Kenya is well-known for a variety of reasons. It is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places on the planet, thanks to its breathtaking landscapes and vibrant wildlife. It is also one of the most ethnically diverse countries in East Africa, with interesting traditions and historical practices.
So whether you are planning to visit Kenya for a wildlife safari or hoping to expand your business in this country, it’s important to know what to expect in terms of culture and people.
Here are 6 interesting facts about Kenyan culture that might serve as a good introduction to you.
1. Kenyans Thrive in Community Cooperation.
Kenyans are more group-oriented than individualistic. In fact, this long-standing tradition is commonly referred to as “Harambee” in Swahili which literally means “pulling together.”
It is an allusion to teamwork and valuing the community before the individual.
This principle has historically been practiced by every ethnic group with its roots in cooperative farming or herding and the formation of political agendas. As you visit Kenya and immerse yourself in the local communities, you will definitely feel the spirit of group cooperation, and mutual responsibility, and you will even be offered assistance as a tourist.
2. Kenyans Do Not Keep Time.
As unbelievable as this sounds, it is true. Not many Kenyans keep time when it comes to casual meetings. If you plan and agree to meet your local friend in town, for example, do not be surprised if they are late and ready with an excuse or none at all. They will just show up and expect you to proceed with whatever plans you had.
In fact, most Kenyans exist in time rather than for time. Their lives aren’t measured in seconds, minutes, or hours, and time isn’t money. They see time as a contextual and flexible variable that individuals have the freedom to manage however they see fit. What matters is the significance of your presence and participation, not the time you arrive.
But make no generalizations. Professional businesses do however keep time, including your tour guide or safari driver, so do not be alarmed.
3. Kenyans Value and Respect their Ancestors.
Kenyans, like most Africans, place a high value on respecting and honoring their ancestors. However, this should not be perceived as ancestors’ worship rather a belief that when someone dies, their spirit lives on and must be recognized.
In fact, Kenyans hold the belief that ancestors are closer to God and they hold power that can affect our current events. As a result, it is very common for most families to honor their ancestors by making offerings to them or naming their children after them.
In short, showing respect for ancestors helps to maintain harmonious relationships within the family, extended family, clan, or tribe.
4. Kenyans Prefer to Communicate Indirectly & Respectfully.
Unlike in the West, where people prefer to communicate directly and openly. Most Kenyans use metaphors, analogies, and stories to either make a point or avoid open criticism.
For most travelers, this form of communication can sometimes be a turn-off as you may be required to read between the lines in order to figure out what is being said, and often times you’ll notice that some Kenyans may offer what they believe is the expected response rather than say something that might embarrass the other person.
They prefer this way to avoid bringing shame to the other person.
Moreover, most Kenyans communicate through gestures when emphasizing something. Speaking loudly is generally experienced during business disagreements or within rural areas, where most people speak with loud tones. Kenyans also try to avoid expressing anger in public as this can be seen as a sign of mental instability.
5. Dining is a Formal Affair.
This is one of those unspoken rules in many Kenyan homes. Food in Kenya, as with many other parts of the world, is meant to bring people together. Any time one has guests coming over or even a friend dropping by, they will almost always make an effort to get you something to eat.
Even in the villages, whether you have planned to visit someone or are just passing through, you will most likely be greeted with food. As a result, refusing whatever is offered is extremely impolite. You’d rather request a very small portion than refuse entirely.
Also, remember that a huge population of Kenyans is not rich, so they are offering to share the little they have with you because you are a guest. The majority of Kenyans believe in the Swahili phrase “Mgeni ni Baraka” which literally means “guest is a blessing.”
6. Mobile banking is the way of life in Kenya.
In Kenya, mobile banking is the norm. People use their mobile phones to send money to one another, pay bills such as rent, water, and electricity, as well as borrow money from banks. You simply need a sim card, register with your preferred telecommunications company, and you’re done!
It is for this reason therefore that most Kenyans do not walk around with cash. Of course, security is another reason, but mobile money has made life so easy for many people, there is really no need to carry cash.
So if you are visiting for a longer period, make an effort to register for mobile money and save some of your money on phone to stay safe. You can always withdraw whatever is left when you are leaving and take it with you.