The Mijikenda (“the Nine Tribes”) are nine Bantu ethnic groups inhabiting the coast of Kenya, between the Sabaki and the Umba rivers, in an area stretching from the border with Tanzania in the south to the border near Somalia in the north. Archaeologist Chapuruka Kusimba contends that the Mijikenda formerly resided in coastal cities, but later settled in Kenya’s hinterlands to avoid submission to dominant Portuguese forces that were then in control. Historically, these Mijikenda ethnic groups have been called the Nyika or Nika by outsiders. It is a derogatory term meaning “bush people.”Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Jibana, and Giriama and northern Mijikenda while the Digo are southern Mijikenda. Digo are also found in Tanzania due to their proximity to the common border



It is fairly certain the Mijikenda are descendants of Somalia, it is not clear why they migrated to the Kenyan coast. Some speculate that they were escaping attacks in southern Somalia initiated by Oromo and Cushitic tribes.


Shungwaya is the origin myth of the Mijikenda who were Bantu migrants, and speakers of Sabaki Bantu languages. Each ethnic group has unique customs and dialect of the Mijikenda language, although the dialects are similar to each other and to Swahili.

Religion and beliefs

Each of the Mijikenda groups has a sacred forest, a kaya, which is a place of prayer. Eleven of the approximately 30 kaya forests have been inscribed together as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sacred Mijikenda Kaya Forests. Giriama people just like all Mijikenda people worship a Supreme being and Creator god known as Mulungu. Mulungu is believed to the God above all the gods and cannot be seen. He is worshiped through mediators who ask favors for Giriama people. Mulungu punishes and blesses according the deed of an individual. Apart from Mulungu, the Giriamas traditionalists also believe in ancestral deity worship. Their famous deity is called the Koma. They used to sacrifice at the Koma, nearly on weekly basis. Sacrifices included alcohol (the traditional Manazi) which is palm wine. They believe that the koma were actually the representatives of the living dead.


Economic activities

Mijikenda people are also known for creating wooden kigango funerary statues for which there is an illegal international market. The Giriama people are mainly subsistence farmers, producing crops and rearing small flocks of animals e.g.
cows, sheep and goats. They also grow some cash crops e.g. coconut, cashew nuts and cotton. Those living at the Southern part of the forest also practice fishing. The amount of produce has however gradually deteriorated with time, leaving the people not only without surplus for sale but also not meeting the
basic human needs. The attractive beaches along the coastline have attracted many investors in the hotel industry.

Facts and figures

With the total population of over 750,000 people Giriama are amongst the largest (or the second largest after Digo) of the Mijikenda (meaning “The Nine Tribes) Coastal people formally known as Nyika people, who are made up of nine sub groups.

Modern cultures

Like other Kenyan tribes today, Mijikenda people have assimilated to modern cultural practices, resulting in the disappearance of many of their traditional customs. Most Mijikenda people are now either Christians or Muslims; however, some still practice their traditional culture or a mixture of Christianity or Islam with their traditional religion. Islam is more widespread among the Digo than in the other Mijikenda sub-tribes.

Traditions and customs

: A set of rituals, ceremonials, social practices, cultural values and traditional knowledge about nature, transmitted orally among the various ethnic groups in the Kaya cultural landscape in Mijikenda forest, strengthens community ties and reinforces their common identity, while promoting mutual respect and social justice and ensuring balanced protection of their forest environment;

U2: Despite legislation classifying the Kayas as national monuments and creating the forest reserve, leading to their inscription as cultural landscapes on the World Heritage List, and despite the continuing importance of the Kayas for burial and ritual practices, complex forces including modernization, emigration of community members to urban areas and changing land-use practices around the forest are putting the viability of the traditions and practices associated to the Kayas at risk;

  •  A safeguarding plan favors the interaction between the natural landscape and its associated socio-cultural traditions and practices, involves Mijikenda communities in all levels of its preparation and implementation, and promotes their social and economic development, thus strengthening environmental management and raising interest among young generations in order to secure the transmission of these traditions and practices;
  • The nomination was prepared with due respect for customary practices governing the element and has resulted from a broad consultation within Mijikenda communities, representedby different social groups including women and youth, Kaya conservation groups and councils of elders whose representatives have given their prior and free consent to the project;
  •  The element is inventoried by the Kenyan Department of Culture under the Ministry of State for National Heritage and Culture.



Traditional cuisine

The Mijikenda, and more particularly the Digo, are considered some of the best cooks among the Kenya tribes. One Kenya food, a staple of the Mijikenda tribe is walithat is rice prepared with coconut milk, giving it a sweet taste. Fish and other seafood also form part of Mijikenda cuisine.

Housing: The Giriama extended families reside in homesteads, or compounds. There are usually three generations – a father, his wife or wives, all of his sons, the sons’ wives, any unmarried children, and grandchildren. They live in Makuti thatched houses mostly mud-walled, but recently iron sheets and brick structures are common


www.kenya-information-guide.com, www.unesco.org ›, www.culturalsurvival.org/, softkenya.com/tribe/mijikenda-tribe and www.academia.edu

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