Kenyan Culture

Religion

Religion plays an important role in the life of most Kenyans. Many people will visit their place of worship both to practise their religion as well as to socialise with friends, family and acquaintances. It is common to find a syncretism between local and indigenous beliefs and practices with Christianity. Thus, religions in Kenya tend not to be mutually exclusive but instead may incorporate the beliefs and practices of one another.


The majority of the country identifies as Christian (82.1% of the population). More specifically, 47.7% identifies as Protestant, 23.4% identifies as Catholic, and 11.9% identifies with some other branch of Christianity. Of the remaining population, 11.2% identifies as Muslim, 1.7% identifies as traditionalists, 1.6% identifies as ‘other', 2.4% identifies as 2.4%, and 0.2% did not specify their religious affiliation.


Christianity in Kenya

There are a variety of branches of Christianity observed in the country. Christianity was introduced to Kenya when missionaries settled near Mombasa in 1844. In the early 20th century, many Kikuyu left the mission churches and schools to start their own, free from the control of missionaries. This history highlights the distinction in contemporary Kenya between the mainstream branches of Protestant and Catholic and the African Independent Churches. Charismatic forms of Christianity, such as Pentecostal churches, have gained popularity in recent years among urban dwellers. Members of various Christian churches usually coexist and interact peacefully. At times, different denominations may come together to partake in special prayer meetings.

 

In contemporary Kenya, Christianity is the most dominant religion and is an influential force in the country. Christian values and attitudes relating to the family and marriage have modified traditional practices (e.g. encouraging smaller families and phasing out the practice of polygamy). Going to church on Sunday is very common as churches are found all throughout the country. It is also common to see religious icons and sacred spaces in people's homes, offices or vehicles. One central element of Christianity in Kenya is the use of music, rhythm, dancing and singing during their worship time.


Islam in Kenya

Islam first arrived in Kenya in the 8th century when Arab Muslim traders settled in the coastal ports along the east coast. The Swahili language and people emerged as a result of the intermarriage between the local people (the Bantu) and Arab Muslims who moved to Kenya. Today, Islam is the second most widely practised religion in Kenya. It is most prominent on the eastern, northeastern and the coastal part of the country, where the city of Mombasa is located. Islam is also found sporadically throughout the central and western parts of Kenya. Indeed, there is at least one mosque in most towns and cities in Kenya. The majority of Muslims in Kenya identify as Sunni; however, there are also many followers of the Shi'a and Ahmadiyya traditions.


Local and Indigenous Worldviews

There is a huge diversity of indigenous worldviews in Kenya. Indigenous beliefs vary by ethnic group, and each has its own origin stories, set of practices and superstitions. For example, one local belief of the Kikuyu is that ‘Ngai’ (‘God’) is located at Mount Kenya. In turn, the traditional practice of the Kikuyu was to pray facing the mountain.


There are two common elements across most of the indigenous worldviews in Kenya. The first is the belief that the human realm and the spirit realm intersect. People can communicate to gods through mediums such as ancestors, deities or local spirits. Some may also call upon those who are believed to intercede with the spiritual realm such as shamans, soothsayers or ‘witch doctors'. Kenyan indigenous spiritualities also share an emphasis on ancestors and their ability to interact with the living. Many ethnic groups place great importance on reverence towards their ancestors. The Luo believe in ancestral ghosts or spirits that roam the earthly realm, while other tribes believe that their ancestors reincarnate as children within the family.

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