An introduction to the tribes in Kenya. Here's also a general article about the
The Masai are the most famous tribe not only of Kenya, but of Africa as a whole. They have become an international symbol of African tribal life. But they are not the only one: there are between 40 and 70 tribes, depending on how you count.
One reason is that tribes have never been closed units: language, culture and appearance often overlap. Families often consist of members of different tribes, and it’s a matter of tradition whether a person’s tribe is determined by their fathers or mothers line. Another reason is that some ethnic groups are seen as subtribes and others as ‘main’ tribes. For example, the Rendille, Orma, Boran and Gabbra tribes are sometimes seen as a single tribe: the Oromo. To complicate matters further, different people use different spellings: Agikuyu instead of Kikuyu or Gikuky, Kamba instead of Akamba.
Click here to watch a short video about the Masai:
The separation between tribes has also diminished because most tribes have adopted Western life styles. This especially goes for the biggest tribes: the Kikuyu (22%), Luo (11%) and Akamba (8%). The Kikuyu dominate politics and the economy. Especially the Masai, Turkana and Samburu peoples have largely kept their traditional lifestyles.
But to which tribe you belong is still the most important factor in social life. Political parties, for example, are largely based on tribe and less on ideology.
Language, however, is the main criteria for a tribe. There are three main language groups in which the tribes in Kenya can be divided:
However, most Kenyans speak at least three languages: their tribal language, Swahili (which has become a ‘lingua franca’ among a large part of East Africa) and English. Swahili (or Kiswahili) and English are the official languages of Kenya.
Search all the tribe articles on this site:
Short descriptions of the main tribes
I've considerably expanded the pages with short descriptions of Kenya tribes. Find them below. Please note that the beliefs and customs described in there, are the original customs. Some are still practiced while others are dissapearing in modern Kenya, where Western influences are on the rise like elsewhere.