Kenya Culture

Traditions, Customs, Rhythms & Music

Kenya culture is rich and diverse, made up of Kenya traditions and customs, music and dance, arts and crafts, and the warmest of hospitality. Kenyans are a warm and friendly people, known to be group-oriented.

"Harambee," known as one of the national symbols of Kenya is the country motto that means "to pull together," which speaks of their strong sense of community, and of helping each other in work and shared responsibilities.

Kenya's Families

Culturally group oriented, the extended family is the foundation of their social structure that includes relatives from both sides of the family and even close friends. The children call close family friends Auntie and Uncle, though they are not blood relatives.

It is not uncommon for the husband's parents to come and live with the nuclear family when they get too old to care for themselves. Joining families when they marry provides the couples with a sense of security knowing there will always be a group to help in times of need.

Kenya Traditions and Customs


Ancestral ties are part of Kenya culture, customs, and traditions. Like most Africans, Kenyans highly respect and reverence their deceased ancestors. They believe that the spirit of the dead person must be acknowledged to bring harmony and peace within their own families, extended families, clans, and tribes.

Kenyan Women

Expected to do most of the work, the women are still ruled by the traditional subservient role, especially in the outlying villages.

They are responsible for farming, cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, child care, and the general running of the home.

In the areas still influenced by the old ways, women would not generally give instructions to the men. Things are changing however, as society becomes more modern.

Women over 21 are called "Mama" and men over 35 are called "Mzee."


Kenyan hospitality is warm and inviting to visitors and guests. When you come into a Kenyan's home, you should always accept their offer of tea or a drink. To refuse would be bad manners.

It would also be considered very rude to lose your temper and shout. Disagreements are not openly addressed, and confrontations are rare.

Issues tend to simmer for long periods, or they get resolved with humor. Even when frustrated, it's best to be polite and smile.

Personal Greetings

The handshake is the most common greeting of Kenya culture, a short one to casual acquaintances. Close female friends often hug and exchange one kiss on each cheek instead of shaking hands.

To show proper respect to an elder or someone of high status, you grasp their right wrist with your left hand when shaking hands.

Just before shaking hands, you exchange the very common greeting "Jambo," meaning "How Are You?" It would be considered to be poor manners if you didn't continue to then ask questions about the person's health, their family, and business, or job.

Africa Time

Time in Africa is very flexible. Delays are accepted as just the normal part of life. It is rather common for services not to run completely or for Africans to be late. However, employees arrive on time or even early, having made allowance for any possible delays with public transit or the bad roads. Heavy rains can bring things to an absolute halt.

Kenya's Rhythms & Dance

Rhythm is very important to the Kenyan people's social and religious life, so the drum, and wind, and stringed instruments also play key roles in Kenya culture through their music and dance.

A contemporary dance type of music that originated in Western Kenya among the Luo people is known as benga. Kenyans love their music and the benga style that became so popular in the 1950s is still recognized today.

The many traditional tribal dances of Kenya are equally important to Kenya culture as well. Watch the following video as Kenyan traditional dancers express their joy just to be alive. Note the schoolchildren in the audience near the end of the video.

Watch as Kenyan school children happily drum and dance with their teachers in the video below.

The following video shows the Mwomboko dance, a Kikuyu cultural dance often performed at weddings and other joyful occasions.

Sounds Of Kenya's Music

Enjoy watching this wonderful music video with its collection of Kenyan music performed by various music groups and accompanied by beautiful photographs of Kenya's cities and scenery.

Kenya is a country of music and home to many music styles. Kenyan music ranges from imported popular music, afro-fusion, and benga music, to the traditional folk songs.

The music of Kenya is definitely a part of the Kenya cultural experience. It's thought that the guitar is the most popular instrument, and many Kenyan songs feature elaborate guitar rhythms. 

While in Kenya, be it in Nairobi, on the long bus ride to Garissa, or anywhere between, you'll hear music playing.

Kenyan Adam Solomon Performing

In August each year, the Kenyatta International Conference Center in Nairobi is home to the Kenya Music Festival. This is an exciting, ten-day event that features mostly African music.

There seems to be two main genres of music — the sounds of Swahili influence as well as Congolese. With many different regional styles, there has also been recent interest in western hip-hop where two different styles have emerged. Genge and Kapuka beats are extremely popular and have created a dominant industry among the youth.

Mixing languages into a single song is not unusual with some sharing a language called Sheng, being a mix of English and Swahili.

Every year many Kenyan artists compete for recognition in the Kisima Music Awards made up of talents from East Africa, held in Kenya.

The African Children's Choir

The African Children's Choir is an amazing group of orphaned children from Kenya who tour the world sharing their talents and energy bringing awareness of their situations to many. A most wonderful group that we've seen perform several times and would recommended without hesitation.

As quoted by its Founder, Ray Barnett, the choir celebrates the lives of hurting African children:

"Inspired by the singing of one small boy, we formed the first African Children’s Choir to show the world that Africa's most vulnerable children have beauty, dignity, and unlimited ability."

Preserving Kenya Culture

Kenya's rich and diverse cultural traditions are valued as assets to be cultivated and developed. Efforts are being made to ensure that these customs and traditions are not lost or undermined in the embracing of newer ways.

A National Archive Service has been established, as well as a national library service board. Kenya's National Museum has collections of archaeological remains, wildlife, and cultural objects and material.

The National Theatre School

More efforts to preserve Kenya arts come through The National Theatre School that was founded in 1968 to offer professional theatrical training techniques. They include play writing by Kenyan authors, and performances of the traditional Kenya music and dance.

Visual Arts

The mass productions of wood sculptures and carvings make up most of the visual arts and are an important part of Kenya culture that's eagerly sought after in the thriving tourist trade.

Click Here For More Facts About Kenya

Julia and Jill Carty, Founder of The Julia Project

Julia, our charity's namesake, and I extend a warm welcome to you.
—Jill Carty, Founder

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