Kenya — History and Culture
The majority of Kenyan’s are of East African decent although there are people with Arabic, Indian and European heritage, stemming from the Moorish and British periods of colonization. Modern Kenya is proudly African with food, music, customs and dress that are an interesting blend of traditional, Arabic and European elements. Much of the population is Christian so many of the rituals revolve around religious cycles.
Kenya has been inhabited by people ever since human history began. Tribal hunter gatherer groups were the first to populate the area, followed by a farming civilization from the Horn of Africa and the agriculturalists from Sudan. Around 100 AD Bantu speaking farmers from Nigeria brought ironworking to the area. Arab and Persian traders set up settlements and built mosques along the coast in the 8th century.
Arabs founded the independent city states of Mombasa, Malindi and Zanzibar on the coast in the 10th century, blending linguistic and cultural elements with the Bantu. By the 15th century, Mombasa was a major and prosperous port. Over the next 300 years, 90 percent of the natives of the Swahili coast were enslaved and sold by Arab traders, mainly to Europeans.
The Imperial British East Africa company took hold of Kenya in 1890 and began building railways using mostly Indian laborers, many of whom went on to settle in Africa. Resistance from locals resulted in the first reserves being established to keep difficult tribes out of the way. The highlands of the interior were created by European coffee and tea farmers, who became wealthy, with about 30,000 white settlers living in the area by 1930, displacing the original natives.
Queen Elizabeth II was holidaying in Kenya when her father died in 1952. A Mau Mau rebellion against British rule lasted from that year until 1959 when the African loyalist Home Guard launched an offensive that resulted in over four thousand deaths and the removal of many supporters. The loyalist Africans were rewarded with land grants.
The Kenya African National Union (KANU) gained power via election in 1957. The country gained independence at the end of 1963 with the establishment of a new constitution and a war against factions who wanted to join Somalia. Since the death of the first elected president, Jomo Kenyatta, in 1978, Daniel arap Moi was chosen president three times under a single party constitution until 1998 when undemocratic elections Daniel arap Moi was re-elected, and again in 1997. Moi was constitutionally unable to stand again in 2002, and opposition leader Mwai Kibai of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was elected president in 2003 in what was regarded a free and fair election.
Kenya is a culturally diverse nation made up of different tribal groups, each with distinct languages, dress, music, and food. Some of the better known tribes include the coastal Swahili people and Maasai warriors in the wildlife rich grasslands. As much as a quarter of the population belongs to farming communities in the north.
The Kenyans have a family and community oriented culture, influenced by African traditions and the colonial period, most notably Catholicism. They are creative and artistic and the nation has produced a number of notable writers and musicians and has a well developed cultural scene with television, theater, music, dance and the visual arts well represented. Kenya’s colorful festivals are a good way for visitors to gain insight into aspects of the country’s traditions.