Kenya offers a rich cultural experience with the participation of local villages. Visitors often get the chance to learn about Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, Swahili and other communities and participate in activities. You can often visit the school, visit the village on market day or go for a walk with the cattle while in the morning foraging.
Sometimes, it is even possible to participate in traditional rituals. While today’s nomadic lifestyles are limited by the conventions of modern life, these communities still stem from traditions which are very different from what most travelers are familiar with.
There are more than forty different language groups or tribes in Kenya, of which three communities, the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana, have held onto traditional clothing and lifestyles in much of their range.
1. The Maasai
The Maasai are traditionally semi-nomadic and completely dependent on their livestock. These days, they tend to be quite sedentary, occupying small settlements of 8-15 homes protected by thorns or fences. Livestock, including goats and sheep, but especially cattle, were the main source of income for the Maasai – when they could be persuaded to sell.
2. The Samburu
The Samburu people had a close relationship with the Maasai. Both came to Kenya from the upper Nile in present-day South Sudan in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they speak a common language – Maa. The traditional Samburu diet consisted of milk and blood extracted from their cows. Meat is only served on special occasions. Dancing plays an important role in Samburu culture and is similar to that of the Maasai with the men jumping in circles and high jump from standing.
3. The Turkana
Turkana is an important pastoral community in northern Kenya. Like other breeders, they are traditionally nomadic, always moving from place to place depending on the availability of livestock and water for their pets. Although business and jobs become increasingly important (many Turkana men work in security services or as guards and night guards), a long-standing livestock culture remains extremely important. Fishing is also a major source of food for those living near Lake Turkana.