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Interesting Essentials for Living with the Kenyan People



image00Although the official languages of Kenya are English and Swahili, there are at least 60 other spoken languages. These mainly consist of tribal African languages as well as a minority of Middle-Eastern and Asian languages spoken by descendants of foreign settlers (i.e. Arabic, Hindi, etc). The African languages come from three different language families – Bantu languages (spoken in the centre and southeast), Nilotic languages (in the west), and Cushitic languages (in the northeast).

Kenya is not a homogenous country. It comprises 13 major ethnic groups and 27 other minorities. The majority tribes include the Bantu tribes of Kikuyu, Luhya and Kamba; the Nilotic tribes of Luo, Kalenjin, Masaai, and Turkana. The ‘Hamitic’ people include the Turkanas, Rendille, and Samburu. About 13% of the population are of non-African descent – Indian, Arabian, European.

image01Kenyans are orientated by socio-cultural rather than individualist dynamics. Popular in Kenya is the concept of Harambee (coming from the Bantu word meaning “to pull together”). This defines the people’s approach to others in life. The concept is anchored on mutual assistance, mutual effort, mutual responsibility and community self-reliance. This principle has historically been practiced by every ethnic group with its roots in cooperative farming or herding. Harambee took on a political tone when used at the time of independence by Jomo Kenyatta as a way to bring people together.

Here are some etiquette tips and customs of the Kenyans.

  • The most common greeting is the handshake.
  • When greeting someone with whom you have a personal relationship, the handshake is more prolonged than the one given to a casual acquaintance.
  • Close female friends may hug and kiss once on each cheek instead of shaking hands.
  • When greeting an elder or someone of higher status, grasp the right wrist with the left hand while shaking hands to demonstrate respect.
  • Muslim men/women do not always shake hands with women/men.
  • The most common greeting is “Jambo?” (“How are you?”), which is generally said immediately prior to the handshake.
  • After the handshake it is the norm to ask questions about the health, their family, business and anything else you know about the person.
  • To skip or rush this element in the greeting process is the height of poor manners.
  • People are generally addressed by their academic, professional or honorific title followed by their surname.
  • Once a personal relationship has developed, you may be able to address a person by their title and first name, first name alone, or nickname. Wait for the Kenyan to determine that your friendship has reached this level of intimacy.
  • Women over the age of 21 are often addressed as “Mama” and men over the age of 35 are often addressed as “Mzee”. Children generally refer to adults as Aunt or Uncle, even if there is not a familial relationship.

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  1. Ginika

    March 5, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I love this! More please :). Let’s do the remaining 54…

    Thanks BN although it is a sponsored content, the concept is beneficial…

  2. Natu

    March 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

    This made me homesick. I can’t wait to go back to Kenya and reunite with my friends.

    • Natu's New Friend

      March 5, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Uh oh! Not to worry. If it’s okay by you, we could spend the Easter holidays there.

  3. Mamacita

    March 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Hmnn reads like something out of a travel guide ?

  4. Vuyanzi

    March 5, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    We don’t say jambo. We say Habari, shikamoo ( especially coastal area)
    For the younger ones we say niaje, mambo, sema etc.
    Kenya is fun, come and visit.

    • Le coco

      March 5, 2016 at 2:44 pm

      @vuyanzi.. I am definitely coming through . I have soo many kenyans tht I consider family.. They have been asking me to come for ages.. This BN POST IS A SIGN..

    • Vuyanzi

      March 5, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      We are waiting for you. It’s unusually hot but for you nigerians I think it’s ok. Lol
      Karibu Kenya. Tunakungojea na hamu

    • le coco

      March 7, 2016 at 7:02 am

      Ii also forgot to mention.. i have had nyama choma.. although my kenyan uncle said .. “its just salt” when i asked how he spiced the meat,,, i couldnt believe it,.. i dont know what kind of kenyan juju or special kenyany salt( if there is such a thing) u ppl put in that meat.. but my goodness.. it is divine…..

  5. molarah

    March 5, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    Interesting stuff. Great to learn about customs in other African countries besides our own, as these are not showcased in typical etiquette/travel guides.

  6. toto

    March 5, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    hmmmm this is really outdated or something out of a travel guide like the previous commenter said.

  7. Nonso

    March 5, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Love to my Kenyan people… I had great time time volunteering with them dat year. They are nice people who love to speak their language (swahili) all the time.

  8. fola

    March 6, 2016 at 1:07 am

    Great post!
    Really timely too as I saw Nigerian Blogger Tuke Morgan & Kenyan Blogger This is Ess post pictures of themselves together on Instagram today.
    Africa is getting smaller, Hurray!

  9. Talk Dat Talk

    March 6, 2016 at 6:07 am

    Kenya is a cultural cross road. It’s where AFRICA stops Being cushtics and turns into whatever type of BANTU assimilation. As you can imagine their is a lot of cultural contrasts and contours living in kenya. I will say this once u understand them for their uniqueness and individuality, it’s quite easy, but they r not very tolerant of outsiders coming in and talking that talk, KENYANS are also very aggressive and ideally confrontacious. Women will expect u to be able to handle ur own. Standards of women vary from fugly, to the forgotten, to WOOOW, and WHAT IS that?! Like I stated it’s a cultural melting pot between two ethnicities, so u HAV to up ur AFRICAN IQ!

    Sexually however, you’ve GOT to go to kenya. There is simply not enuff fire wood in African for a kenyan stove….go see for urself. We in East AFRICA have challenged, and we have all agreed leave the KENYANS to be KENYANS. OR Kenya For KENYANS. It’s. Life and Death matter!

  10. Asake

    March 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Ha.. Jambo bawo…. writer ni mzungu?

    1. Habari or Sasa or N’aje or Vipi (that’s how they greet in Nairobi)

    2. Kenya love Nyama Choma and Tusker. Chips and chicken can be found in any corner

    3. Kenyans sometimes assume everyone speaks Swahili . So when they start speaking, tell them Siona Kiswahili

  11. Tosin

    March 7, 2016 at 8:04 am

    my attention span no gree, but I still found this pretty fun.

    Cush-itic in the NorthEast. can you tell me more? (I’m such a juvenile lol)
    Is Luo the Luhya thing? Cos Obama is Luo.

    • Asake

      March 7, 2016 at 3:51 pm

      Luo and Luyhya are two different tribes

    • toto

      March 11, 2016 at 9:50 pm

      Three groups exist the Bantu (Kikuyu, luhya, Embu, Meru etc), the Nilotes (Luo, Kalenjin etc) and the Cushites like the somali and borana

  12. Yori

    March 10, 2016 at 11:23 pm

    Do not refer to any 21 year old as Mama or a 35 year old as Mzee. You will get a slap.

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