What about tribes in Kenya?

You have not been in Kenya if you have never been involved, at least once, in a discussion about local tribes. 
Here tribalism is a real thing - but few things need to be explained.... so, I will try to elaborate what I understood so far, which may actually be wrong and thus waiting for corrections from my Kenyan friends.  Ultimately, tribes are such a far concept from us and our understanding of societies that we may all fell into mainstream naivety! 
First of all, when referring to a "tribe" we do not have to think of the stereotypical image of local people living in straw huts and guided by a scary chief of the village - maybe with a painted face and some feathered hat. Tribes in Kenya are nothing like that! They are a system which is perfectly integrated to what we call "modern society": these tribes live in the cities, travel, they have internet access and go to university :-)
But tribalism still plays a major role in the way people identify themselves, as well as shaping their traditions in terms of food, wedding, ceremonies, and management of land.
Nowadays, there are 42 different tribes within the country (Kikuyu, Luos, Kalenjiin, Luya, Kisii, Meru, Masai etc). The largest one is the Kikuyu (22% of the population), followed by the Luya - but the region where I am staying is the fortress of the Kalenjiin, which represent the 12% of the population. 
I cannot distinguish one tribe from the other, but every kenyan can tell who is what - mainly throught family names (e.g. the Luos have names starting with O or A. The Kalenjiin uses lots of chep (for girls) and kip (for boys)), but also through skin colour (there is a general perception that kikuyus are pale compared to other Kenyans) and accent. The accent is very important because each tribe has a different dialect - which is not understood by the other tribes. This is the mother tongue for most kenyans, who learn Kiswahili and English at school (someone even says that there are more people speaking English than Kiswahili as a second language).
Also, each tribes is divided in many sub tribes depending on where they are located: for example Kalenjiin are divided in Nandis, Pokot, and many others.
There are some stereotypes pervading the different tribes: so, kikuyus are known to be really hard workers, and Lou to have the most caring and romantic men ;-) Kalenjiin to be the most protective of their traditions, and Kisii to be particularly tempered!
Tribes are inherited from the father, in a very strict patrilinear system. In the last decades, mix marriaged where allowed between different tribes.
So, what do these tribes do? Why they are still a working system? Well, first of all, Kenyans are surprised everytime I tell them that we dont have (anymore) tribes in the West - as I am probably surprised by the tribes themselves considering that I always ask to people "what tribe are you from?". ;-)
In Kenya, tribes are essential to identify a person, their traditions, the food they like the most, the way they structure specific rituals (circumcision, wedding, funeral..).
No one can be without a tribe!
I always feel that there is a general sense of peace between the different tribes in Kenya. But this is probably my naivety. Tribes have been often manipulated and used as an tool for political leverage and control over certain areas. It is reality that for a not Kalenjiin it is very difficult to find a "formal job" in this region. It is also reality the memories of the several clashes between tribes happened in the country along its history. The most recent of them saw Eldoret in the front line of some horrific episodes of violence, where more then 30 kikuyus were burnt into a church in 2008. This after some controversial political elections who saw the victory of a kikuyy leader.
Next year is election year, and the Kenyans worried for the possibility of new political clashes are not few. We will see.
For now, I am hunting for commonal features. So far, I found out that they all eat ugali and they cannot imagine a life without it, they mostly believe in God whatever church they belong, they all practice circumcision, and lastly: they all hate their former colonisers - even thought, memories from the beloved British Empire are slowly disappearing...


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