By Simiyu Simiyu
Kenyan politics is purely based on tribal grouping, pundits have widely claimed. But there’s much more to be admired when it comes to tribes in alignment with traditional African societies than mere politics.
With 54 countries, Africa is a great continent with over 3,000 indigenous tribes and languages spoken by her residents. The continent is known for her rich cultural diversity and deep roots to her traditions until the western culture started invading slowly and now, nearly half of Africans have been in one way or the other been influenced by this “invasion”.
However, there are dozens of ethnic groups who still hold special spaces in the minds of many whenever their names are mentioned out. Take a lool at some of Africa’s most famous ethnic groups.
Also known as the “Running Tribe” due to it’s consistency in producing world class long-distance athletes, Kalenjins are a group of Nilotes found in the Rifty Valley region in Kenya.
Kalenjins are also known for their passion for rearing sheep, goats and cattle. Kalenjins are Nilote-speaking enthnic group and can historically be remembered for their famous Nandi Resistance led by their Chief Koitalel arap Samoei. The resistance was aimed at rebelling the British colonialists who had invaded their territory.
They usually honour their heroic athletes with their trade mark welcome by giving the returning hero a sip of milk from a traditional guard as a sign of respect and pride.
Some of the notable individuals from this tribe include Kenya’s longest serving president Daniel Toroititch arap Moi, world record holder and Olympic marathon champion Paul Tergat, 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Pamela Jelimo, world record holder in Javelin Julius Yego, 5,000M Rio Olympics champion Vivian Cheruyiot among hundreds of others.
Oromo is one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. Settled mostly in Ethiopia and some parts of northern Kenya, Oromo is a Cushitic-speaking community that contributes over 37% of Ethiopia’s total population.
It is the only ethnic community in the world that observes its own calendar. The Oromo have also stormed international limelight through long distance athletes like the 5,000M/10,000M World Record holder Kenenisa Bekele, the first African woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal, Fatuma Roba and Sheik Bakri Supalo, a renowned historian and poet that started the Oromo alphabet.
With an estimated population of 2M people in Tanzania, the Chaga are Bantu-speaking community that has vastly settled on the south-east slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru.
Due to the significant climate that favours their agricultural activities, the Chaga is arguably considered the most successful ethnic group in East Africa.
They are known to be the first ever tribe in Tanzania to embrace Christianity in the 1880s which enabled them to enjoy early education and modern health facilities.
The Hausa are found in Northen Nigeria and some parts of Niger and their main religion is Islam.
Due to their dedication towards Islam, they are known for featuring horses during Eid Mubarak fest. Their sense of insecurity is what prompted them to build Kansa City walls.
Who can forget their trade mark dress-code where men wear Babba rigas, the large “flying” gowns with some classy designs around the neck and their women walk in wrappers with matching blouses?
The former Nigerian and Ajax Amsterdam winger Tijan Babangida comes from this community.
The word “Zulu” in the South African community means “sky” or “heaven”. The Zulu are a Bantu speaking community and one of the famous in Africa.
Known for their Zulu Kingdom headed by Shaka Zulu, the community has produced important leaders including president Jacob Zuma.
Also known as Mandela s tribe, the Xhosa are mainly found in the South-East of South Africa and are known for their strict following of their traditions as was observed during the burial ceremonies of the country’s first democratically elected president and freedom icon Nelson Mandela.
During Mandela’s funeral, his coffin was wrapped in a lion’s skin and covered with a national flag as a sign of respecting the heroic life the diseased led. An owl was also slaughtered and eaten by members of the family outside the house to mark the mourning period.
The Xhosa are famously known for speaking with click sounds and is one of the largest ethnic communities in Africa.
Found in South-West of Nigeria, the west-Africans are believed to have been one of the very first communities to lead a modern lifestyle.
By the time the colonial masters arrived in the 1800s, the Yoruba people were already living in well-structured houses. Their engagement in early trade is what gave birth to the current Lagos City, Africa’s largest city so far.
Some of the notable famous individuals like actor Desmond Elliot, musicians D’banj and Wizikid, Togo’s former international footballer Emmanuel Adebayor and literary icon Wole Soyinga come from this community.
Also referred to as the Maa community, the Maasai are found in southern parts of Kenya and some northern parts of Tanzania.
They are nomadic pastralists who move with their herds from place to place in search for pastures. As a result, they feed on milk, meet and raw blood.
Majority of the Maasai still live in traditional group of huts called bomas. Rarely do tourists visit the two hosting countries without pausing for photos while dressed in the famous Maasai sheet of cloth known shuka, mainly with red boxes.
The Maasai are also referred to as the “jumping community” in reference to their customed traditional dance that involves jumping high in the air without bending the knees and landing back to to the same spot. This character has automatically earned the community as the trademark of Kenya’s cultural imagery.
The 800m World Record holder and Olympic Champion David Rudisha is said to hail from this tribe.
Also known as the Bushmen due to their prowess in hunting of animals and gathering of fruits for their meals, the San are mainly found in arid areas of Botswana and spread down to South Africa.
Because they live in arid areas where there’s no water, the are mainly known for feeding on roots and tubers and also on meet from the animals they trap and fruits.
Otherwise, who doesn’t know that the San make tobacco from animal dung?
Found in northern parts of Namibia, the Himba are also semi-nomadic pastralists and are greatly referred to as the “red people of Africa” in reference to their use of red paste or otjize, which is a mixture of butter and red clay to paint themselves red.