People and Language
The average Kenyan is multi-lingual, so it’s no surprise that Kenyans will greet each other in English, Kiswahili, and any one of 42 indigenous languages spoken in Kenya. Greetings are an important part of Kenyan culture, not reserved only for friends and family, but observed even among strangers. Among friends and family, a handshake and often a hug, are common ways of greeting each other.
Jambo! Hello! Habari gani? How are you? Murembe! Are you well?Sasa? How’s it going?
Karibu Kenya, welcome to Kenya, where the people will always have a friendly greeting for you.
A Diverse People
Kenyans are an extremely diverse people in both language and culture. While in today’s global society the Maasai and Samburu tribes are the most recognized groups of Kenya, the Kenyan population is made up of 42 distinct ethnic groups. Each group has its own unique traditions and dialects. All Kenyans communicate with the national languages – English and Kiswahili.
Each group is part of one of three larger indigenous groups, the Bantus, Cushites and Nilotes.
The Bantu, who make up about 70% of Kenya’s population, live mostly in the coastal, central and western regions of the country. They include the Kikuyu, Embu, Meru, Luhya, Kamba, Kisii, Taita and Mijikenda people. Traditionally, they are agriculturalists, cultivating coffee, tea, maize, beans, and vegetables.
The Nilotes live in the Rift valley region of Kenya and around Lake Victoria. Luo, Maasai, Pokot, Samburu, Turkana, and many of the subgroups which constitute the Kalenjin. Traditionally they are cattle-herders on the plains and engage in fishing at the lake.
The Cushites are found in the dry eastern and northeastern regions of Kenya. They include the Somali, Oromo, Borana and Rendile. Traditionally, they are pastoralists, rearing cattle, camels, goats and sheep.
Kenya: Urbanization and Culture
Kenya’s towns are a melting pot of all the diverse cultures, where many people speak several languages and eat a variety of foods originating from the various groups. Comprising about 25% of the country’s total population, these communities live harmoniously bonded, in part by the national languages, English and Kiswahili.
In Kenya, as with other developing countries, urbanization has recorded a tremendous increase in terms of urban population, growth rates, population size and the number of urban centers. Rising birth rates and natural growth of the urban population account for approximately 55% of Kenya’s urban growth while rural-urban migration due to factors including drought, conflict and rural poverty accounts for an estimated 25% of urban growth. By 2010, it is predicted that the number of urban dwellers will comprise 32 per cent of Kenyans.
Urbanization is gradually transforming the Kenyan society. As Kenyans from all areas of the country move into large cities such as Nairobi, they bring with them some facets of their native cultures and ethnic languages. Most Kenyans have left traditional customs and dress behind to adopt a more “western” lifestyle.