Kenya’s culture consists of a variety of traditions. Kenya does not have a single outstanding culture that identifies it. Instead, it is made up of the different cultures of the country’s diverse communities.
Notable groups include the Swahili people in the coastal areas, a number of other Bantu groups in the Central and Western parts of the country, as well as the Nilotic groups to the North West. The Maasai culture is well known for tourism, although they make up a relatively small part of Kenya’s population. They are known for their elaborate upper body adornment and jewellery.
Kenya also has an extensive music, television and theatre scene.
Kenya has a number of media outlets that broadcast domestically and worldwide. They cover news, business, sports and entertainment. Popular Kenyan newspapers are:
- The Daily Nation; part of the Nation Media Group (NMG) (largest market share)
- The Standard
- The Star
- The people
- East Africa Weekly
- Taifa Lion
Television stations based in Kenya include:
- Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC)
- Citizens’ Television
- Kenya Television Network (KTN)
- Kiss TV
- K24 television
- Kass TV
All these terrestrial channels are transmitted via a digital TV signal DVB T2.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is one of Kenya’s best-known writers. His novel “Weep Not, Child” depicts life in Kenya during the British occupation. The story describes in detail the impact of the Mau Mau on the lives of Kenyans. Its combination of themes – colonialism, education and love – has made it one of Africa’s best-known novels.
M.G. Vassanji’s 2003 novel The In-Between World of Vikram Lall won the 2003 Giller Prize, a fictional memoir of a Kenyan of Indian descent and his family adapting to the changing political circumstances in colonial and post-colonial Kenya.
In addition, the literary magazine Kwani? has been publishing contemporary Kenyan literature since 2003.
Kenya has a diverse assortment of popular music forms, in addition to the many types of folk music based on the diversity of over 40 regional languages.
Drums are the dominant instrument in popular Kenyan music. The drum beat is extremely complex and includes a mixture of both indigenous as well as imported rhythms. Popular Kenyan music usually involves the interplay of several voices and, more recently, striking guitar solos.
The lyrics are mostly in Kiswahili or English. There is also an emerging aspect of Lingala borrowed from Congolese musicians. Song lyrics are also written in local languages. Urban radio usually plays only English music, although there are also a number of vernacular radio stations.
Zilizopendwa is a genre of local urban music recorded in the 1960s, 70s and 80s by musicians such as Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili William and Sukuma Bin Ongaro, revered and enjoyed especially by the elderly – and popularised by the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s Kiswahili service (formerly called Voice of Kenya or VOK).
The Isukuti is a powerful dance performed by the Luhya sub-tribes to the beat of a traditional drum called Isukuti on many occasions such as the birth of a child, a wedding and funerals. Other traditional dances include the Ohangla among the Luo, the Nzele among the Mijikenda, the Mugithi among the Kikuyu and the Taarab among the Swahili.
There is also a growing Christian gospel music scene in Kenya. Prominent local gospel musicians include the Kenyan Boys Choir.
Since the late 1960s, Benga music has been particularly popular in the area around Lake Victoria. The word benga is occasionally used for any kind of pop music. Bass, guitar and percussion are the usual instruments.
Kenya is active in several sports, including cricket, rally, football, rugby union and boxing. The country is best known for its dominance in middle and long distance athletics and has consistently produced Olympic and Commonwealth Games champions in various long distance disciplines, notably the 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m, 10,000m and the marathon. Kenyan athletes (especially Kalenjin) still dominate the world of long-distance running, although competition from Morocco and Ethiopia has reduced this supremacy. Among the best-known Kenyan athletes are four-time Boston Marathon women’s winner and two-time world champion Catherine Ndereba, 800m world record holder David Rudisha, former marathon world record holder Paul Tergat and John Ngugi.
Kenya was the most successful African country in the 2008 Olympic Games, winning multiple medals at the Beijing Olympics – 6 gold, 4 silver and 4 bronze medals. New athletes attracted attention, such as Pamela Jelimo, the women’s 800m gold medallist who went on to win the IAAF Golden League jackpot, and Samuel Wanjiru, who won the men’s marathon. Former Olympic and Commonwealth Games champion Kipchoge Keino helped usher in Kenya’s enduring long-distance dynasty in the 1970s, followed by Commonwealth champion Henry Rono’s spectacular string of world record performances. Recently, there has been controversy in Kenyan athletics circles as a number of Kenyan athletes have migrated to represent other countries, most notably Bahrain and Qatar. Despite the Kenyan sports ministry trying to stop the breakaway, they continue anyway, with Bernard Lagat most recently choosing to represent the USA. Most of these departures are for economic or financial reasons. The Kenyan government’s decision to tax athletes’ earnings may also be a reason for the exodus.
The Kenyan women’s volleyball team is the dominant force in Africa. Both the clubs and the national team have won various continental championships in the last decade. The women’s team has participated in the Olympic Games and World Championships, but without significant success. Another popular sport is cricket, which is also one of the most successful team sports. Kenya has participated in the Cricket World Cup since 1996. They have beaten some of the best teams in the world and reached the semi-finals of the tournament in 2003. They won the inaugural World Cricket League Division 1 held in Nairobi and participated in the World T20. They also participated in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. Their current captain is Rakep Patel.
Kenya is represented by professional rugby league player Lucas Onyango, who plays for Oldham Roughyeds. Apart from the former European Super League team, he has played for Widnes Vikings and Rugby Union at Sale Sharks. Rugby Union is growing in popularity, especially with the annual Safari Sevens tournament. The Kenya Sevens team finished 9th in the IRB Sevens World Series in the 2006 season. In 2016, Kenya defeated Fiji in the Singapore Sevens final and became the 2nd African country after South Africa to win the World Series. Also in football, Kenya was a regional power. However, its dominance was undermined by squabbles within the now defunct Kenya Football Association, which led to a suspension by FIFA that was lifted in March 2007.
On the rally scene, Kenya is home to the world-famous Safari Rally, widely regarded as one of the toughest rallies in the world. It was part of the World Rally Championship for many years until it was discontinued after the 2002 event due to financial difficulties. Some of the best rally drivers in the world have participated in and won the rally, such as Björn Waldegård, Hannu Mikkola, Tommi Mäkinen, Shekhar Mehta, Carlos Sainz and Colin McRae. Although the rally still runs annually as part of the Africa Rally Championship, the organisers hope to be included in the World Rally Championship again in the coming years.
Nairobi has hosted several major continental sporting events, including the 1993 FIBA Africa Championship, where Kenya’s national basketball team finished in the top four, their best performance to date.
Kenyans typically have 3 meals per day. Breakfast in the morning (kiamsha kinywa), followed in the afternoon by lunch (chakula cha mchana) and then dinner (chakula cha jioni, also known as simply “chajio”). In between, there is the 10 o’clock tea (chai ya saa nne) and the 4 o’clock tea (chai ya saa kumi). Breakfast usually consists of tea or porridge with bread, chapati, mahamri, boiled sweet potatoes or yams. Ugali with vegetables, sour milk, meat, fish or another stew is usually eaten by a large part of the population for lunch or dinner. There are also regional variations and dishes.
In western Kenya, Fish dishes are common among the Luo people, while musiku (sour milk) is an important drink among the Kalenjin people, who dominate much of the Rift Valley region. Lye is commonly used in many traditional dishes in these regions.
In cities like Nairobi, there are fast food restaurants, including Steers, KFC and Subway. There are also many fish and chip shops.