Friday, April 30, 2010

Political puppet show

This is an interesting video about the public view of Kenyan politicians, it has Kibaki reading a galf magazine.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


-Lisa Landolina

The tribe that tigers and leopards fear; THE SANYE FOREST WTCH WARRIORS
CHECK OUT THIS YOUTUBE of the Sanye tribe! It’s nuts! Definitely worth checking out! They can climb any tree to gather food.... also, my title makes more sense

Stories from past generations reveal to us that the Sanye tribe were originally from Shungwaya and then settled in Iwizoon of the banks of the Tana River where they are currently settled within the Lamu and Tana River districts.
The community is made up of 7 clans: Walunku, Wamanka, Ebalawa, Ilam, Digilima, Simtumi, and Radhotu – speaking in sharp dialects that can compare to Xhosa in South Africa.
They hold suspicion toward outsiders since their territory was taken over by Swahili and Pokomo farmers in a resettlement scheme during the 70s. In 1977 hunting was banned so the tribe abandoned hunting and gathering and took on farming.
Although some members of the tribe try to become literate, school is not a primary focus for these isolated people. The Sanye are focused on the forests and take immense pride in their land. A local resident by the name of Mohammed Ali Baddi says, "They are so much at home in the forest that they can hide there without being seen." In fact, if visiting the Lamu and surrounding communities, you will think you are in a deserted village. They take much comfort in their forest, spending most of their time there and rely on it for medicine as opposed to nearby hospitals.
"People take us to be primitive because our way of life has not changed” says Sanye elder, Alio Batie. One herb in particular, mavumbani, is used to make a drink similar to tea. They use aromatic herbs to make beverages and heal people. Some tribes call them ‘witches’ as witchcraft is a major part of their lives. Every Thursday evening they gather at the tree in the middle of their village where they dance around a fire to cure the sick if the herbs fail in helping the illnesses. The Sanye believe that evil spirits can sometimes possess people and that an exorcism in the form of dance can solve health problems

Friday, April 23, 2010

My view of corruption

The whole idea that corruption is just the way things are done is a copout in my opinion. I tend to view things in black and white, so the idea that corruption is ok if it helps people does not work with my ethical views. I have a strong sense of right and wrong and would never condone accepting or taking bribes. If you participate in giving or taking bribes you are a contributor of the corruption that has become rampant in third world countries. Taking this stand will make it more difficult to travel in these countries, but it is the only way to end the cycle of corruption. Taking a closer look at corruption in Kenya has been an enlightening experience over the past couple of weeks as I have read the class reading. Corruption is so engrained into the way everyone does business that it gets passed down from one ruling party to the next and therein lies the problem. What is needed is more individuals like John Githongo to stand up for what is right. Only at that point can the people of Kenya break free from the bondage of corrupt rulers. I realize that there is more to it than a simple act of removing corruption, but it is a good start.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tourism question

I have been thinking about the question presented by Adair about our views of personal experiences while traveling. The first thing that came to mind when reflecting on my desire to explore new places and cultures. For me it has been a desire of mine instilled at an early age, maybe as a result of growing up in Germany and traveling some during those years. I travel for my own reasons, not to add another notch in my travel belt, but I travel because for me there is value in knowing how people live their lives in different parts of the world. I feel that exposing myself to different cultures puts my life in better perspective, when you spend time interacting with poor families in a third world country, it is difficult to complain about poor cell reception or when they shut down the water for a few hours to fix a problem. As I said in class, as long as you are true to yourself and have pure motives as to why you are traveling, I do not see tourism as a bad thing. I do want to point out that I do not like the type of tourism that has a person observing a culture as if they were an animal at a zoo. There must be interaction on a personal level to truly connect and get to know a culture. Also the idea that we travel to experience a place that has not been visited before is a few decades too late. You might be able to find those places if you look hard enough, but to me it seems kind of selfish to want something all to yourself like that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meru Traditional Historical Thought System

Alienation of the Generation
-Laura Wisman

I. Calendrical Thought System (Post-modern U.S.)
     i. Definition of Generation
              Sub-group labels of people born within a specific date range 
                   -differentiated by time events and umbrella personal 
     ii. Connotation of Generation
              One's generation is viewed as separate in views, behavior,
              taboos, and so on than others' 
                    -for example, "you kids are all lazy now, in my day,  
                   we used to walk three miles in the snow every day to get
                   to school."
     iii. History
             historical events are associated with their calendrical date(s) 
                   -for example, answer this, when was World War II? (did 
                    you immediately think of the dates, or the people of
                    that event?)
II. Generational Thought System (Traditional Meru)
     i. Definition of Generation 
              Sub-group labels of males within the regiment age-set, 
              which is dependent on physical/mental/life maturity levels  
              (rather than date of birth), various environmental factors,  
              each sub-tribe of Meru (each has their own generation
              labels dependent on their own local community life
              history) and the limited availability of that age-set           
                   -age-set=the above mentioned developmental stages 
                     of a person, all have specific transitional determinants 
                     for progression (in the U.S., our labels are currently 
                     infancy, adolescence, adulthood, and so on.)
          Life Stages of Meru Males in Relation to U.S. Stages                   
                  Age     |             Life Stage           |  Meru Term         |     Termination                  
                  0-7+     |          Infant/Child          |          Kilji            |Appearance of  
                                                                                                           2nd Teeth
                 7-15+    |   Uncircumcised Boy       |         Mwilji         |   Puberty      
                15-18+   |            Elder Boy           | Ndinguru (pre-cir.) |   Circumsion
                            (candidate for circumcision)  Ntaane (after cir.)  
                18-29+   |  Warrior (Regiment)         |      Muthaka          |    Marriage
              29-40+     |Familyhead                     |     Muruau             | Entry of 1st son 
                                                                                               into warriorhood   
               40-51+    |         Ruling Elder          |      Mzee               | Subsequent 
              51-62+     |      Ritual Leader            |      Mzee               | Subsequent
              62-?          |        The Aged              |      Mzee               |  Death         
                     Progression is also determined by community necessity,
                     so it's not the same as using age ranges.  
                            -for example, when are people acknowledged by 
                              our society as adults? (18 yrs, right?) 
                                      -in contrast, traditional Meru standards
                                       would require there to be a role available 
                                        to keep responsibility ratios even
                                           -famine, high infant mortality rates,
                                            droughts, and other environment-based
                                            circumstances will affect the ratio and 
                                            in turn affect the progression of each
                            -age-sets determine the responsibilities/privileges 
                             of its members
     ii. Connotation of Generation
                      Since, generations are determined by the label of their
                      regiments,for each community within the Meru, the
                      separation of generations is the events that occurred
                      during the the regiment age-set of that time. 
     iii. History
                     Using regiment age-sets to determine generations and 
                     generations to keep track of past events creates a more
                     personal history and the paradigms of thought that  
                     instinctively relates the people of an event, instead of
                            -my source for this blog, Jeffrey Fadiman, When
                             We Began There Were Witchmen, wrote this
                             anthropological book based on the interviews
                             of Meru elders in the late 1960s(hahahaha that's
                             our historical thought system!). They were able  
                             to provide him with their history beginning
                             around 1708.
                                       -off the top of head, what were your 
                                        ancestors doing in 1708? I have no clue,
                                       I don't even know what my family name, 
                                       matrilineal or patrilineal was in 1708. 


31.4% of the average Kenyan household’s income goes to bribes? That is a huge number, does she mean just in Nairobi? The more I learn about corruption the less clear my opinion becomes. The corrupting system is a never ending circle; government officials take bribes and use the money to take care of their extended family who can’t support themselves because the only way to survive is to bribe the government officials in the first place. And round and round we go with no one going to say stop because if they did they would then be saying no to their families or financial wealth or powerful position. Or all of those. I know this is oversimplified, but is still an interesting picture, especially when you consider that the ethnic groups are included as extended family.
I don’t think Michela Wrong is making excuses for Kenyans, she is trying to demonstrate the different reality and does so very effectively. Will we have to bribe anyone in Kenya? After this chapter I will almost be surprised if we don’t.
Koigi was to some extent corrupt when he accepted that land, but I think he felt that his excuse that his family needed it justified accepting it. He felt it was unethical, or he would not have talked abut his friend that Sara mentioned as being stronger then him and gone to such lengths to justify it to us. But like other people in a high position he was expected to look after his family. It is hard for me to really understand his position and put myself in his shoes, but I think I would have accepted the land too.
My family’s belief is more like Wrongs father’s then her mother’s. Not my entire family, but in general we have always been a little removed form economic and social conflicts and convinced that cheating and steeling is wrong because it damages the economy. And an unproductive economy is bad because many of my family members “buy into” (pun intended) the common capitalist belief that what is good for the corporations is good for the people because it helps the economy.
Choosing superior ethic is like trying to choose from shades of gray. Everyone wants to secure their position in life for themselves and their families. Are you willing to put your ethics before your family? That is an oversimplification but it seems to be what Wrong is implying when she defends their acceptance of bribes. And it is very easy for us to say that this or that is wrong from our secure homes typing away on expensive laptops. Even if the families are not part of the deciding factor, many people would still take bribes to get ahead. As Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “Whinning may not be everything, but losing has little to recommend it."


The eruption destroyed millions of flowers — in Kenya

Up to 20 percent of the Kenya's economy relies on its horticulture export market — a sector that has been completely frozen by the flight ban. European florists, in particular, rely heavily on this East African nation. The head of the Kenya Flower Council told the BBC that growers have been forced to destroy 3,000 tons of flowers since last week, with devastating effects on the local economy.
Michela Wrong is not making excuses for the Kenyan politicians, she is explaining the reality of the situation. It is very easy to make judgments when we live in a society where corruption is not part of our every day lives. There is far too much history and complicated layers for everyone to be anti-corruption; this actuality does not mean that people don't commit corruption for the overall betterment, but it is a mode of survival. Koigi, for example, did so much good that I can't be angry that he accepted that piece of land from the government.
My understanding of corruption has been magnified; colonialism bred tribalism and with it corruption. Wrong's parents view on the world create an interesting paradigm, and are both valid viewpoints. My family's take on integrity, and my own, follow her mother's questioning, individuality and trusting our own instincts, not necessarily the governments'. At the same time, there is respect for laws that we believe better society. In such corrupt world, it is important to be realistic--to watch out for your own interests, to hold the government absolutely accountable, to question authority and the status quo. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for conforming to the rules of society; if no one does, than society will not move forward, and corruption will be perpetuated. I think both aspects have their place and time; but most often a balance between the two should be found.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It's our turn to eat

Michela Wrong's description of corruption in Kenya is really interesting and I have found my personal point of view waiver back and forth as I continue to read on. I think the root question is; does power corrupt, and to what extent can a person resist that? Does accepting a "favor" even just one make you corrupt or a player in the larger corruption game? These are all very intriguing questions and I still have no idea where I stand on the issue because I often go back and forth between my beliefs and ideas on certain subjects. When it comes to Koigi taking the land, I am not sure, I think I need to learn a little more about who's land it was before (in terms of ethnic groups ect) and what his salary was. Did he legitimately need that land. In the book he makes a good argument for it and I like to believe that he had very good intentions so initially no I do not think that taking the land makes him corrupt. The fact that he questions if it would make him corrupt and also references another woman who he admired who refused land from Moi shows that he really contemplated the effect of accepting the land. However, in my personal experience if I do something once that I do not necessarily want to do for ethical or moral reasons (example: eating ice cream or dairy) it makes it easier to do it again than if I just put my foot down and say no I will not do this at all. But if I have ice cream one night then I am more likely to just have it again another night. This could just be a personal thing because I tend to go to different extremes a lot but if I were in Koigis position and took the land I wouldn't have a lot to stop me from taking other favors where as if I just rejected it from the beginning it would be easier to resits that temptation.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mijikenda Tribe

Hi all. Sorry it took so long to figure this blog thing out. Here is a little information about the Mijikenda tribe:

The Mijikenda are a Bantu tribe residing on the Coast of Kenya. In the Swahili language “mijikenda” means “nine homesteads.”  This explains why the Mijikenda tribe consists of nine closely related sub-tribes. While each sub-tribe speaks the Mijikenda language (similar to Swahili), they each have their own dialect. While it is fairly certain the Mijikenda are descendants of Somalia, it is not clear why they migrated to the Kenyan coast. Some speculate that they were escaping attacks in southern Somalia initiated by Oromo and Cushitic tribes.

Of the nine sub-tribes of Mijikenda, (Giriama, Digo, Chonyi, Duruma, Jibana, Kambe, Kauama, Rabai and Ribe) the most popular and well known is the Giriama tribe. In fact, so little is known about the remaining eight tribes, that Mijikenda culture is often referred to as simply the Giriama.

It quickly became clear to me, that most of my information on the Mijikenda people, would come through researching the Giriama tribe. Most of the information I gathered was rather surface level. For example, the Mijikenda operate under a family clan system, their main source of income is agriculture – coconut palm being the most lucrative crop, and the homesteads/compounds of the Mijikenda usually consist of three generations and can house up to 70 family members.

 I did however come across an interesting ancient ritualistic practice that is attributed to the Giriama tribe. The Giriama have six secret societies. Of the six, there is one secret female society called Kifudu. The Kifudu is made up of post-menopausal women – these women are responsible for the fertility of the entire tribe. While very little is known about the rituals of the Kifudu, one article on the University of Kentucky’s website, was able to shed some light on this secret society. These women are the caretakers of a shrine within a thatched roof hut that holds sacred clay pots symbolizing the ancestress of the tribe. The women of the Kifudu society will use the clay pots as instruments by putting their mouths to the opening of each pot and blowing. The resulting sound is to ensure fertility in the tribe. The Giriama believe that if these women do not perform this ritual, the young fertile women of the tribe will have difficulties during childbirth.


Tourism/Travel - a few thoughts

I am happy we were assigned to read this article, because it has given me yet another new way of looking at tourism. I have been researching eco-tourism and other similar types of tourism and the mind-blowing amount of limbs and levels of this traveling “culture” has been a pretty intense discovery for me. I am a bit disenchanted: I’ve always loved traveling to new places, near or far, to learn about different ways of life, the natural world and to have new experiences. While I believe my intentions were for education and adventure, and often times a little bit of relaxation, this article made me wonder how much of it was a deeply ingrained need for a certain “social status.” I have certainly become more aware of the environments I have traveled to lately, and have made a conscious effort to be as respectful of the people, plants, animals etc. native to these areas, but in my past I can think of times in which this might not have been not the case. It's important that we become aware of the myths and dangers of tourism, so that we can begin to make better choices in our travels.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I am extremely attracted to the idea of exploring new places and doing things that are somehow exotic and exiting just by being different. Where this attraction comes from is difficult to pin down, but it is one of the components that first attracted me to the Kenya course. Is it a cultural lens that draws people to want to explore new places? In our culture everyone is constantly watching movies and reading books about people whose lives seem more exiting then ours. Is this encouraging us to go seek out adventures? Or are these stories making us less satisfied with our lives as they are? The article said that people often travel for bragging rights, checking places off a list for some kind of social status. And it is a kind of social status, you need a considerable amount of financial stability to travel internationally.
The part about trying to find a pristine and unvisited beach, and then keeping it that way was disturbing in its reality. I spent winter block in Mexico kayaking on the coast, at every camp site there was signs of previous campers, or other people camped there already. It took us hours of driving and/or kayaking to reach these sites but no mater how remote there were other people already there. the attraction to these places is destroying them.

Monday, April 12, 2010


People have always been nomads, but now it's a lot easier, and not nearly as satisfying. I think that's often the reason people are searching for the untouched land, not entirely because it's rare or "sacred," but also because they believe a harder trek, a more difficult boat ride or a longer wait will give them greater satisfaction of their prize. It's so easy to go to Florida for your Freshman Spring break, it's boring.
There are people who travel from all around the world to the Southwest, in the middle of nowhere, down a dirt road with 2 miles on foot to reach a beautiful work of art. If the traveler had been aware of the same piece of art at a museum 10 blocks down the street, they might never had taken the time to travel that short distance. All we really want is an adventure.

And this desire to travel on the unbeaten path is something that we are willing to pay a hefty price for. These adventure travelers will disturb communities--pay them big money and change their previous way of life.

Taking Root Movie

Hellooo! My grandmother sent me this movie, "Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai" and I was thinking it'd be fun and interesting for our class to watch. It's about the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai "whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights and defend democracy." It won like 11 awards. It's about land rights, activism and deforestation. Here's a review.

Maybe we can do a dinner and a movie night when everyone's schedule settles down.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Somali is located in the north east of Africa, also known as the horn of Africa. It waters the lands of Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya. Its coastline runs from the Indian Ocean to the Golf of Aden. Its capital city is Mogadishu. The land is considered a dessert or dessert scrub due to the very dry climate and scarcity of only two raining season.  
The word Somali comes from SOO and MAAL that means, "Go and Milk it." Three thousand and four hundred years ago was when Somali was ever mentioned. Queen Hatsebshut of Egypt sent a fleet of five ships and a crew of two hundred and seventy five men to Somalia. The Egyptians called Somalia "The Land of Punt," meaning the land of spices. Between the Somali and Egyptians, they traded goods such as jewelery, gold, myrhh, ostrich feathers, elephant tusk, and etc.
In the 9th century Ibn Batat the great berber traveller visited in Mugadishu, and wrote about every details containing well fed people, beautiful flowing clothing, exsquisite food, and the powerful sultan.
The Somali are a pastoralist (sheperd), and agriculturalist (farmer). They are a tracing descent society that organize themselves by clans. Who they are related to and who they descend from is very important. There are two main clans: Samaale, and Sab. The Samaale clan is democratic and believes that everyone should have equal political, economical, social, and civil rights. The Sab clan believes that family is the main root of equality and democracy. They are clan families, not tribes.
The Somali people have a rich oral language. There are 21 consonants: B T J X Kh D R S Sh Dh C G F Q K L M N W H Y. There are 5 vowls: A E I O U.
Most Somali food are meat driven, there is rarely vegetrianism. Goat, beef, lamb and sometimes chicken are what is commonly eaten throughout the day. Injera is a homemade bread made of a rare grain called "teff." This spongy and moist bread is usually 15" in diameter. During the 9th month of the Muslim calendar, the Somalis fast from eating or drinking from down till dusk. Only those in good health can fast. Caution: Not for the Ill- Hearted.
The Somali coutur for women is a, direh: a long, billowing dress worn over petticoats. Cantino: a four-yard cloth tied over shoulder and draped around the waist. Toob are commonly worn throughout Africa. Hijab, and head scarfs are very common. Men wear western pants or Ma'awis (Kilt), western shirts and shawls. Men wear a turbon or wear a koofiyad (embroidered cap that looks like a book on you head).
by Estelle Yazzie

Monday, April 5, 2010


The Pokomo are a group of 50,000 Kenyans who live along the Tana River, Kenya's largest river, along the southeastern edge of the country. The Pokomo are divided into the Upper Pokomo, around 75% of the total Pokomo population, and the Lower Pokomo, around 25% of the total population. What divides them is not only geographic, but religious as well. The Upper Pokomo are Muslim, while the Lower Pokomo are Christian. The Lower Pokomo do not practice divorce, while the Upper Pokomo permit it, due to Muslim laws.

The Pokomo's land typically does not exceed 1 to 2 km away from the river at any point. The Pokomo migrated to the Tana River in the 17th century and have been there ever since. They occupy the lower portion of the river, approx. 400 km. from Kipini to Mbalambala, north of Mombasa. They are an agricultural and fishing community, growing crops such as maize, plantains, and sugarcane. The Pokomo live in small villages of no more than 60 huts and observe collective habits of food growing, especially during the harvest season. The Pokomo rely on the flooding river to irrigate their crops.

Since 2001, the Pokomo have been at odds with the Orma tribe, semi-nomadic herders who also need the Tana River to feed their animals. Conflicts have turned more deadly with the introduction of modern weapons.

Culturally, much of the Pokomo people's old traditions have been cast aside for Muslim and Christian traditions, though there are still some who practice old Pokomo ways. The Pokomo people do not practice female genital mutilation, however, a rite of passage for males is circumcision. The tune of a song that Pokomo mothers sing to their children was, in 1963, given new lyrics and adopted as the national anthem of Kenya.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Taita

The Taita are a tribe that lives in the Taita hills of Southwest Kenya near the border of Tanzania. It is a tribe compiled of three different tribes: the Wadawida, the Wasaghala and the Whataveta. Their language is of Bantu origin and is very similar to the Chagga people of Tanzania. The largest hill is called Dawida, it is a massive fertile place which is densely populated by the tribe. They practice many different types of agriculture and sell the bulk of what they produce to the nearest coastal provinces; a majority of it going to Mombasa. Surrounding the Taita hills is the Tsavo West National Game Park, before this became a National Park it was where the tribe would hunt for large game, and retain most of their meat supply. The Taita have assimilated many factions of the western culture, and most of their traditional culture has faded away. The biggest and most sacred tradition of the Taita people is circumcision. For hundreds of years it was a important training ritual for boys 7-11, it was a celebration of the undertaking of more responsibility. Another remarkable thing about the Taita people is that they have an outstanding amount of respect for the dead. A year after the burial of a person, their skull is taken from the ground and put in a cave with all the other skulls of all the other dead. Although this practice is not widely practiced anymore, the skull caves are considered very sacred. The Taita are very into their music and have many rituals and traditions based off music and dance. The most common dance of the Taita people is the pepo, the spirit possession dance. This dance is not only performed on national holidays.

The Baganda

Buganda is located in south-central Uganda and is home the Baganda or Ganda people (Muganda singular). The Baganda people comprise the largest ethnic group in the country (approximately 1/5 the population)and speak Luganda. Uganda is the swahili term for Buganda and was officially used by the British after the Uganda Protectorate was established in 1914. The Kingdom of Buganda is naturally bordered by Lake Victoria to the south, the Nile River to the east, Lake Kyoga to the north, and the Kafu River to the northwest. Kampala, Uganda's capital, is located in Buganda.

This map of Uganda represents Buganda in red.

Historically the Baganda are Bantu speaking people that descended from people arriving between 500 B.C-1000 A.D. In the 1300's kingdoms were formed by these peoples that later became the states of Bunyoro, Buganda, and Ankole. By the 1800's the Bunyoro state was the largest, but the Buganda later grew larger. Between 1900 and 1910, the culture and traditions of the Baganda were intensively researched and documented by the British. The Kabaka, or ruler of the Buganda, was Mwanga in 1884, with some 32 rulers before him starting with Kintu. In 1888 Mwanga was taken from power trying to dispel missionaries (Protestants, Roman Catholics, and followers of Islam were fighting for control of the area). In 1889 Protestants and Catholics put Mwanga back in power. In 1894 Buganda was made into a British Protectorate. In 1914 the region was known as the Uganda Protectorate. In the 1920's and 30's the British systematically reduced the control of Buganda's Rulers. In 1953 Kabaka Mutesa II was forced out of the country. In 1955 Mutesa II returned as the ruler of Buganda despite British control of Uganda. In October 1962, Mutesa II became president of Uganda. In 1966 Milton Obote overthrew Mutesa II and made laws that stipped Buganda's right to self-govern. Obote sent troops led by Idi Amin, and Amin forced Mutesa II to flee to Britain. The stories of Presidents throwing each other from power continues until the current president Yoweri Musevini took control in 1986. As for the Kingson of Buganda, they have been left little more than symbolic power in relation to the national government. Their prized Kasubi Tombs burned to the ground on March 18, 2010 (just weeks ago) by an alleged mad man who thought the tombs were satanic. The four story thatched roof hut and home of the last king before Colonial occupation, enclosed the tombs of deceased Kabakas. Here's a picture of the Tombs before the blaze:

This is a picture during the blaze:

The prevailing rumor before a suspect was identified was that the fire was the cause of the government, as tensions between the Baganda and President Musevini have been high.

The Swahili

The Swahili are a coastal ethnic group that has evolved through the intermingling of Arab, African and Persian groups of people. They are generally urban folks and merchants due to the influence of trade on their culture.
Here is a little history. Bantu and Cushitic groups migrated to the coast from the Northwest around 1000 CE. Around the 900’s a Arab trading post was established at Mogadishu (Somalia) and Kilwa (Tanzania), this trading post attracted more people to move to the area especially because of the trade in ivory, skins, and slaves. Around 1100’s a distinct Swahili culture emerged from the convergence of these people. However, in my research on this culture there is a lot of controversy over the roots of Swahili ethnicity and who is a “true Swahili”. At one point in time the Swahili people claimed to have been from Arabia or Persia to distinguish themselves from slaves. The Kenya and Tanzania governments categorize the Swahili people as former slave traders and only marginally “African”. While historical evidence shows that the Swahili are “African” I have read that the Swahili do not consider themselves “African” or “Asian” but as their own unique civilization.(

The Swahili language is Kiswahili or Swahili and is a Bantu language. The name Swahili is derived for the Arabic word Sawahil meaning “coastal dwellers”. This name along with many other aspects of Swahili culture were influenced by Arabic culture. Swahili has about 20,000 Arabic words. I have also read that the name Swahili was given to them by the Sultanate of Zanzibar and that it was a derogatory term. This reading said that the Swahili rarely use it themselves and prefer the names of their particular town.

In coastal cities the Swahili architecture and houses are usually constructed with stone or coral and the ceilings are made of mangrove poles. Swahili architecture is known for its elaborate doors and posts, which are intricately carved into. The quality and size of a door is a sign of someone’s wealth. These houses are usually not divided into individual rooms but have large open rooms, usually four of them in one house called “Swahili galleries”. These houses are separated from each other by narrow corridors to create shade and walkways.

Arabic culture has had the greatest influence in shaping Swahili culture and tradition. This can be seen most in that the Swahili’s main religion is Islam, which has a large impact on Swahili lifestyle including food and clothing. Swahili children attend Madrassa which are religious classes where they learn Arabic languages and study the Koran. Swahili marriages are usually arranged by parents, although if the daughter does not approve of her groom to be she has the right to select her own. Swahili weddings last several days, and only men are allowed in the mosque for the official marriage vows. Traditional Swahili dress for men is a long white or beige robe called a kanzu and a small white rounded hat with an embroidery on it. Swahili women wear long black dresses called buibui and cover their heads with a black cloth known as a hijabu. Some Swahili women also wear veils to cover their faces. Most men wear western style clothing now but revert back to traditional dress on Fridays (the official prayer day) and on other important or religious events/days. Some women paint their hands with henna for their wedding day.

I have had a hard time finding current information on the Swahili because often I just get adds about learning how to speak Swahili, if anyone has an suggestions let me know.


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Friday, April 2, 2010


The Samburu is a people group in Kenya related to the Maasai. They presently live in the Rift Valley Province, above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the Northern Desert just South of Lake Turkana. They are a semi-nomadic, pastoral community that raise cattle, sheep, goats, and camels. There are over 150,000 individuals in this community and their economy is based on livestock. They refer to themselves as “Loikop.”
The Samburu live in groups of 5-10 families in camps called Manyattas. They usually move every 5 weeks to new pastures. These Manyattas consist of structures with plastered mud or hides and grass mats stretched over a frame of poles. They protect their flocks and huts with fence of thorns that completely surrounds the area. The Samburu dress in traditional clothing, which consists of bright red material like a skirt (called a Shukkas) and beaded jewelry. They typically remain more traditional in life and attitude than the Maasai and modern life is undesirable for them. The Samburu speak their own language, Samburu, which is a Maa language similar to Maasai dialects. The Samburu sustain themselves on milk, which is sometimes mixed with blood. Meat is very precious and is only eaten on special occasions. Their religion is mixed, some follow the traditional religion and others practice christianity. They love to sing and dance but do not use instruments during this activity. The sport enjoyed my men is high-jumping from a standing position. The adult men care for the grazing cattle while the women maintain huts, milk cows, obtain water, and collect firewood. The roles of the boys and girls are very similar in that boys heard cattle and goats, learn to hunt, and defend the flocks. The girls help the woman with fetching water and firewood. Both boys and girls go through initiation into adulthood, which includes training into adult responsibilities and circumcision or clitoridectomy. Violence against women is prevalent and polygamy is a common practice. The women are the property of men and have few rights of their own. The biggest challenge to the Samburu is lack of access to clean drinking water.

It was the building of the Uganda railway from 1896 to 1901 that brought the biggest influx of Asians to Africa, with some 32,000 indentured Indian labourers imported to East Africa by the British colonisers.

2,500 workers died during the construction of the Mombasa-Kampala railway

The railway was notoriously difficult to build

"There has been a remarkable vacuum or lack of understanding in the way African-Asians were represented and this is what I wanted to bring out in this exhibition."

The author Shiva Naipaul once described the East African Asian as "the eternal other".

A lot of young Africans have only heard about money-making Asians, but now they realise that there are others who are as Kenyan as they are

Nira Kapila

Anti-Asian feelings and resentments, especially over their perceived economic successes and commercial pre-eminence, were fuelled in the 1970s when 80,000 people of Asian heritage were expelled by Idi Amin in neighbouring Uganda.

In Tanzania, anti-Asian feelings spurred the programme of nationalisation in 1980, and in Kenya, Asian homes and shops were looted during the unsuccessful coup attempt of 1982.

This prejudice against them has been inadvertently reinforced by the Asian community itself, with its custom of holding itself culturally and economically apart.

They tend to live separately, be educated separately, shop separately and rarely mix or marry outside their own groups.

They are perceived as a homogenous and exclusive community, despite the fact that the differences between the different religious and cultural groups within the Asian community - between Hindus and Moslems, between Goans and Punjabis - can be as deeply divisive and mutually exclusive as those dividing Asians from their African neighbours.

NAIROBI-They are known by their nutmeg skin, their relative wealth

and their custom of holding themselves apart in a society where they were

conspicuous already. After more than a century in Africa, ethnic Indians

are still universally known here as "Asians."

In Kenya, where the Asian
 community accounts for much, if not most, of the merchant class, there is
 open resentment and anger from a black African majority mired in poverty.

Asians in East Africa know the anger and resentment only too well. In Idi
 Amin's Uganda, it led to the expulsion of 80,000 people of Asian heritage.
 In Tanzania, it fueled the 1980 nationalization of Asian-owned businesses.
 In Kenya, Asian-owned shops and homes were looted and Asian women
 were raped in the chaos that followed an unsuccessful coup attempt in

Immigration laws in Kenya are becoming increasingly draconian. Foreigners can only hold a job until a Kenyan national can be found to replace them: and more and more cities, including Nairobi, are demanding that the government bans non-Kenyans from owning a shop or trading in municipal markets.

Asian Kenyans


The Kisii, also called Gusii, live primarily in the western area of Kenya, in Nyanza, the most populated area of Kenya (this is where Kisumu, Kenya's third largest city is located). This section along Lake Victoria is still called the Kisii District. At 6.41% of the population, the Kisii are the 6th largest community in Kenya, and one of the fastest growing populations in the world. This is mostly rooted in their cultural beliefs of having many children for security in old age.

The Kisii have historically held more economic and financial power than most ethnic groups because of their location in the wet highlands--the most fertile in Kenya--allow them prolific crops of tea and coffee. Because of the high density of population and financial standing, the Kisii tend to be marginally more educated, wear western-style clothing, are spread out, or "modern" than a lot of tribes. However, their situation is still far from ideal. A steady increase in population has allowed for the majority to be below the poverty line, with a wide income gap from other members. Their hilly land--subdivided by families, thus growing smaller all the time--is affected by erosion from over-farming, and their lack of infrastructure such as telephones, electricity and good roads allows for their resources to be easily exploited.

The Kisii have always been agriculturists, and are a part of the Bantu speaking people (today they speak Kisii, or Ekegusii). Since migration, their culture has been shaped by frequent battles again the Luo, Nandi and Maasai; even today they are often viewed as "strong and aggressive people." Today there are still frequent land issues with Maasai, Kalengin and Kipsigis. Grazing land disputes result in cattle theft.

The Kisii practice male and female circumcision for the purpose of initiation into adulthood. At the age of 7 or 8 for girls and a few years later for boys, the practice is to train children on the rules of shame (chinsoni) and respect (ogosika). Female circumcision is more common among the Kisii than any other tribe. The Kisii are patriarchal and polygamists, but it is not common for a man to have multiple wives. Community is traditionally valued, as families live close together.

More than 75% are Christian, the rest are monotheistic, worshipping their God Engoro.
The Kisii are known to believe in the power of witchcraft more than any other tribe in Kenya. Two years ago 11 people that were believed to have been witches were killed in a Kisii farming community. Kisii are generally afraid of witchcraft, but often accuse people of it to settle unrelated, petty arguments. Part of the ceremony of funerals is to dissect bodies before burial to determine if they were killed by witchcraft.

This is a blog response from a Kisii after more witch killings in 2009, "Witchcraft and Witch Burnings MUST Stop":
"The killings in question are not the first of their kind in the area. ... This incident puts our entire country to shame among the community of nations; it further embarrasses those of who come from the region in a case that cannot be defended anywhere in contemporary times. Law enforcement must move in quickly and apply the full force of the law. Every effort must be made to bring perpetrators of this open-day murder to book and ensure that they pay for their heartless crime. ...The poverty rate in Gusii, as in many parts of the country, is unprecedented. Land sizes have shrunk to a degree where holdings cannot support the population based on traditional land use techniques. The fact is that even if one worked the land to the degree one could, there is NOT enough land to support the current and future population without creativity of some sort." (

Unfortunately, alcohol has added to negative social circumstance as well. Violence, especially towards women has increased over the last century; the Gusii region has high murder rates compared to the rest of the Kenya. Traditionally, and still followed in rural areas, women cannot inherit land, cattle or other resources. They are under the complete authority of their husbands until they have sons.

Rendille People

The Rendille People live in the Kaisut desert east of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. They are pastoral people, with mostly goats and camels that are valued above all other positions. They are divided into many small groups that travel together. The number and names of these differed with many of the sources I could find. Two of the more prominent subgroups are the Ilturia and Ariaal in the southern part of the Kaisut desert. These tribes also herd some cattle.

Historically the Rendille people are from southern Ethiopia, they were forced out in the sixteenth century after a long series of conflicts with Somalia peoples. They allied with the Borana (Gabbra) people for protection and still have close ties to them. Now they are closely allied with the Samburu people to the south. The Samburu of the rift valley are currently absorbing Rendille people, they have more water on their lands and there are more of them then the 30.000 total Rendille. The rift valley paranilotic language is also taking over the Rendille Cushitic. The Rendille people travel from place to place, constantly searching for water and new grazing, the poor soil can’t take much before its overgrazed and finding enough water is difficult. Their huts can be dismantled and packed onto camels. They live mostly off of what they can get from their animals. Camels are especially important to them, more so in the north then the south. A traveling group will decide the location of a campsite by watching the lead camel’s reactions to an area.

The Rendille were not directly impacted by colonization. This was because the British didn’t want their desert land. They are very nomadic and had little sustained contact with any other people because they would not –could not because of their environment- stay in one place. They stayed out of sight out of mind until the 1970s and 80s when a series of droughts caused massive loss of livestock. Because they survived off their animals this was catastrophic. This famine brought the Rendille to the attention of missionary relief organizations and NGO’s. The problem with trying to support these people was that they could not stay in one place and survive on their own, there was no land that could support them. This has created towns that survive entirely off of aid from the government to survive. Aid organizations stared these towns so they could educate and feed these people, but even now only about 10% are literate and the towns can’t survive without help.