Aweer, also known as Boni, peoples live in southeastern Kenya. Although they speak a Cushitic language and other Cushitic speakers who moved into the area, such as Somali, have influenced their culture, the Aweer are believed originally to have been hunter-gatherer peoples. Today, most are farmers.
The Boran (also written Borana and Boraan) are a pastoral peoples and one of the two branches of the Oromo, who live in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. The Boran speak a dialect of Oromo, a Cushitic language of the Afro-Asiatic family.
Residing around Lake Turkana, the Elmolo (also written El Molo) are a very small ethnic group that traditionally makes its living by fishing. The Elmolo language is an East Cushitic language, but today an overwhelming majority of Elmolo peoples speak Samburu (a Maa language that is part of the Nilotic family) as their first language.
The Gabra (also written Gabbra and Gebra) live in northern Kenya, mostly in the vicinity of the Chalbi Desert, which is east of Lake Turkana, and in southern Ethiopia. Like the Rendile and the Somali, they are pastoralists who prefer camels as livestock, and their arid environment ensures that they must move frequently so that their herds will have enough food and water. speak a dialect of Oromo (a Cushitic language) that is associated with the Boran.
Numerically one of the largest groups in Kenya today, the Kamba live in south-central Kenya on both sides of the Athi River. They speak Kikamba, a Bantu language. Though primarily agriculturalists, Kamba peoples also frequently keep herds of animals and are traditionally known as excellent hunters. Since before the colonial period, Kamba traders have been important players in the movement of agricultural and manufactured goods throughout the region. In the area of arts, they are perhaps best known for woodcarving.
The largest single ethnic group in Kenya, the Kikuyu live predominantly along the eastern and southern slopes of Mount Kenya and are Bantu speakers. They have a long history of trade and interaction with the Maasai as well as with the Kamba.
Living primarily in eastern Uganda, but also in western Kenya, the Karamojong (also written Karimojong and Karomojong). As do many pastoralists in the region, the Karamojong traditionally do not settle permanently in any one place, but rather move regularly to ensure sufficient water and food for their cattle, and it is hard to overestimate the significance of those animals in nearly all aspects of culture. Like the Turkana language, Karamojong belongs to the Eastern Nilotic language group.
The third largest ethnic group in Kenya, the Luo were pastoralists who later also became farmers and fishermen, and today many people combine those occupations. They live in western Kenya and their language is Western Nilotic.
The Luyia (also written Luhya) are numerically the second largest ethnic group in Kenya and live in the western part of the country. Their language, which has many dialects, is Bantu. Luyia are traditionally agriculturalists—today sugarcane and tea are important commercial crops—but fishing and keeping livestock are have come to be increasingly significant.
No other Kenyan group is more readily recognizable to outsiders than the Maasai, who are known for their elaborate body decoration, particularly colorful beadwork, and their love of cattle. Like other pastoralists in the region, they traditionally practice transhumance, an annual cycle of moving from one place to another in search of sufficient food and water for their herds. This way of life has created issues regarding land rights not only in Kenya, but also in Tanzania, where a sizeable number of Maasai also live. The Maasai speak a Maa language that is related to Samburu.
The Meru peoples live on and adjoining Mt. Kenya’s northeastern slope and are closely related to both the Kikuyu and the Kamba peoples. They are historically farmers, but today also keep a variety of livestock. Their language is Bantu in origin and consists of several dialects.
Occupying a large portion of southeastern Kenya’s coast and hinterland, the Mijikenda consist of nine distinct subgroups, the largest of which is the Giriama. Mijikenda is a Bantu language and the people are historically farmers. Among the important institutions is the Gohu Society, a men’s association where membership and advancement is based on the ability of a man to make payments and demonstrate his wealth.
Living in northwestern Kenya and spreading into eastern Uganda, the Pokot are generally divided into two groups, those living in the highlands (“Hill Pokot”), who farm and keep livestock, and those who live on the plains (“Plains Pokot”), who are pastoralists. Traditionally in conflict with the Turkana and neighbors such as the Karamojong over cattle, the Plains Pokot in particular share many cultural practices with them. Like the Turkana and Karamojong languages, Pokot language is Nilotic. It is one of the Kalenjin languages, a collective term applied to the languages spoken by a number of small groups living in Kenya, eastern Uganda, and northern Tanzania.
Rendile are pastoral peoples living in northern Kenya. Camel herders, they traditionally move several times a year so that their animals have adequate food and water. As a result, possessions tend to be few in number, light, durable, and easily transportable. Like the Somali, Boran, and Oromo, their language is Cushitic, belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language family.
Living in north-central Kenya, south and southeast of Lake Turkana, the Samburu traditionally move around this area to find pasture and water for their cattle, camels, sheep, and goats. Like their better-known neighbors, the Maasai, with whom the Sumburu share many cultural traits and practices, males are divided into three age grades: boys, warriors, and elders. Warriors are traditionally charged with protecting the herds and flocks. It would be hard to overstate the traditional importance of this livestock to the Samburu people: the animals not only represent wealth but also furnish milk, the dietary staple. Both the Samburu and the Maasai speak Maa languages that are part of the Nilotic family.
Though the Somali are most closely associated with Somalia, the country that bears their name, many also live in northeastern Kenya, as well as in Djibouti and Ethiopia. According to some scholars, the name “Somali” derives from words that mean “go and milk,” an indication of the significance that livestock (particularly camels) and pastoralism have played in the traditional culture. The Somali population in Kenya was increased by refuges from the civil war and political instability in Somalia that began in 1991.
Known for eking out an existence in an inhospitable environment, the Turkana live in northwestern Kenya. Turkana are traditionally pastoralists who practice transhumance; that is, they move on an annual cycle to ensure food and water for their herds. Zebu cattle and camels are most prized, but goats are also raised, as are donkeys, which are used to transport goods during moves. As with other pastoralists, the Turkana diet is based on dairy products and, to a lesser extent, meat, all of which is provided by their animals.