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People of Kenya: Taita

The Taita

The Taita tribe (also called Wataita) is a Kenyan tribe that is located in the Taita-Taveta District. They speak Taita which belongs to the Bantu languages. The West-Bantu moved to the area of the Taita-Taveta district first approximately in 1000-1300 AD. This tribe actually consists of three closely related tribes: Wadawida, Wasaghala (Sagalla) and Wataveta (Taveta).

The tribe has a small population of around 250,000 with Wadawida being the most populous of the three tribes. Traditionally the tribe consisted of lineages (vichuku, kichuku singular). Each lineage occupied its own territorial area of the hills. The people are one of Kenya’s most strongly agricultural peoples.

They have a long history of well developed agriculture practice growing sugarcane, millet, and latterly maize. Highly developed systems of irrigation were developed using hollowed sugar cane pipes, sometimes transporting water for distances of over a kilometre. There was limited animal husbandry, and cattle are a relatively recent (20th Century) acquisition.

Iron working was advanced for weaponry and farming implements. The people have today assimilated many western values such that most of their traditional cultures have faded away. Traditional circumcision no longer takes place in most parts of Taveta, with many parents opting to have the operation done in a hospital. One very unique culture is the respect accorded to the dead.

In the past people were buried and then exhumed and the skull severed from the rest of the body and taken to a sacred cave – their “proper” abode with the ancestors. The caves where skulls of long dead people are still found are treated as sacred in many parts of Taveta but this is no longer in practice.

Members of the community are talented musically. While Taitas believed in one supreme god, Mlungu, this god was only called upon, and given sacrifices for appeasement or thanksgiving in times of calamities and misfortunes such as droughts, locust invasions, barrenness, and famine. Nowadays very few Taitas still practice their traditional religious faith.