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.