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Traditional Arts and Crafts of Kenya

Traditional Arts and Crafts of Kenya

Posted on January 5, 2023

A Look at Traditional Arts and Crafts of Kenya

When people mention Kenya, the first thing that comes to mind is wildlife and safaris. Right after that, its tribal dances, masks, and wooden figurines. However, traditional arts and crafts of Kenya are much more than that. This beautiful country keeps the spirit of the ancestors alive through every move, every breath, and every piece of handmade art. There’s something so special about every tiny piece of wood that comes out of the hands of Kenyan artisans. We can’t limit the story to only one article, but we hope to spark a conversation about these wonders and hopefully give you an intriguing little sneak peek. So, without further ado, here are a few traditional arts and crafts of Kenya.

The spirit of independence

Art in Kenya often depicts scenes from regular life or cultural practices. As you know, this beautiful African country was a British colony for a long time. But, not once was the spirit of the people broken during this time. Most conquered countries throughout history reflect their sorrow by making more toned-down and dark art. Not the Kenyans.

The majority of the artwork found here is characterized by bold colors and vivid patterns. They rebelled against the darkness and always dreamed of independence. Once they reached it, it became the day of history they’re proud of the most. Right now, those vivid colors serve as a reminder to celebrate and be grateful for every breath and every day they live under the sun.

Kenya and Tanzania safaris
A mother and a daughter. The spirit of independence passes through generations via the traditional arts and crafts of Kenya.

In Kenya, music is life

Tribes all over Africa practice music as a crucial part of their ceremonies. Tribal dances and festivities in Kenya sometimes use wooden drums wrapped with animal skin and sold in local markets. Dancing and singing are not just fun – it’s a way to live life being happy for what the future brings, and it’s a way to respect the past and all that’s already been. If you, for example, came here and said that you don’t know how to dance or how to sing (which is a common thing to say out of fear of being judged), Kenyans would look at you as if you said that you don’t know how to breathe.

The concept of not knowing how to lose your body to the rhythm is unknown to them. Everybody contributes to making wonderful melodies that Europeans and Americans try to incorporate into their modern music. So, don’t be afraid to participate in the dancing around the fire (if you get invited by locals, of course), as it is one of the best cultural experiences you can get here. 

Kenya and Tanzania safaris
African tribe dancing: Here, dancing is not a skill of the talented but a way of life.

Vibrant jewelry is an essential part of the traditional arts and crafts of Kenya

A great part of Kenyan culture is jewelry. Necklaces and bracelets made from beads are widely available at shops and markets. But, interestingly, women are not the only ones using jewelry—quite the opposite. For example, Samburu soldiers use hairstyles, jewelry, and ochre body painting to give the impression of exquisite delicacy. Furthermore, this delicacy is highly valued among the Samburu tribe, who put a premium on physical beauty and decoration. This quality led to the Samburu people being dubbed “Butterflies” by members of neighboring tribes.

READ:  Top 10 Best & Safest Countries To Visit In Africa

Kenyan jewelry is so magnificent that you’ll have difficulty deciding which pieces to bring back home. But, once you do, you need to keep in mind its value and keep it safe when you choose to travel again. Renting storage units can be practical for this purpose.

Their body is a temple of art

Another way of decoration is henna tattoos. The use of henna ink as a kind of body art has risen in popularity in Kenya. It fades off the skin in about a week. Most farmers’ markets around the nation have a henna tattoo artist that can cater to their body art needs. Getting your henna tattoo is an excellent way to experience the culture and enjoy the holidays here

There’s no ritual without suiting masks

During tribal ceremonies, masks show respect for the tribe’s ancient ancestors. Adding hair and jewels on a mask is a way of showing respect for the deceased. The gods, animals, spirits, and even ancestors are typically represented through the masks worn by the participants in these rituals.

Kenya and Tanzania safaris
Masks hanging on the wall. Masks are an essential part of the culture.

Soapstone and woodcarvings

Animals, humans, masks, images from nature, and elaborate designs and patterns are just some of the subjects carved into wood by many cultures worldwide. Bowls, spoons, glasses, and other helpful household items are made using woodcarving techniques. On the other hand, many distinct peoples have a history of engaging in soapstone carving. Figurines and other things are carved from stone using a knife or sharp instrument. The process consists of three essential steps:

  • carving by hand
  • polishing
  • applying color dyes

The Akamba tribe has a long-standing reputation as some of Kenya’s finest woodworkers and carvers. The Island of Lamu was the hub of coastal carving, with indigenous Bajun tribal members said to have inspired Arab artists to produce a distinctive fusion of styles. But the great news is – you don’t have to go above and beyond to find handmade treasures. Many places in cities, like many hotels in Nairobi, offer traditional woodwork as souvenirs in their shops.

Kenya has many stripes that you’ll fall in love with

Did you know that the name Kenya means the ”striped one”? This beautiful country has earned its stripes over history and wears them with pride. The stripes people here are most proud of the traditional arts and crafts of Kenya. So, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy and explore all of its wonders. We hope we tickled your imagination and travel spirit to dive into the past and learn more about the spirits of the striped country. 

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