Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Meet the Swahili

Swahili people are an ethnic group living chiefly on the Swahili Coast of East Africa, mainly the coastal regions and the islands of Kenya and Tanzania, and north Mozambique. The name Swahili is derived from the Arabic word Sawahil, meaning "coastal dwellers". They speak Swahili, a Bantu language and the official language of Kenya.

Islam established its presence in the East African coast around 1012 AD, when the traders from the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula continued to journey to these parts during monsoon seasons and to interact with the local people through trade, intermarriage, and an exchange of ideas. Because of this interaction, most of the Swahili today are Muslim. The unifying force of Islam consolidated into an amalgam of otherwise different ethnicities and provided an enduring common identity for many of the people in coastal East Africa. The Swahili follow a very strict and orthodox form of Islam.

For centuries the Swahili depended greatly on trade from the Indian Ocean. The Swahili have played a vital role as middle man between east, central and south Africa, and the outside world. Trade contacts have been noted as early as 100 AD by early Roman writers who visited the East African coast in the first century. Trade routes extended across Tanzania into modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo, along which goods were brought to the coasts and were sold to Arab, Indian, and Portuguese traders and even reached as far as China and India. Materials attributed to this network of trade were also found at Great Zimbabwe. During the apogee of the middle ages, ivory and slaves became a substantial source of revenue. Many slaves sold in Zanzibar ended up in Brazil, which was then a Portuguese colony. Swahili fishermen of today still rely on the ocean to supply their primary source of income. Fish is sold to their inland neighbors in exchange for products of the interior.
Photo credit: Solarstones

Monday, June 28, 2010

Swahili Food and Drink, Part 2

Last week we introduced Swahili food- and drink-related activities and nouns, and this week we continue that lesson.

Next week we will will continue this lesson:)

Need help with your Swahili pronunciation? Refer to our guide.

Friday, June 25, 2010

This Week in Kenya

We at World of Difference love to stay apprised of Kenyan current events. Here are some of the headlines that caught our attention this week.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Meet the Taita

The Taita people are a Kenyan ethnic group located in the Taita-Taveta District, which is in the Coast Province northwest of Mombasa and southeast of Nairobi.

The Taita people migrated to Kenya through Tanzania. This migration occurred in five groups, each settling at different places of the present Taita Taveta district. Traditionally the Taita tribe consisted of lineages; each lineage occupied its own territorial area of the hills. These lineages were autonomous political units, and, before the colonialism, there did not develop an idea or a consciousness of a unified Taita tribe. Mwangeka, a legendary figure for the Taitas, resisted the British colonists from approaching the lands of the Wataita.

They speak Taita, a Bantu language full of shared words from the Chagga, Wakamba, Pare, Maasai, Kikuyu, Mijikenda tribes, as well as the Cushitic communities they lived with during their migration.
Photo credit: Getty Images

Monday, June 21, 2010

Swahili Food and Drink, Part 1

Last week we learned some Swahili Pronouns, and this week we introduce Swahili food- and drink-related activities and nouns.

Next week we will will continue this lesson:)

Need help with your Swahili pronunciation? Refer to our guide.

Friday, June 18, 2010

This Week in Kenya

We at World of Difference love to stay apprised of Kenyan current events. Here are some of the headlines that caught our attention this week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meet the Embu

The Embu inhabit Embu District in Kenya. Embu mythology claims that God (Ngai) created Mwenendega and gave him a beautiful wife by the famous Mbui Njeru waterfall — hence her name "Ciurunji". The couple was blessed with wealth, and their descendants populated the rest of Embu.

Judging by historical accounts, the Embu are believed to have migrated from the Congo Basin together with their close relatives, the Kikuyu and Meru People. It is believed that they migrated as far as the Kenyan Coast, since the Meru elders refer to Mpwa (Pwani or Coast) as their origin. The conflicts there, perhaps slave trade by Arabs, forced them to retreat northeast to the interior of Kenya, and they settled by the slopes of Mount Kenya. They were to refer to this location as the place of the Lord, the owner of the snow("Nyaga") or ("Njeru" meaning white) — hence the name "Mwenenyaga" or "Mwenenjeru".

The Embu are cash crop and subsistent farmers who also rear cows, goats and sheep. With the advent of colonialism, many cash crops were introduced. For long these have offered a lucrative alternative source of livelihood for the people. The most widespread cash crops to date are coffee, tea and macadamia nuts. These are mainly grown for sale with little being processed for domestic consumption.

The Embu were fierce warriors who, although rarely raiding other tribes, always stood firm in defense of their territory and people. They also rose against the British in the Mau Mau fight for Kenya's independence. The fact that the tribe was and continues to be considerably small explains their relatively small impact on the history of Kenya.

Much abounds in the Embu District to keep the most eager tourist and visitor enthralled, not least the Embu people themselves who carry about their daily life with a deep sense of filial attachment to each other. They are a hospitable people, always welcoming to visitors and eager to help. This has endeared them to their neighbors and to strangers from far. Embu girls are known to make remarkable wives and mothers, while the men treat their wives with such respect and never ending love that hardly ever is family breakdown a subject of deliberation. For long, Kikuyu, Meru and Kamba men have come to get brides from Embu, while the Embu men enjoy high regard from marriageable girls in the same tribes. With the advent of Kenya nationalism, this high regard has permeated to the entire nation, and now the Embu form one respected unit of the Kenyan social fabric.

Photo credit: Guy Radcliffe

Monday, June 14, 2010

Swahili Prounouns, Part 3

Last week we began learning some Swahili Pronouns, and this week we continue that lesson.
Next week we will learn words for food- and drink-related activities :)

Need help with your Swahili pronunciation? Refer to our guide.

Friday, June 11, 2010

This Week in Kenya

We at World of Difference love to stay apprised of Kenyan current events. Here are some of the headlines that caught our attention this week.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Meet the Turkana

The Turkana People are believed to be of a Hamito-Semitic origin. They are believed to have originated from North Africa and across the Red Sea. They are a conservative ethnic group with strict cultural lifestyle. They number approximately 340,000 and inhabit the Turkana District in northwest Kenya, a dry and hot region bordering Lake Turkana in the east. The language of the Turkana, an Eastern Nilotic language, is also called Turkana.

The Turkana People are a monotheistic people. They believe in one God, known as Akuj, who is the creator of the universe and to Akuj do all things belong. Akuj is invoked through prayers & chants and through animal sacrifices. The Turkana believe that Akuj is the source of all power and that no challenge is impossible when Akuj intervenes.

Livestock is an important aspect of Turkana culture. Goats, camels, donkeys and zebu are the primary herd stock utilized by the Turkana people. In this society, livestock functions not only as a milk and meat producer, but as form of currency used for bride-price negotiations and dowries. Often, a young man will be given a single goat with which to start a herd, and he will accumulate more via animal husbandry. In turn, once he has accumulated sufficient livestock, these animals will be used to negotiate for wives. It is not uncommon for Turkana men to lead polygamous lifestyles, since livestock wealth will determine the number of wives each can negotiate for and support.

Houses are constructed over a wooden framework of domed saplings on which grass is thatched and lashed on. Usually during the wet season they are elongated and covered with cow dung. Animals are kept in a brush wood pen. Due to changes in the climatic conditions most Turkana have started changing from the traditional method of herding cattle to agriculture.

The Turkana people have elaborate clothing and adornment styles. Clothing is used to distinguish between age groups, development stages, occasions and status of individuals or groups in the Turkana community. Often men carry wrist knives made of steel and goat hide. It is also not uncommon for men to carry several staves; one is used for walking and balance when carrying loads, the other, usually slimmer and longer, is used to prod livestock during herding activities. Women will customarily wear necklaces, and will shave their hair completely which often has beads attached to the loose ends of hair.

Photo credit: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Nairobi

Monday, June 7, 2010

Join the Adventure Race for Africa!

World of Difference is co-hosting the first ever Women's Adventure Race in Provo, Utah on Saturday, July 10!

It will consist of three legs: canoe, bike and run/walk. You must complete the entire race as a team (teams are comprised of 2 or 3 individuals), and during each of the legs, there will be team challenges that must be completed (for example, small relays, games, etc. to learn about or benefit Africa).

Usually adventure races do not disclose the length of the event to be consistent with the adventurous nature of the race, but because this is an all-ages race, please be prepared to complete a running/walking leg of around 3 miles, a canoeing leg of around 1 mile, and a cycling leg of around 12 miles.

Click here for more information and to register!

Swahili Pronouns, Part 2

Last week we began learning some Swahili Pronouns, and this week we continue that lesson.
Next week we will learn a few more pronouns:)

Need help with your Swahili pronunciation? Refer to our guide.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This Week in Kenya

We at World of Difference love to stay apprised of Kenyan current events. Here are some of the headlines that caught our attention this week.
A Family Reunited [The Salt Lake Tribune]

  • Kenyan Women Lack Maternity Care [Capital News]
  • Central Kenya Worst Hit by Boys' Poor Learning [Daily Nation]
  • Regan High School Students Aim for Volunteer Trip to Kenya [KVUE]
  • 1,800-Mile Bike Ride for Kenya [Clay Today]
  • Blood Supply Low in Kenyan Health System Dangerously Low [VOA News]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Meet the Maasai

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. Due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa, they are among the most well known of African ethnic groups. They speak Maa and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English.

The Maasai are monotheistic, and they call God Engai, a single deity with a dual nature: Engai Narok (Black God) is benevolent, and Engai Nanyokie (Red God) is vengeful. The central human figure in the Maasai religious system is the laibon who may be involved in shamanistic healing, divination and prophecy, ensuring success in war or adequate rainfall.

Maasai lifestyle centers around their cattle which constitute their primary source of food. The measure of a man's wealth is in terms of cattle and children. A Maasai myth relates that God gave them all the cattle on earth.

Although young boys are sent out with the calves and lambs as soon as they can toddle, childhood for boys is mostly playtime. Girls are responsible for chores such as cooking and milking, skills which they learn from their mothers at an early age. Every 15 years or so, a new and individually named generation of warriors will be initiated involving boys between 12 and 25 who have reached puberty. When a new generation of warriors is initiated, the existing warriors will graduate to become junior elders, who are responsible for political decisions until they in turn become senior elders. The warriors are in charge of society's security, and spend most of their time on walkabouts throughout Maasai lands, beyond the confines of their sectional boundaries. Elders are directors and advisers for day-to-day activities. Women are responsible for making the houses as well as supplying water, collecting firewood, milking cattle and cooking for the family.

One myth about the Maasai is that each young man is supposed to kill a lion before they are initiated as warriors. Although lion hunting was an activity of the past, and lion hunting has been banned in East Africa, lions are still hunted when they maul Maasai livestock, and young warriors who engage in traditional lion killing do not face significant consequences. Killing a lion gives one great value and celebrity status in the community.

Maasai music traditionally consists of rhythms provided by a chorus of vocalists singing harmonies while a song leader sings the melody. Warriors are well known for competitive jumping. A circle is formed by the warriors, and one or two at a time will enter the center to begin jumping while maintaining a narrow posture, never letting their heels touch the ground. Members of the group may raise the pitch of their voices based on the height of the jump.

The piercing and stretching of earlobes is common among the Maasai. Women wear various forms of beaded ornaments in both the ear lobe, and smaller piercings at the top of the ear. Additionally, the removal of deciduous canine tooth buds in early childhood is a practice that has been documented in the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania.

Clothing varies by age, sex, and place. Red is a favored color. Blue, black, striped, and checkered cloth are also worn, as are multicolored African designs. Many Maasai wear simple sandals, which were until recently made from cowhides. They are now soled with tire strips or plastic. Both men and women wear wooden bracelets. The Maasai women regularly weave and bead jewellery. This bead work plays an essential part in the ornamentation of their body. Although there are variations in the meaning of the color of the beads, some general meanings for a few colors are: white, peace; blue, water; red, warrior/blood/bravery. The Maasai are known for their intricate jewelry.*

Head shaving is common at many rites of passage, representing the fresh start that will be made as one passes from one to another of life's chapters. Warriors are the only members of the Maasai community to wear long hair, which they weave in thinly braided strands.

* I wear a bracelet from the Maasai tribe that I acquired when visiting a tribe while on safari with World of Difference:

Top photo credit: Scott Thomas