors wore a lion mane headdress that symbolized bravery.
11. Khanga Unites the Tribes
With the rich history of Kenya, the Swahili coastal tribes were the first to produce the Khanga, a type of cloth. It has been believed to bring together cultures and people within tribes thanks to its vibrant, energetic designs and inspirational sayings sewn into the fabrics.
The Khanga has spread across Kenya and is now used by all women, children, and men in that country as well as in Kenyan tribes all over the world. More than ever before, it is used in everyday life, travel, and fashion.
It is used in a variety of ways by people. Women use them to wrap around their bodies. It is used to make wall hangings, cover and carry babies, and more. They are also used to create a variety of everyday items like clothes, head gear, bags, drapes, tablecloths, seat covers, pillowcases, and duvet covers.
Discover the History of Kenya – The Crown Jewel of African Culture
“The peoples of Kenya have an incredible richness of history and culture. Learning from what we already have, from all the communities, is the way into the world.”
– Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
The tribes in Kenya are defined by their history, beliefs, religions, locations, and more. The everyday life objects used by these tribes in Kenya tell us about their traditions and cultures. Each of these tribes has got their own objects that make them unique. Looking for the best place in Nairobi? Want to know more about the best things to do in Nairobi? Contact us for a unique stay at the Ole Sereni hotel and discover the rich history of Kenya, its traditions, and its cultures.