Kenya’s Cultural Heritage


Ms Annie Edwards

Kenya’s Cultural Heritage

With Africa’s most dramatic migration stealing the show for the next few months, it’s no surprise that we’re completely in love with Kenya! The continent’s most magnificent animals will be engaging in a saga which will see them traverse the historic Masai Mara, an event which has captured the imaginations of poets, artists, photographers, writers, and travellers for countless ages, and which has become part of the eternal song for the people who have inhabited this great land for centuries.

Taking a detour from Kenya’s wildlife heritage, Ms Annie Edwards, our first guest blogger, writes about Kenya’s colourful cultural heritage. Keep reading to find out about Kenya beyond the migration.

Kenya’s Great People

Kenya’s rich tradition is home to many vibrant cultures who live in harmony with their natural surroundings, and who play an important role in preserving Africa’s diverse history. Their ability to successfully farm challenging terrain and their vast collection of oral literature, art, and music has garnered them local and international admiration.

Perhaps the most historically and culturally renowned to inhabit Africa are the nomadic Maasai. Living in kraals along the Great Rift Valley stretching across southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, they have a long line of proud traditions celebrating the arts. One of their most distinctive dances is the Engilakinoto, a ritual where the warriors display great physical prowess by leaping high into the air. PlanetWildlife’s Founder and Mentor, Mallikarjun Reddy, was certainly excited when he saw the dance while interacting with the Maasi on a tour to Kenya. He says, “I was left with an impression of a Maasai tribe that has managed—against all odds—to maintain its traditions, culture, and beliefs; despite education, urbanization and western cultural influences”.

There are many tribes in Kenya that are not as well known as the Maasai but have equal cultural significance. One such agriculturally based tribe, the Kikuyu, originates from the Bantu Tribe and forms the largest presence amongst Kenya’s ethnic groups. With great reverence for art and music, they are known for their highly skilled craftsmanship in weaving and pottery, as well as their beautiful traditional dances like the Nguchu, Nduumo, and Mũgoiy.

Where the northern desert meets the foothills of Mount Kenya, you will meet the Samburu Tribe, known for their energetic and colourful displays of clothing. The Turkana Tribe also live in the north, and their incredibly detailed works of art and ornamentation still carry huge importance in their cultural traditions. There are several other groups which enrich Kenya’s varied and treasured history. Be sure to make a visit to the Nairobi National Museum to learn about them.

Institutions and Historical Sites

Other than museums, there are a variety of institutions and historical sites to take in the best that cultural Kenya has to offer. A journey through the Arabuko Sokoke Forest will lead you to discover the intriguing 13th century Gedi ruins, an ancient settlement shrouded in mystery. Believed to be a Swahili settlement, Gedi’s story is yet to be unravelled and remains unsolved. No written record exists of this town that seems to be much ahead of its time; its houses had drainage systems, streets were laid out at right angles, and water was supplied through wells.

Also visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fort Jesus, a gleaming fortress overlooking Mombasa’s harbour and a relic of the Portuguese occupation. Designed by Giovanni Battista Cairati, its highly geometrical architecture and Renaissance style make it a picturesque tourist spot as well as in interesting relic of colonial history.

Festivals and Celebrations

For revelling in one of the most spectacular and jubilant occasions of the year, visit the Mombasa Carnival held in November. An exciting cornucopia of Arabian and African culture, the parade is illuminated with extravagant floats, costumes, dance, music, and a delectable selection of traditional Kenyan cuisine.

Music enthusiasts should tune into the Blankets & Wine Festival, a monthly event held in Nairobi featuring premier African folk styles from the Maasai shuka and more. Family-friendly and easily accessible, it is an excellent way to get a taste of the region’s musical flavour.

But that’s not all, there are plenty of things to see and do all year round in Kenya. Contact PlanetWildlife’s travel experts and they’ll help you find the perfect festival that will interest you.