Do you enjoy experiencing diverse cultures?
Festivals are a great place to start and this article will sample four festivals in Kenya that should be in your bucket list.
Top four cultural festivals in Kenya
Kenya is well known for its breathtaking sandy beaches and wildlife.
Little is known about its cultural diversity.
The Maasai people are worldwide known, nonetheless, we have 41 other tribes in Kenya. These tribes have cultural festivals that they celebrate annually. Attending festivals is a great way to connect with the local communities, contribute to the preservation of culture and get to experience a different way of life.
However, today I will highlight the top four cultural festivals in Kenya that you must attend in your lifetime.
Rusinga Island Festival
Rusinga Island is one of the gems of the Great Lake Victoria. It lies on the Eastern side of the lake and it has the most stunning views of the sunsets.
Rusinga Island Festival is among the famous events in the Western region of Kenya. It is usually held annually on the last Thursday and Friday before Christmas.
If you want to experience the authentic culture and traditions of the Suba community, this is a perfect place to start.
Here you get to experience two days of:
● Traditional music and dance
The traditional dancers usually exhibit their passion and skills by dancing their waists and hearts out. You will get to feel the thundering beatings of the drums, echoed by voices that seem to appease the gods.
● Art and Fashion
Unique art and fashion pieces are visible on their traditional attire, the jewellery that adores their bodies, the pottery and not forgetting the carvings. You can’t miss a beautiful and valuable souvenir for friends and families back home.
● Food delicacies
The staple food of the suba community is “kuon anang’ a”(traditional ugali prepared using ghee) with fish I.e Nile perch or Tilapia(omena & Mbuta). This is a delicacy.
A visit to the lakeside is not complete without devouring the fresh savoury fish.
There are different sports activities to participate in during this festival. We have a tag of wars, whereby different groups test their strength and resilience.
The Luo and Suba community had a significant cultural sport of wrestling. It allowed the young, we’ll build and able fishermen to earn bragging rights in the community.
The match is not violent. It’s purely meant for entertainment purposes and a great chance for the young men to attract suitors.
● Boat races and Fishing
The people in the Island are super friendly. Occasionally you will find them fishing, drying their fish(dagaa, omena) and going about their business.
Fishing is the primary source of livelihood for the community. The festival also organises boat races among the local people. They get to compete on which team will win the race
Most hotels and lodges along the Island arrange for boat rides and fishing on request.
I found this interesting enough to try, I hope you will to.
You will get to hear interesting stories, folklores and conversations that take you back in time into the wealth of the Abasuba culture.
The festival is run by different themes each year. In 2019 the theme was “The Island Remembers”. This made us remember, reminiscent and connect with the Island through culture, art and celebrating heritage. The festival unites people from different worlds to appreciate and enjoy the heritage of the Suba people.
Maralal International Camel Derby
Kenya’s Northern Frontier is a wild and untamed region.
The locals have retained their traditions.
Most of them are pastoralists, with Camels being an important element of their wealth. Maralal Camel Derby is one of the most celebrated events in Kenya. It takes place in the Yare Camel Club In Maralal Town, Samburu County.
The derby involves cycling, Camel racing and cultural performance from the Samburu people. Both the communities and visitors join in the festivities and races.
The Camel Derby is graced by both amateurs and professional Camel racers. Most amateurs are usually first-time foreigners who have never taken part in the Camel races.
You will definitely have a fun laugh at the amateurs who can’t control the camels. Most times the camels move in whichever direction away from the race. A funny scenario it is. Watching the races struggling to steer the camels to the right path.
However, this gives room for the professional racers to get to the finish line first.
There are also bicycle races. For those who prefer this, they get an opportunity of challenging themselves. Some cyclists, who are greenhorn, don’t get to finish the race. It is a demanding task.
The two races usually start in Maralal town, and they take place co-currently.
● Music and Dance
The mood in Maralal town during the early is usually electric and fun. The music and dances from the Samburu people lighten the atmosphere.
● Art and Fashion
If you are a lover of art, fashion and handicrafts, there are curio stalls where these artefacts are displayed. You have a lot of choices to choose a souvenir from.
Maralal Camel Derby is not just a competitive race but brings this desert town to life and showcases its cultural heritage.
Kilifi New Year Festival
Kilifi New year festival is held annually from 30th December to 2nd January.
This festival is perfect for all those who are lovers of contemporary, African and electronic music. It is a melting pot of varied cultures and allows for freedom of expression.
The music festival is held under the shade of thousand-year-old baobab trees. It is set on a 20-acre field, home to wild orange and lemon orchids and bamboo forest in
Takaungu creak of the Indian Ocean.
The aim of this festival is supporting conscious living and sustainability while appreciating different cultures. Blending creativity with nature to show a connection with each other, the environment and the community.
Everyone is free-spirited expressing themselves through fashion, dance, art and music. The die to moment happens when a huge wooden sculpture is set ablaze symbolising new beginnings and shared hope for a promising future.
During the 2019 festival, a huge sculpture was burnt in honour of the last male Northern White Rhino – Sudan. A symbol that species extinction is a reality and it is up to the human race to value and protect its wildlife.
Camping buddies, this is a great festival for you.
You are allowed to carry your own camping gear. The 20-acre piece of land has enough spaces for pitching tents.
There is also adequate space for parking vehicles, enough showers, toilets and shade to relax and unwind.
There is ample security for all those in attendance.
Moreover, boutique camping is also available during the four days of stay. You will just have to arrange for the bookings earlier enough.
● Beach Activities
There is a beautiful coastline a few meters away. You can go for an early morning jog, a swim, yoga or participate in beach ball games.
The refreshing breeze, combined with spectacular sunsets and free spirit around, makes this festival a bucket list.
Moreover, you can also plan to go for a boat ride on Watamu beach after the festival. Here you can do for snorkelling, explore the bottom world of the ocean.
You will discover colourful fish species, turtles and seagrass. With the help of trained tour guides, you can sail deeper to get a glimpse of the whales.
This is a fantastic way to end your new year celebration in Kilifi.
Lamu cultural festival
Lamu cultural festival is held in Lamu Island, a world heritage site.
This old town has retained it’s Swahili culture over the years not giving in to pressures of the modern culture. The town is characterised by narrow streets, while its main transport means are donkeys.
The three-day festival is meant to give visitors a taste of the Swahili culture and lifestyle.
During the Lamu Cultural Festival, you get to experience dhow race, donkey races, competitive bao games, Swahili Henna paintings and traditional artefacts.
The bao games have existed for years in the East African region. Archaeological evidence shows that it has been played for thousands of years.
The dhow sailing races are executed by the locals. The racers are usually well prepared ready to showcase their skills in manoeuvring through the tides.
On the other hand, other people prepare to take part in a swimming competition. They will have to face the rough waters steering towards the other Island known as Shela and then swim back. With the scorching sun, Swimming race is ideal and a big relief.
The highlight of the festival is the donkey races. Residents, as well as the visitors, can participate. This sport is fun to watch. Steering a donkey needs natural talent, practice and skill. For amateurs, some end up going towards the opposite direction from where the race is. Donkeys are the main means of transport owing to the city’s narrow and meandering streets. Donkeys have been used for ages by the residents.
For those who thrill in a shopping spree, there are lots of products to choose from. Toys, jewellery, clothes, toys and artefacts. You will find unique Swahili pieces to add on to your adventure collection.
● Street Food
What a better way of knowing a towns delicacies than sampling the street foods. Lamu has a vibrant, welcoming relaxed old town vibes. Like most Coastal towns, the street food culture is active.
You will find an array of street foods lined up on the streets early in the morning and in the evenings at around 4:00 pm.
There is a variety of finger-licking snacks and drinks to choose from. Most of them are Swahili dishes prepared from coconut milk, flour and with lots of sugar and spice. They include bhajia, vitumbua, jalebi, mitai, kaimati, mkate was Sinia, Mahari and mbaazi ya nazi. I know these are foreign names but when you get there you can surprise the locals a bit.
If you are a foodie this would be paradise.
It is good for one to loosen up once in a while and enjoy the abundance of life
Life is full of abundance. If you don’t travel and experience what other places have to offer then you are missing a lot.
“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” -Saint Augustine.
I hope these four incredible festivals in Kenya have inspired you to travel, explore alien culture, interact with different people and live a free life.
For each time we travel we see the world with a set of new eyes, become more conscious about our relationship with nature and fellow human beings.