Kenya: General Information

Prehistoric remains have been found in Kenya which show that humans have lived in this region for 2.5 million years. Nowadays, the Republic of Kenya has more than 40 (47?) different ethnic communities that include most of the major ethnoracial and linguistic groups to be found in Africa [Bantus (67%), Kalenjin (12%), Kamba (11%,) Kikuyu (22%), Kisii (6%), Luhya (14%), Luo (13%), Meru (6%), Nilotes (30%), other Africans (15%), non-Africans (Asian, European and Arab: 1%) and Cushitic groups (<1%).

Historically, however, the inhabitants of this area worn some form of apron or wrap made of plant (sisal or palm fibre) or leather. The parts of the body covered, length of the apron or wrap and other adornments were markers of gender, age, social status, marital status and personal choice.

Kikuyu women wearing long leather skirts over their shoulders (nyathiba)

In the early part of the 20th century, unmarried Kikuyu girls still wore a knee-length apron with multiple strands of beaded leg bands that announced their eligibility for marriage. In contrast, married Kikuyu women wore long leather skirts (nyathiba) that were draped toga-style over one shoulder. When the woman also wore hooped beaded earrings (hang’i), it meant that her oldest child had been circumcised.

The world-famous Maasai are one of the Nilotic peoples (Figs. 5, 12 & 13). The men are wear a red-checked shuka (a long square piece of cloth) wrapped around the chest or waist like an Asian sarong. The colour red is the symbol of chivalry and bravery for Maasai. The men also carry a distinctive ball-ended club. Maasai women wear a similar rectangle of woven cloth, the colourful khanga. This can be worn singularly as a sleeping garment or tied and used as a baby carrier. Some women wear two pieces of cloth, a skirt with a matching head covering or shawl. Unique to each khanga is the Swahili proverb written on it. Maasai women also wear vast plate-like bead necklaces.

Even though the republic has no specific national dress, there are many outfits that can be assumed to form the traditional types of clothing of Kenya. In general, the modern population use Western clothing as the men usually wear suits with ties while the women wear skirts and blouses with a khanga (a 1.5 m x 1 m piece of material wrapped around the waist and torso).

(1) Khanga materials
2) Khanga materials

The khanga is screen printed with beautiful designs and sayings in Swahili or English. Modern Kenyan children wear American-style clothing.

(2) Kenyan sandals woth tyre-tread soles
3) Kenyan sandals woth tyre-tread soles

The traditional dress of Kenya also includes the sandals, sometimes soled with pieces of motorcycle tires. Adult tribal men traditionally dye their hair red with ochre and fat in order to achieve the warrior look.


(2) Various styes of kitenges
4) Various styes of kitenges

The kitenge is a popular traditional dress worn in Kenya, made of cotton in various colourful patterns and decorated with heavy embroidery. Although the kitenge is not the official dress of Kenya, it is commonly worn during ceremonies and non-official functions.


(4) Maasai shuka
5) Maasai shuka




(5) Kalenjin
6) Kalenjin


(6) Kamba
7) Kamba


(7) Kikuyu (Bantu) with a khanga around her waist
8) Kikuyu (Bantu) with a khanga around her waist


(8) Kisii
9) Kisii


(9) Luo
10) Luo


(10) Luhya
11) Luhya


(11) Maasai (Nilotes) men jumping
12) Maasai (Nilotes) men jumping


(12) Maasai women
13) Maasai women


(13) Meru
14) Meru


(14) Cushite men
15) Cushite men




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