Kenya — home to more than 40 different ethnic groups — boasts of both cultural and natural diversity. If you were to travel across the country, you’d see the Indian Ocean, towering mountains and vast savannas. You’d hear 60 different languages. You’d taste the unique flavors of the many different styles of Kenyan food. It is a truly diverse and vibrant country. And today, we’d like to share an array of interesting facts about Kenya — facts that will give you a deeper look into the culture of this beautiful country where hundreds of thousands of Compassion-assisted children live.
Key Facts About Kenya
Here are some quick, key facts you should know about Kenya:
- Population: 52,214,791.
- Capital: Nairobi.
- Official languages: Swahili, English.
- Area: 224,080 square miles. That’s more than twice the size of Nevada.
- Economy: Kenya is considered the economic, financial and transport hub of East Africa. Agriculture contributes to one-third of the gross domestic product, but tourism also contributes greatly to the Kenyan economy.
Culture and Traditions of Kenya
Kenya is made up of more than 40 different ethnic groups that speak over 60 languages, making the country’s cultures and traditions just as diverse as the population itself. It’s nearly impossible to list them all, so we’ll give you a few cultural facts:
Religion: Kenyan culture is heavily influenced by Christianity. Over 80% of the population identifies as Christian — a majority of whom are Protestant and Roman Catholic. The remainder of religious practices are mostly made up of Islam and various traditional African religions.
Clothing: With the large number of ethnic groups, there isn’t really a cohesive national dress. Each group has its own unique traditions when it comes to clothing. However, the clothing of the Maasai people in southern Kenya is considered the national attire of Kenya. Their traditional dress includes a red piece of clothing called a kanga and lots of bright necklaces, bracelets and beaded headdresses.
General culture: Kenyans put great emphasis on the values of humility, caring for your neighbors and maintaining friendships. While Kenya is adapting to many modern values like the importance of education, they also remain strongly tied to tradition. While some people wonder if this signifies a lack of commitment to their traditional beliefs, many Kenyan people disagree. Instead, it reflects a reality that progress and tradition can coexist beautifully. You’re more likely to find people who hold more tightly to a traditional lifestyle in the rural areas of Kenya — some of whom live in huts, walk barefoot and dress in colorful robes and jewelry.
Music and Dance of Kenya
Out of all the African countries, Kenya has perhaps the most varied assortment of popular music forms, likely due to the 40-plus ethnic groups that make up the country and its culture. Many of the different ethnic groups have their own distinctive musical styles. Historically, music in Kenya has been used for sharing information and stories. But, as oral tradition continues to disappear, the musical traditions of many Kenyans are at risk.
Throughout Kenya, a variety of drums are used in music traditions within the different ethnic groups. For example, the Luhya in western Kenya developed a dance called sikuti, which is named after a drum. It’s an energetic dance performed by a pair of dancers.
Another popular style of music in coastal Kenya is called taarab, which combines traditional African percussion with the sounds of Arab instruments. Traditional taarab is sung in Swahili, but the style continues to evolve alongside the changing of popular beats and rhythms.
From folk and taarab music to imported sounds like hip-hop, reggae, soul, soukous, rock, funk and pop, Kenya’s music has a lot to offer.
From Child Beggar to Full-Time Music Mixer
Jey was raised in one of the largest and poorest slums in Africa. As a child, he was forced to move to the streets of Nairobi to beg for food and money. And at only 9 years of age, he was arrested and imprisoned for stealing.
When Jey was released, he thought he would have to return to the streets — that is, until he was invited into Compassion’s child development program. Jey was given the resources and the hope he needed to escape the cycle of poverty. At the center, he received food, school supplies, medical care and spiritual guidance. He also learned about music.
Today, Jey is a youth pastor and DJ. He has escaped the cycle of poverty, and now music is part of his story.
BONUS: More stories about Kenya.
Food and Drink of Kenya
Just like its culture, traditions and music, the food and drink of Kenya is extremely diverse. Each of the ethnic groups has its own styles and specialties. But today we’ll give you a taste (wink, wink) of a few of the most common dishes and drinks across the country of Kenya.
Ugali is perhaps the most common dish in Kenyan cuisine. Ugali is a cornmeal that is boiled into a thick paste. You can think of it like porridge or polenta. Ugali is often accompanied by vegetables, sauce or protein. It’s also a dish that can be made affordably — making it accessible to even the poorest communities in Kenya.
Githeri is another staple dish in Kenya. It is a stew made of corn and beans with vegetables occasionally mixed in. Githeri is easy to cook — all that’s needed is a pot and the few ingredients that go in! To learn how to make your very own githeri, click here!
Chapati is Kenyan flatbread. It is made of flour dough that is wound into a coil and fried in oil. The origin of chapati can be traced to the influence of the Indian population in Kenya — it even looks a little bit like naan bread. Chapati is considered to be a special treat in Kenyan culture. It goes well with vegetables and dishes like githeri, or it can be served on its own. To learn how to make chapati, click here!
Tea is not only a drink that the Kenyan people regularly enjoy, but it has also become one of the country’s key exports. In fact, Kenya is the biggest exporter of black tea in the world! Tea in Kenya is typically served with milk. It’s often enjoyed with a treat — like chapati.
BONUS: Fun Fact About Kenya
While Kenya participates in many sports, the country is particularly dominant in long-distance running. In fact, the world records for fastest marathon finishing times for BOTH women and men are held by Kenyans.
Photos of What Daily Life Is Like in Kenya
Do you want to learn more about the beautiful country of Kenya and Compassion’s ministry there?