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Ethnic Groups of Kenya

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There are over 70 different Ethnic Groups of Kenya.[1] These groups can be classified into three different linguistic groups: Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushitic. The largest are the Kikuyu, with about 7 million people, making up 20% of the nation's citizens. Together, the five largest groups - the Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba, and Kalenjin - make up 70% of Kenya's population.[1] Additionally, 97.58% of Kenya's citizens are affiliated with its 32 major indigenous groups. (Major non-indigenous groups are Arabs and Indians, referred to in Kenya as "Asians.")

"The Kikuyu, who were most actively involved in the independence and Mau Mau movements, are disproportionately represented in public life, government, business and the professions. The Luo people are mainly traders and artisans. The Kamba are well represented in defense and law enforcement. The Kalenjin are mainly farmers. While a recognized asset, Kenya's ethnic diversity has also led to disputes. Interethnic rivalries and resentment over Kikuyu dominance in politics and commerce have hindered national integration."[1]

Classification of "Tribes" By the British

Today's tribes in Kenya were classified at the start of the colonial era. Timothy Parsons writes:

"Faced with a confusing range of fluid ethnicities when they conquered Kenya, colonial officials sought to shift conquered populations into manageable administrative units. In linking physical space to ethnic identity, the Kenyan reserve system assumed that each of these ‘tribes’ had a specific homeland."[2]
"Ethnicity is a seductively useful frame, which groups people into coherent and bounded categories based on a shared set of characteristics. East African colonial governments in particular sought to shift conquered populations, whose statelessness seemed chaotic and confusing, into understandable and manageable administrative units. Conveniently, they assumed that tribes were less advanced than nations, and thus the British version of the new imperialism was moral and defensible because primitive tribesmen could not govern themselves. By official imperial thinking, these ‘tribes’ had a common language, uniform social institutions, and rigid customary laws based on the perception of kinship. In practice, colonial categories of identity were largely innovative and imprecise."[3]

He adds:

"Although the native reserves appeared as clearly demarcated spaces on official maps, they never were coherent tribal homelands, because their British designers could not standardize or simplify the complex mosaic of highland identities. In the pre-conquest era, highland peoples often assumed new identities through migration, commerce, enslavement, intermarriage, and adoption."[4]

List of Ethnic Groups

The main Bantu groups of Kenya are the:

Nilotic ethnic groups include the:

Cushitic speaking people comprise a small minority of Kenya's population. They include:

  • Somali
  • El Molo
  • Boran
  • Burji Dassenich
  • Gabbra
  • Orma
  • Sakuye
  • Boni
  • Wata
  • Yaaka
  • Daholo
  • Rendille
  • Galla

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 East Africa Living Encyclopedia, Accessed December 6, 2011.
  2. Timothy Parsons, "Being Kikuyu in Meru: Challenging the Tribal Geography of Colonial Kenya," Journal of African History, 53 (2012), p. 65-86.
  3. Timothy Parsons, "Being Kikuyu in Meru: Challenging the Tribal Geography of Colonial Kenya," Journal of African History, 53 (2012), p. 65-86.
  4. Timothy Parsons, "Being Kikuyu in Meru: Challenging the Tribal Geography of Colonial Kenya," Journal of African History, 53 (2012), p. 65-86.

External Resources

External Articles