I was doing some research for a current project I’m working on, and I stumbled onto a “Ten Interesting Facts About Kenya” blog post on Traveling East.
There are often misconceptions about Kenya – and Africa, in general – and I wanted to dedicate a post to some of those views that travellers may have about Kenya:
1. Kenya is roughly the same size of Texas at 362,040 square miles.
Yes. I thought we were a small nation until I saw Rwanda and Burundi. Each is about the size of our Isiolo County, and just a little smaller than the US state of Maryland.
2. After coffee, Kenya’s biggest income generator is tourism.
Tourism and agriculture are two of our biggest income earners. Tea, coffee and horticulture (flowers) dominate the export market.
International brands seeking an African market penetration opt for Kenya and South Africa as their foremost target countries.
3. For the Kenyans, however, coffee is considered an export product, not something for local consumption. The local favorites are tea and beer.
Every time is tea time! We like tea for breakfast, 10 o’clock tea, 4 o’clock tea, perhaps with lunch and dinner….
Juice sells well, too, both fresh and concentrate.
4. Kenyans usually drink their beverages hot or at room temperature. Hot beer, anyone?
I have never heard of a club or restaurant serving hot beer. Servers often ask if you want your soft drink cold or warm/at room temperature (“baridi ama warm?”). I don’t drink beer, and I can’t imagine how gross a hot beer would taste.
5. Some of the oldest known paleontological records of man’s history have been found in Kenya.
In 1984, ‘Turkana Boy’, a 1.6-million-year-old fossil, was discovered around Lake Turkana. Nariokotome/Turkana Boy is the “most complete early human skeleton ever found”, and it, along with other palaeontological discoveries, has given Kenya the nickname “cradle of mankind“.
6. Kenya’s Great Rift Valley was formed around 20 million years ago, when the crust of the Earth was split.
The trench of the Great Rift Valley contains a series of lakes and volcanic (active and dormant) mountains (Longonot, Suswa). Lakes lying in the Rift Valley include a soda lake (Magadi), a desert lake (Turkana), and algae-rich lakes (Nakuru, Elementaita, Bogoria). The latter three have the highest population of lesser flamingoes in the world.
7. Most Kenyans are either very poor or very rich. Very few can be classified as middle class.
I thought it was just Traveling East that had it wrong, but when I found more facts about Kenya, this statement made its way around the web a lot: Kenyans are either rich or poor.
There is a Kenyan middle class, and it’s been on the rise, with the upper-middle class making up a small percentage. Yes, there is an income inequality between the rich and the poor (of course!), but there are those of us in the middle.
I don’t know how ‘very poor’ and ‘very rich’ is measured according to whoever came up with that statement…
8. Before marriage Kenyans still pay a dowry to the bride’s family, which starts at 10 cows.
Dowry is still paid in many Kenyan communities, but not from 10 cows.
Back in the day, animals were the mode of trading. These days, it’s translated to money, but a couple of animals are thrown into the mix – cows, goats, camels, depending on the girl’s family’s requests. For the Agikũyũ, the girl’s dowry is pitted against her mother’s dowry.
Of course, Kenyans being meat-lovers, there will be nyama at the wedding ceremony, thanks to one of these animals!
9. The men of Kenya are allowed to have more than one wife.
Especially for men who marry in a customary ceremony.They can have two, three, four, six wives if they so wish.
Church marriages are stringent about a man vowing his love and loyalty to a woman at the altar while also married to another. Customary marriages are more flexible than religious ceremonies.
10. Kenyan environmentalist Professor Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was the first African woman to do so.
A real fighter, may she rest in peace. Wangari Maathai left an incredible legacy, notably on human rights and the preservation of the environment. Every time I pass by Uhuru Park, I remember this trailblazer who fought and bled for the sake of protecting nature.
Leaving the Traveling East blog post aside, I did a little more research into people’s opinion of Kenya. There were mentions of our great athletes and amazing wildlife safari locations, but there were also other “facts” around the web that I both agreed and did not agree with:-
Race bias is very prevalent in Kenya. A person’s surname can be easily mapped to their tribe. Hence, a lot of students today want to register only their first names in school and colleges.
What the what? Your surname certainly reflects your ethnicity, but we don’t go out of our way to hide our roots by using one name to register. In fact, we register using all three of our names – Christian Name, Middle Name, Last Name.
How would you even enroll at a school with just one name…?
The Kikuyu tribe has the prettiest women in Kenya.
Saying that one ethnicity has the prettiest women would bring a lot of debate. I’m Kikuyu, and I disagree. Yes, there are pretty Kikuyu women, but there are also pretty women from the coast, east, west, north and south.
On reaching the age of 18, a male belonging to the Masai tribe has to undergo circumcision. If he sheds a single tear, cries or shouts during this event, he is banished forever from the community.
I should ask my Maasai friend about this. Just because I haven’t heard of banishment due to weeping during circumcision doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In my community, we are not as staunch in traditional rituals of initiation/circumcision (irua), but an uncircumcised man is taboo and he is referred to as kĩhĩĩ – boy – which is quite the pejorative to a grown man.
In modern-day Agikũyũ society, boys are usually circumcised in hospitals. It is no longer done with an age-group or age-set, like in the olden days.
At about age 13/14, after he has completed his primary school exams and before he proceeds to high school, he is circumcised. During the recovery and healing period, depending on his parents’ wishes, an older male relative can keep him company and advice him on manhood, etc etc.
It’s been years but thanks to my brother’s irua, I have developed an aversion towards njũgũ (pigeon peas) after my mother went out of her way to feed them to him every day for nearly a month.