Kenyan Culture

Family

In Kenya, the family is the most important priority for an individual and is a great source of pride. Most Kenyans expect to eventually marry and raise a family. The family unit in Kenya usually includes the extended family. People will frequently interact with their aunts, uncles and cousins. In some ethnic groups, children will refer to their maternal aunts as ‘younger mother' or ‘older mother', depending on the aunt's age in relation to the child's mother's age.


Kenya has an extremely young population, with nearly half of the population (40%) aged between 0 and 14, while only 6.9% of the population is aged 55 or over. Raising children is typically a communal duty; the responsibility is shared among aunts, uncles, grandparents and other members of the community or village. In urban areas, the size of the family is much smaller with nuclear families becoming more common. All children are expected to honour their parents by fulfilling obligations such as providing financial support or caring for them in their old age. Indeed, the elderly are greatly respected in Kenyan society.


Gender Roles

Kenya is highly patriarchal in the rural areas of the country. Girls and boys will have fairly separate upbringings, with each being taught the duties and obligations specific to their gender. Women are often expected to be obedient to their husbands as well as not to challenge or disagree with his views. Gender roles and responsibilities tend to be well-defined. The primary responsibility of the man is to support the family financially. The man is considered the head of the household and will rarely participate in household chores. Meanwhile, women are expected to care for the home and children. In rural households that lack modern appliances, running water and electricity, women are responsible for carrying water and firewood over long distances to bring home to the family. Some women will engage in paid labour outside of the household, such as running salons or market stands.


It is common for men to leave their rural communities to live in urban areas with better employment opportunities. While this may bring more income into the family, it simultaneously increases the women’s workload. In urban areas, there is more gender equality between men and women. Some couples will share in the household responsibilities.  Women who are educated and engaging in wage labour are starting to seek more decision-making power. A small number of such women are choosing to opt out of some of their traditional expectations as wives. They may hire someone, usually a young female relative, to tend to the household and children. 


Dating and Marriage

Dating customs in Kenya have greatly changed in recent decades with the advent of technology. Since young people now do a lot of their socialising via social media and text messages, parents and clan leaders have less influence than they did in previous generations. There is a difference in dating practices between those in urban areas and those in rural areas. In the urban parts of Kenya, dating usually begins at around the age of 18. Couples usually go on dates to restaurants or the cinema. In rural areas, dating may occur at a later age and options for activities are more limited, so people usually socialise at home or while running errands.


People usually marry in their mid to late twenties after they have completed their education or have financially secured themselves. It is typical for people to choose their marriage partners as well as to marry within their ethnic group. However, Kenyans avoid marrying within their clan as members of the same clan are viewed as relatives. In some cases, marriages are arranged by families, particularly among Muslim families. Polygamy was once a common practice, but it is becoming less common today. Few men can financially support multiple wives and many children.


The dowry system, whereby a payment of some form is made to the bride's family by the groom's family, is still common throughout Kenya. In rural areas, the ‘bride-price' is usually livestock while in urban areas it is typically money and is paid in instalments. Divorce is somewhat common in Kenya. While there is some stigma associated with divorce, most people remarry after a separation.

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