Picture thanks to Ethan Mcarthur

The Luhya and the Masaai people: tribes in Kenya

Kenya is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist destinations in Africa. Why? Because of its stunning natural scenery, sandy beaches, wildlife, and above all a vibrant culture. The country boasts a rich cultural diversity, being the home of more than 42 ethnic tribes. Kenya is a hotspot for cultural tourism. 

These tribes are unique and distinct from each other, due to the rich cultural heritage that defines them in one way or the other. Note that most of these communities have adopted western lifestyles in recent times. However, quite a sizable number have managed to keep the ancient ways intact. 

In this article we take a look at the Masaai and the Luyha people, and explore their cultures through traditional foods, habits, customs, and traditions. 

1. The Masaai People

The Maasai are an ancient Nilotic people (indigenous to the Nile Valley). They are known for their nomadic lifestyle and their preservation of culture. In fact, of all the communities in Kenya, Maasai culture is the most unaltered; and we love them for it! 

2. Habits and Customs 

Picture thanks to @shaunmousley

Because the Maasai are a nomadic community, they depend on their cattle for livelihood and survival. In the past they used to kill lions just to prove their pride and were therefore always seen as great warriors. They live in small dome-shaped houses made of sticks and lined with cow dung, called “manyattas.” The women are known for their skill in beading necklaces, bangles, and headdresses. These colorful ornaments can be really important as they are used in cultural practices such as weddings, rituals, and community events.

3. Special Traditions

One unusual tradition among the Maasai people has got to be spitting. Greeting among friends in this community usually involves spitting on each other. Maasai Morans, or warriors, often spit on their hands before greeting an elder as a sign of respect, and when a baby is born they are spat on while people say bad things to it. They believe that if they praise the baby at birth they will banish it to a bad life in the future. Can you believe that? 

4. Food

Picture thanks to Thomson Safaris guest, Beverly Halliwell-Ross

Maasais mainly depend on their cattle for food. However, they don’t kill the animals for their meat but live off of milk and blood. Blood from a live cow is considered a delicacy but is also used to sustain the community during times of persistent drought. Interestingly, cow’s blood is not only a means of survival but also a hangover cure! Elders who have had one too many of the local brew, are given the blood and often recover in no time.

Sometimes the Maasai people supplement their meat and blood diet with whole grains obtained from urban centers. In the past they used to trade their cattle for grains with neighboring farming tribes, such as the Kikuyu. 

5. The Luyha People

The Luyha tribe are a Bantu speaking tribe who live in the western part of the country, stretching to the border with Uganda. With a population of about 6 million people they make up a relatively large part of the total Kenyan population. In fact, they are the second most populous tribe after the Kikuyu!

6. Customs and Habits

The Luyhas most common form of greeting is shaking hands. For people who are meeting after a long period of time the handshake will not only involve the clasping of hands but also vigorous jerking of the arm. Hugging is actually very rare. Women can sometimes be seen hugging, but it’s definitely odd to  hug someone from another gender. 

7. Traditions

Picture thanks to Duncan Moore

Members of the Luhya tribe have a few traditions that are deemed as very important, making them a culturally unique tribe within Kenya. One of these is the rite of passage through which men will be considered a grown up and full member of the community. This rite is a circumcision rite, and though opinions can differentiate on the subject, the Luhyas have one of the most elaborate initiations. A lot of culture surrounds the rite, as there are specific songs, rituals, and habits pertaining to the circumcision. 

The Luhyas also have traditions for gaining respect and recognition in the community. Bullfighting is one of these and it is common. It is considered a sport and is usually held in honor of special visitors or during special occasions. The more important the occasion, the more bulls will be pitted against each other. Respect and recognition among their fellow people was and still is a big part of their culture.

8. Food

The most common food among the Luyha people is a hard paste known as ugali. It is usually made from a mixture of hot water and maize, cassava, or millet flour. It is eaten with various traditional vegetables such as amaranth or common ones such as kale or collard greens. Additionally, it can also be eaten with beef or chicken stew. Chicken among the Luyha community is a very common delicacy and is prepared on special occasions or for important guests!

Written by Clemoateng from Kenya