As surprising as this may come for most people, tattoos and body markings in Kenya go as far back as the pre-colonial era, which is before the 17th Century. However, after the British settled in Kenya in 1885, these practices significantly reduced both in popularity and in practice. It became even worse when Kenya was made a British protectorate in 1895 signifying an invasion.
Although these practices still go on, they are limited to certain ceremonies like circumcision, weddings, or cultural days with most tribes choosing to forgo them all the same. This is because the invasion forced most people to destabilize their customs and beliefs and adopt new ones. Groups like the MAUMAU were also founded to fight off the invasion allowing most communities to forgo how they wore their hair and opting for dreadlocks as a sign of defiance.
Whether from permanent scarring or clays, ochers, cow dung, or mud. You have to understand that most of these tribes do not just make markings. These markings signify changes in, social status, marital status, age, and even gender.
As the modern world represents tattoos as a form of expression, the various tribes in Kenya used these different forms of body markings as a cultural passage in their tradition. They are also very sacred and should not be made to just anyone by anyone.
The coastal communities in Kenya, especially the Swahili, traditionally favored the heavy usage of henna – a strong, plant-based dye that leaves black marks on the skin. Henna dye was used to draw temporary tattoos across the feet, palms, and face as a form of decoration, exclusively for women. This has greatly influenced the Western world indirectly in many ways. We see different races dye their hair mainly for beauty.
There are over 40 tribes in Kenya to date and each with its own culture and diversity. This blog is a brief read, so we shall stick to f
Dozens of tribes practice traditional beautification rituals, but because this is a brief read, we will stick to 4 tribes. These particular tribes practice the use of body markings and the use of plant-based dyes to embellish their appearance.
The Maasai community is one of the most beautiful and culturally relevant tribes in Kenya. They are also found in Tanzania but today we are focusing more on the Kenyan side. Although they have been accused of suffering from toxic masculinity, no one can deny that their sense of style is contagious.
The beadwork embodies the Maasai culture, representing beauty, tradition, strength, and sometimes even social status. This can be seen in different cultures in the Western world as a form of social status, for example; in African Americans.
The Samburu people are among the few tribes in Kenya who still practice their traditions to the letter. With their striking red attire and highly embellished ornaments consisting of necklaces bracelets and earrings, they are truly a sight to behold. The Samburu also paint their faces using striking patterns to accentuate their facial features. Neighboring tribes, admiring the beauty of the Samburu people, called them Samburu meaning “butterfly.”
The Borane people are nomadic pastoralists who herded livestock, cattle, goats, and sheep. They live in the semi-arid regions of Kenya, which is Northern Kenya. They are quite famous for dyeing their hair with henna to give them a distinct red tint. The men who have come to adulthood put on a red dye to mask their grey hair, this ensures that the women they aspire to marry don’t see that they are older than they seem. This technique is used in the modern world to woo younger women if the gentleman is older, and has grey or white hair.
The beauty industry is thriving, with both men and women spending a lot of time and money to enhance their appearance. In contemporary society, there is a tendency to standardize the idea of beauty following the Western forms of grooming. Salons and fashion houses that promote the Western standards of beauty are commonplace in major cities and towns, to serve the increasing number of customers who want to look ‘beautiful’.