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People of Kenya: Pokomo

The Pokomo live along the Tana River in Kenya. Since arriving here from the north after being driven south by wars in the 17th century, they have made their lives within the flood plain, developing their agriculture and fishing techniques to take the greatest advantage of the silt and water their environment provides.


The community live in small villages of 10-60 grass-thatched houses, growing maize, plantains and sugar cane, and following the community principle called Sinidikia, by which they all work together for the common good at essential agricultural times such as harvest. This same system provides communal help in the event of an individual having personal problems.

There are some 50,000 people in total, and this population is split into two groups; the Upper clan, who make up 75% of the population, and the Lower clan. The Upper clan people are mainly Muslim, and have been so since the first half of the 20th century. The lower clan, who live along the lower part of the Tana, were receptive to the teachings of the Christian missionaries who arrived in the area in the late 1870s, and, by 1914, were almost exclusively Christian.

As a result of the introduction of Islam and Christianity, many of the traditions have fallen by the wayside, now only observed by a small amount of the older population. However, the Pokomo still follow the traditional system of (often, arranged) marriage and dowry, and, after the payment of the dowry, the Lower community consider marriage permanent. The Upper Pokomos now permit divorce, in accordance with Islamic law.

These changes have been observed, not only in Pokomo land, but all over Kenya.

One Pokomo tradition has not only survived, it has evolved and become famous throughout the Kenya – the tune of a song that Pokomo mothers sing to their children was, in 1963, given new lyrics and adopted as the national anthem of Kenya.