Kenya is a culturally diverse country made up of various tribal groups, each of which has its own language, dress, music, and food. The Swahili people of the coast and the Maasai warriors of the wildlife-rich grasslands are two of the more well-known tribes. Farming communities in the north are home to as much as a quarter of the population.
Image credit: National Museums of Kenya
The cultures of Kenya are influenced by both African customs and the colonial era, particularly Catholicism. Kenyans value family and community. They are creative and artistic, and the country has produced a number of well-known authors and musicians. They also have a developed cultural scene with strong representation in television, theatre, music, dance, and the visual arts. The vibrant festivals of Kenya offer tourists a good opportunity to learn about the country’s traditions.
Dive into The Exquisite History Language & Cultures of Kenya
Step Back in Time
Since the beginning of human history, people have lived in Kenya. The first people to live there were hunter-gatherer tribes, then a farming civilization from the Horn of Africa, and finally farmers from Sudan. Bantu-speaking farmers from Nigeria brought ironworking to the region around 100 AD. In the eighth century, Muslim traders from the Arab world built towns and mosques along the coast.
By blending with the Bantu elements and cultures of Kenya, Arabs founded the independent states of Mombasa, Malindi, and Zanzibar on the coast in the tenth century. Mombasa was a major thriving port by the 15th century. Over the course of the next 300 years, Arab traders sold 90% of the natives of the Swahili coast as slaves, mostly to Europeans.
In 1890, the Imperial British East Africa company seized control of Kenya and started building railways with the help of Indian laborers, many of whom later settled in Africa. The first reserves were created as a result of local resistance in order to keep difficult tribes out of the way. The highlands of the interior were made by European coffee and tea farmers who became wealthy and drove out the original natives. By 1930, there were about 30,000 white settlers living there.
When her father passed away in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was on vacation in Kenya. From that year until 1959, the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule persisted. However, that year, the African Loyalist Home Guard launched an offensive that resulted in over 4,000 deaths and the expulsion of many supporters. Land grants were given to the loyal Africans.
In elections held in 1957, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) came to power. The creation of a new constitution led to the country’s independence at the end of 1963 and war raged against factions that wanted to join Somalia. Since Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s first elected president passed away in 1978, Daniel Arap Moi was elected president three times under a single-party system until 1998. Mwai Kibai of the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) was elected president in 2003 in what was widely regarded as a free and fair election.
Immerse Yourself in the Language
Image credit: National Museums of Kenya
Kenya is a multilingual country. 62 languages are spoken in the nation, despite the fact that Swahili and English are their official languages. The cultures of Kenya are influenced by different languages.
Tribal African languages make up the majority of these, with a small number of Middle Eastern and Asian languages spoken by foreign settlers (i.e. Arabic, Hindi, etc.). The three language families that make up African languages are Bantu (spoken in the center and southeast), Nilotic (spoken in the west), and Cushitic (in the northeast).
You may be familiar with the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata,” which translates to “no problem/worries” and appears in the well-known Disney film “The Lion King.”
The Culturally Diverse Architecture
Around 70% of the population lives in rural areas, though this number has been falling as more Kenyans move to the cities for work. The majority of people who reside in cities do so in either Nairobi or Mombasa.
Mombasa, the second-largest city in the nation and the main port, is situated on the southern coast. With roots in the first Arab colonists, Mombasa has a large Muslim population. The Portuguese first settled in the area in 1593 and today Fort Jesus is a museum. It is a stunning example of European Renaissance architecture.
Image credit: Robertharding.com
Old Town is just 5 minutes walking from Fort Jesus. It is a World Heritage Site under UNESCO. The trading culture of Mombasa is reflected in the architecture of the Old Town, where there are numerous examples of Islamic and Portuguese architecture. Mombasa is a shining example of the diverse cultures of Kenya.
The majority of people in cities reside in contemporary apartments. The typical housing designs in the countryside differ from tribe to tribe. In contrast to the rundi houses, which resemble beehives and are made of reed and bark, the chagga houses are made of sticks, and the nyamwezi are round huts with thatched roofs.
A Flavorful Journey
Swahili cuisine is rich in spices and flavors of coconut, cardamom, garlic, saffron, turmeric, and pilau masala due to Arabic and Persian influences. For Kenyans, corn or maize is a staple food. It is made into flour and cooked as the porridge called posho. It is occasionally combined with mashed potatoes, vegetables, and beans to create the dish Irio. Mboga or boiled greens, and matoke or banana porridge are typical side dishes.
Popular Swahili dishes also include biriani, mseto, haluwa, kaimati, mahamri, pilau and boko boko.
Tea with milk and sugar is a popular beverage. Another widely consumed beverage, particularly in Mombasa, is palm wine. The majority of the beer consumed in Kenya is made by local breweries. Uki is the name of a unique type of honey-based brew.
Not just Swahili food but Indian food also has an impact on the cultures of Kenya. Mombasa is well-known for its Indian cuisine, which includes curries, kachoris, samosas, and chapatti, a fried bread that was brought by many immigrants from the subcontinent. Corn on the cob, mandazi (fried dough), potato chips, and peanuts are some famous Indian snacks in Mombasa.
The Sound of a Community
Locally, Taarab music, which originated from Zanzibar, is very popular Taarab music, which originated from Zanzibar and has a local presence. The traditional beat has a slow tempo and is borrowed from Indian and Arabic melodies. The mellow and smooth Bango, the brisk Chakacha, and the traditional Mwanzele. Ohangla and Benga are also very popular.
Mombasa Roots, Safari Sounds, Them Mushrooms, Anwar Juma Bhalo, and Princess Farida are notable musicians. Sal Davies, Malika Mohammed of Vidonge hit song, Stara Butte, and Juma Bhalo were all former greats who had homes or bases in Mombasa.
Hip hop, reggae, soul, blues, salsa, and among young Indians bhangra have recently gained popularity in Mombasa. Mombasa is a prime tourist destination, home to countless nightclubs, bars, hotels, upscale restaurants, and other entertainment venues. Mombasa’s nightlife is the most exciting in all of Kenya. Check out some of the most famous clubs on Mombasa road.
Image credit: National Museums of Kenya
Dancing is a crucial part of the culture of Kenya. Usually, men and women dance in separate groups. Male dancers often compete to see who can jump the highest while doing line dances. Religious rituals like marriage, naming ceremonies, etc. include dance. Both costumes and props are essential components of many traditional dances. Dancers often wear masks and carry shields, swords, and other objects.
Swahili People Wear Their Pride
The majority of people wear Western-style clothing in urban areas like Mombasa. But the cultures of Kenya lie in their traditional tribal attire.
Image credit: National Museums of Kenya
Many women dress in vibrant kangas, a large piece of fabric that can be worn as a skirt or shawl and is frequently accessorized with head scarves. The Luo and the Kikuyu are two ethnic groups that have embraced Western culture more readily than others. Women of northern nomadic tribes wear Gorfa, sheepskin, or goatskin that has been dyed red or black and is wrapped around the body, keeping it in place with a leather cord and a rope belt.
Some ethnic groups, like the Rendille, believe that a woman’s hairstyle reveals her marital status and the presence or absence of children. A man’s life stage can be determined by the headdress or jewelry he is wearing. The Turkana Pokot and Maasai women wear so many strands of beaded necklaces that it elongates their necks. These customs are signs of social and marital status in Kenyan society.
The Art Scene
Fables, stories, music, and poetry are all deeply ingrained in the cultures of Kenya. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a renowned Kikuyu author, published some exquisite works in English, including the award-winning “Weep not, Child” (1964) and “A Grain of Wheat” (1967). The oral and written tradition of inspiring and meaningful fables is quite amusing. The Hare is one such example of a folklore hero that inspires fights for independence despite being weak.
Image credit: iStockphoto
Kenya is renowned for its wood carving and sculpture, much of which have religious significance. Ancestral statues and the intricately carved amulets worn around the necks of Kenyans are both thought to appease the spirits of the afterlife. Sculptors also work with ivory and gold in addition to wood. Modern sculptors frequently combine more traditional and modern aesthetics.
Image Credit: Osborne Macharia
Other modern globally acclaimed African artists include Osborne Macharia and Cyrus Kabiru.
Image credit: National Museums of Kenya
The vibrant masks and headdresses worn during traditional dances, designed to resemble birds or other animals, are also the work of artists. Jewelry, which includes elaborate silver and gold bracelets and various kinds of vibrant beadwork, is another form of art in Kenya. Women make pottery and elaborately decorated baskets in some tribes, such as the Kikuyu and the Luhya.
A Religious Nation
Roman Catholics make up 28% of Kenya’s population, compared to Protestants who make up 38%. 26% of people identify as animists, 7% as Muslims, and 1% as practicing another religion. The Kikuyu other groups worship the god Ngai, who is said to live on top of Mount Kenya. As Mombasa has a majority of Christian and Muslim population, it has beautiful religious sites like Burhani Mosque, Azhar Mosque, Mombasa Memorial Cathedral, Shiva Temple, Holy Ghost Roman Cathedral, Jain Temple, and many more.
Traditional religions hold the belief that diviners have the ability to communicate with the spirit world and can use this ability to heal people of illnesses or evil spirits. In times of drought, diviners are also asked to help bring rain. Witches and sorcerers are also thought to possess supernatural abilities, but in contrast to diviners, they use these abilities to harm others. The diviners’ task is to counteract their negative effects.
Boys and girls go through different rituals before they are deemed of marriageable age. Like Kikuyu boys are initiated at the age of eighteen. They have pierced ears, buzzed hair, and white earth tattoos on their faces. Twelve-year-old Pokot girls are initiated in a ceremony that involves singing, dancing, and body art made of ocher, red clay, and animal fat.
Everywhere in the nation, weddings are significant events that are marked by up to eight days of special music, dance, and food.
Kenyans hold the view that after passing away, one enters the spirit world, which has a significant impact on the physical world. Children are viewed as the manifestation of a family’s ancestors’ souls by many Kenyans who practice reincarnation.
Now let’s see why Mombasa is the best city if you want to explore the cultures of Kenya.
Travel to Mombasa & Experience the Cultures of Kenya
In every corner of Mombasa, you can experience the cultures of Kenya. It is a city rich in culture with a history that dates back almost a thousand years. People from all walks of life have passed through it because it is one of the main entryways to the East Coast of Africa, each leaving a piece of their heritage and culture behind.
The architecture, markets, etc. are influenced by Arab and Muslim cultures. There are stunning mosques and temples all over the island, some of which date back 200 years to the time when the first Indian communities migrated to Africa’s east coast.
With the beginning of colonialism, there is also a European influence, though this is more prevalent in Kenya’s interior and along the beachfront, etc. It is a melting pot of cultures, with residents from all over the world.
What is Mombasa Famous for?
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It offers visitors a unique taste of the African tropics infused with centuries of maritime history. This global tourist hotspot is actually an island that is connected to the Kenyan coast by bridges and ferries. Mombasa’s beach resorts are located on miles-long stretches of palm-lined shoreline that are bordered on both sides by shimmering coral reefs.
Visitors from all over the world come here to take advantage of the many activities available, including deep-sea fishing, diving, and snorkeling at wrecks and reefs, as well as relaxing on the sun-drenched beaches. In addition, you can explore the cultures of Kenya. The coastal city is not just famous for its beaches and hotels but also for its historical sites, national parks, cultural centers, water sports, and marine life.
North & South Coast Beaches
Nyali, Bamburi, Shanzu, and Malindi are some of the famous north coast beaches in Mombasa. On the other hand, Tiwi, Diani, and Galu are the best south coast beaches in Mombasa. Bamburi is the best beach in Mombasa. There are plenty of beach hotels in Mombasa. They showcase various cultures of Kenya in terms of food, entertainment, etc.
Mombasa’s north coast beaches are a little livelier than its south coast beaches. There is no shortage of tourist activity thanks to the palm-lined beaches, the clear waters, the coral reefs, and the abundance of water sports, resorts, and entertainment options. You will easily find a hotel near Mombasa airport and the city center.
Mombasa Historical Sites
Famous historical sites in Mombasa include Fort Jesus Museum, Old Town, Jumba La Mtwana, and Moi Avenue Tusks. Located near Fort Jesus, the stunning epitome of European architecture – Old Town has been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants with abundant flavors and cultures of Kenya.
Built in the 14th century, Jumba la Mtwana ruins now hold mosques, a tomb, and houses. It is one of the best places in Mombasa. Moi Avenue is known for the giant pair of elephant tusks that were put up in the year 1956 for Princess Margaret’s visit to Mombasa.
Are you looking for the best tourist sites in Mombasa? Haller Park and Marine National Park are the #1 tourist attractions in Mombasa. Haller park has many birds. More than 160 species, including weaver birds, cranes, pelicans, and storks, have been introduced to the region.
Nguni Wildlife Sanctuary is about a 15-minute drive from Haller Park if you want to see more wildlife. You can have up-close encounters with giraffes, ostriches, eland, oryx, and many bird species.
Image Credit: Jossec S via tripadvisor
Mombasa Marine National Park, one of Kenya’s busiest offshore reserves, protects mangroves, sea grass beds, sandy beaches, and coral reefs.
Are you looking for things to buy in Mombasa? Bombolulu Cultural Center has four sheltered workshops, a cultural center, and a restaurant. It is a project of the Association for the Physically Handicapped in Kenya. You can watch tribal dance performances and tour traditional Kenyan homesteads at the cultural center. What better way to discover the cultures of Kenya!
Where to stay in Mombasa?
Every second that goes by during your stay at Mombasa Travellers Beach Hotel, adds to your memories in some way. We value the cultures of Kenya and showcase them to our visitors in many forms and they can’t get enough of the experience. They come to enjoy the professional service of the hotel’s staff as well as a variety of facilities and activities. The hotel has the best pool and gym in Mombasa.
Looking for hotels in the North Coast of Mombasa? Travellers Beach Hotel & Club offers a private beach where you can enjoy umbrellas, beach massages, and volleyball, putting you within 0.4 km of Bamburi Beach. Being one of the best hotels in Bamburi beach Mombasa, visitors come here to unwind, energize, strategize and simply have fun.
Everyone can have fun in the hotel’s three outdoor pools, and those looking for some pampering can indulge in deep-tissue massages and aromatherapy. Cold drinks are served at the sports bar, and the coffee shop/café is a great place to grab a bite. Two swim-up bars, a beach bar, and a health club are additional highlights. And wait till you see the best accommodation in Mombasa Kenya.
Which types of rooms are available at Travellers Beach Hotel?
Being one of the top 4 star hotels in Mombasa, various room selections are made to offer you a luxurious and convenient stay with views of the sea and the exquisite gardens. We offer the most romantic honeymoon suites in Mombasa.
Our Suites, as well as Standard and Superior rooms, are furnished with contemporary comforts like flat-screen televisions, charging cords, fruit baskets, coffee and tea making amenities, telephones, air conditioning systems, hair dryers, safes, and en-suite bathrooms with bathtubs and shower area.
The elegant one-bedroom suites with private patios and balconies are swept in a lazy breeze that allows guests to relax in Mombasa’s tropical climate. These are a beach and vacation lover’s paradise. The Swahili people value the cultures of Kenya like staying close to your family so we offer standalone units or connecting family rooms.
What food and drinks options are available at Travellers Beach Hotel?
During your stay
During your stay or visit, the highly trained chefs will treat you to a variety of culinary experiences, from traditional Swahili dishes to Indian, Italian, and other global cuisines. You must try mouth-watering dishes at Sher e Punjab – Indian Restaurant Mombasa. La Pergola is the best restaurant in Mombasa for Italian food. Suli Suli Grill serves the most exotic seafood in Mombasa.
Come out in the evenings to mingle with other visitors while taking in live music, other entertainment, and a full bar. Our bartenders will make you a cocktail or mocktail or provide you with a wide range of other local and foreign beverages.
Wrapping Up Your Virtual Cultures of Kenya Tour
“The peoples of Kenya have an incredible richness of history and culture. Learning from what we already have, from all the communities, is the way into the world.”
Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o
Music, food, dress, and art are the main features that showcase the diverse cultures of Kenya and Mombasa is a vibrant example of it. Mombasa’s location near South Asia, Zanzibar, and Nairobi as well as its large shipping and maritime industries makes it a diverse mosaic of cultures in Kenya and East Africa.
If you want to experience the rich cultural diversity of Kenya, check out the events calendar below:
- Labor Day is observed on May 1
- New Year’s Day on January 1
- The anniversary of self-rule, Madaraka Day, on June 1
- Independence Day, also known as Jamhuri Day, is celebrated on December 12
- Kenyatta Day, which honors Jomo Kenyatta as the nation’s hero, on October 20
- Harambee Day, features a huge parade in Nairobi and celebrations around the country
- Mombasa carnival is the most popular festival in Kenya which celebrates the traditions and ethnicity of tribes
Do you want all inclusive holidays in Mombasa Kenya? Looking for the best place to stay in Mombasa? Call Us Today!