The dictionary defines a tribe as a social division in a given traditional society made of families (communities) which are linked to one another by economic, social, religious and blood ties. They also share a culture and a dialect and often have a recognized leader.
As per this description, Kenya has 44 legally-recognized tribes. These tribes can be profiled based on various aspects such as their dialects (languages), primary economic activities, initial geographical location, names, and history of entry into Kenya.
The three main classifications are the Bantu, the Nilotes and the Cushites. There are also Asians, Arabs, Europeans and other people under different classifications.
With time, however, the unique identity of these tribes has slightly faded away owing to their interactions with one another and with the rest of the world. Still, their identities are still easily discernible as shall be seen in the sections below.
List of Kenyan Tribes
The 44 Kenyan tribes are as follows:
1. The Embu
The Bantu-speaking Embu tribe makes up around 1.5% of the population of Kenya and can be found mainly in Embu district. It is one of the Mount Kenya communities.
2. The Kamba
Making up about 10% of the Kenyan population, the Kamba tribe is found mainly in eastern Kenya. It is a Bantu group as well.
3. The Kisii
The Kisii (Gusii) tribe are a Bantu-speaking tribe mainly found in western Kenya. The Abagusii account for 7% of the Kenyan population. They mainly rely on farming activities for livelihood.
4. The Luhya
The Bantu-speaking Luhya make up 14% of the Kenyan population and occupy the western regions of the country. They’re the second-largest tribe in Kenya (after the Kikuyu).
5. The Maasai
The Maasai are a nomadic Nilote tribe occupying the southern parts of Kenya.
Fun fact: They’re the most famous tribe in Kenya.
6. The Orma
This is a Cushitic tribe living in the north eastern parts of Kenya around the River Tana.
7. The Samburu
This nomadic Nilotic tribe resides in the northern parts of Kenya.
8. The Suba Tribe
The Bantu-speaking Suba tribe occupies the Lake Victoria islands of Rusinga and Mfangano.
9. The Taita
The Bantu-speaking Taita tribe lives in the south western parts of Kenya around the coastal region.
10. The Turkana
The Nilotic Turkana tribe occupies the northwestern parts of Kenya around Lake Turkana.
11. The Mbeere
The Bantu-speaking Mbeere tribe lives in the eastern parts of Kenya. It’s closely related to the Mount Kenya communities such as the Embu and Kikuyu.
12. The Tharaka
The Bantu-speaking Tharaka tribe live in the eastern parts of Kenya such as Embu and Kitui districts.
13. The Njemps
The Nilotic Njemps are close relatives of the Samburu and occupy the area around Lake Baringo. They primarily live on fishing and farming activities.
14. The Galla
The Galla tribe lives in the eastern and north eastern parts of Kenya. They live a primarily nomadic lifestyle.
15. The Konso
The little known Konso (Xonsita) tribe is a Cushitic one and occupies both northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia.
16. The Waat
This is a Cushitic tribe closely related to the Orma and Oromo. They’re nomadic in Kenya and live in the north eastern parts of the country.
17. The Walwana
This little community is made up of only about 20,000 people. It’s also called the Malakote or Ilwana tribe and is an independent group from the major ones mentioned above.
18. The Galjeel
The Galjeel tribe is another small one living in scattered areas as hunters and gatherers.
19. The Bulji
One other small tribe in Kenya is the Bulji. It’s slowly moving away from its traditional way of life to include better and more modern lifestyles.
20. The Kenyan Arabs Tribe
This tribe occupies the coastal regions and is made up of Arabs from Persia, Yemen, Oman and other countries.
21. The Kenyan European
The Europeans living in Kenya came mostly during the colonial period and are made up of mostly Britons.
22. The Ameru
This Bantu community can be found on the slopes of Mount Kenya in the northeastern side of the mountain.
23. The Kalenjin
This tribe is the 4th largest in Kenya and is made up of 8 sub-tribes namely the Nandi, Terik, Sabaot, Keiyo, Pokot, Marakwet, Tugen and Kipsigis.
24. The Kikuyu
The largest tribe in Kenya, the Kikuyu, takes up to 22% of the Kenyan population and lives in the Mount Kenya region in central Kenya.
25. The Kuria
The Kuria tribe is a Bantu-speaking group living on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.
26. The Luo Tribe
The Luo tribe is the 3rd largest in Kenya and is found mainly in the western region of Kenya along Lake Victoria.
27. The Mijikenda
The Mijikenda tribe resides in the coastal regions of Kenya and belongs to the Bantu ethnic group.
28. The Rendille
This Cushitic tribe lives in the north eastern parts of the country and is nomadic in nature.
29. The Somali
Another Cushitic tribe living in north eastern parts of Kenya is the Somali. This tribe has at least 2 million people and stands as the largest Cushitic tribe.
30. The Swahili Tribe
Among the most famous tribes in Kenya is the Swahili tribe which lives along the coastal region of the country.
31. The Taveta
The Taveta are Bantu speakers residing between Tanzania and the Tsavo National Park.
32. The Gabra
This Cushitic tribe resides in the northern parts of Kenya in the Chalbi desert. It’s a close relative of the Oromo tribe.
33. The Nubi
The Nubi originated from Sudan and has very few people living in Kenya (about 16,000). They’re often referred to as the Nubians.
34. The Ilchamus
This is a Nilotic tribe living around Lake Baringo in the northern parts of the Rift Valley.
35. The Borana
This Cushitic tribe occupies the regions in northern Kenya such as Moyale, Garissa and Marsabit. It’s made up of nomadic cattle herders.
36. The Gosha
The Cushitic Gosha tribe is closely related to the Oromo and even speaks the latter’s language. They too are nomadic pastoralists.
37. The Sakuye
The Sakuye tribe also resides in the north and north eastern parts of the country and is made up of pastoralists in general.
38. The Isaak
This tribe resides in the northern parts of the country and is closely related to the Somali tribe.
39. The Dasenach
This group originated from the Debub Omo Zone and lives close to Lake Turkana. They primarily focus on rearing animals for a living.
40. The Letsan Tribe
This tribe has close links to the Somali tribes and occupies parts of eastern Kenya closer to Somalia. It’s nomadic in nature.
41. The Teso
The Teso tribe occupies the western parts of Kenya and is one of the Nilotic tribes in this region.
42. The Kenyan American
This is the group of Kenyans who live and work in the United States and are even American citizens but have their origin in Kenya. They’re close to 100,00 in number.
43.The Asian Community
The Asian community is the last group to be legally recognized as a Kenyan tribe. It’s made up people of Asian origin mainly the Indians in Kenya.
The Makonde are a group of Bantu people from Mozambique which were recognized as a Kenyan tribe in 2017.
All these tribes have they unique features although Kenya is tending towards a unified nation where these tribal differences don’t affect the way people make decisions.