The Kuria people (also known as the AbaKurya, are a Bantu community in Tanzania and Kenya. Their homeland is bounded on the east by the Migori River and on the west by the Mara River estuary. Traditionally a pastoral and farming community, the Kuria grow maize, beans and cassava as food crops and coffee and maize as cash crops.
The Kuria (AbaKuria, BaKuria, IgiKuria) people are an amalgamation of friendly, agro-pastoralists and Bantu-speaking ethnic group residing mainly in Kenya and some parts of Tanzania. In Kenya where most of the AbaKuria are agriculturalists, they live specifically in the west and east Kuria districts of Nyanza Province in southwest Kenya; whilst Tanzanian Kurians who are pastoralists reside in the Tarime, Musoma, Bunda and Serengeti districts of the Mara Region in Northern Tanzania.
A person of Kuria ethnicity is called UmuKuria.
In 2006 the Kuria population was estimated to number 609,000, with 435,000 living in Tanzania and 174,000 in Kenya.
The Kuria are closely related to the Kisii people of Kenya both in language and physique. The Kuria tribe is also related to the Zanaki tribe of the Mara Province in Tanzania. They share some cultural aspects.
The Kuria people are divided into about 16 "subtribes" or clans:
The homeland of the Kuria is between the Migori River on the east and the Mara River estuary on the west, extending from Migori County in Kenya on the east to Musoma Rural District in Tanzania on the west. On the south, their land borders Transmara District in Kenya and the Nguruimi area of Tanzania. On the north is Lake Victoria, with a small corridor occupied by the Luo and other Bantu peoples.
The Kuria are found in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya, they live in the Kuria East (headquartered in Kegonga) and Kuria West districts (headquartered in Kehancha). In Tanzania, they live in Serengeti and Tarime Districts, Musoma Urban and Rural Districts, and Bunda District. The Kuria have recently settled in Tanzania's Mara Region.
Their neighbours are the Maasai, Kalenjin (the Kipsigis in western Transmara), Ikoma, Luo and Suba. The Kuria are divided into several clans, which live in Kenya and in Tanzania. In Kenya, there are four clans: the Abagumbe, Abairege, Abanyabasi and Abakira. Tanzania has 13 (the Abapemba, Ababurati, Abakira, Abamera, Simbete, Abanyabasi, Watobori, Abakunta, Wiga, Kaboye, Abakenye, Abagumbe and Wasweta, Abatimbaru), in addition to other minor clans.
The Kuria are traditionally a farming community, primarily planting maize, beans and cassava as food crops. Cash crops include coffee and maize. The Kuria also keep cattle.
Kuria people lives in the west and east Kuria districts of Nyanza Province in southwest Kenya and in the Tarime, Musoma, Bunda and Serengeti districts of the Mara Region in Northern Tanzania. Kuria district in the southwest of Kenya is along the border of Kenya and Tanzania and neighboring the Masai tribes and Luo tribes. Kuria is also known as a tribe and language in Kenya. Most of the people living in Kuria are farmers. Kuria is a constituency with two district: Kuria west and east, with a population of approximately 435, 000 people. It is one of the most marginalized communities in Kenya, numbering second in the poorest constituency in terms of education. It is located in the south Nyanza, bordering Suba district on the west , Migori district in the north, Trans-mara in the east and Tanzania in the south.
Kuria people speak a language also known as Kuria. It is a Bantu language belonging to the larger Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken by the Kuria peoples of Northern Tanzania, with some speakers also residing in Kenya.
15–20 clans in Tanzania, each with slightly different dialect. Clans consider themselves to speak the Kuria language rather than the language of their clan. Lexical similarity: 73% with Ngoreme , 84% with Kiroba (Suba-Simbiti dialect).
Maho (2009) treats the Simbiti, Hacha, Surwa, and Sweta varieties as distinct languages.
Historically the Kuria have mainly practised pastoralism and farming. They cultivated finger millet, sweet potatoes, sorghum and cow peas, and keep cattle, sheep, goats and donkeys. In the past, the Kuria traded with their neighboring Maasai and Luo communities, with whom they exchanged animals for grains, weapons or ornaments, among other things.
Like many other ethnic groups in Kenya, the Kuria base their social organization on the family unit. All community members trace their origin to a common male ancestor. There are two sets of generations called Monyasae and Monyachuma. The Kuria are divided into small totemic clans as the units of organization. The totems include elephant, hippopotamus, hyena, zebra, baboon and leopard.
Men were the primary decision makers, and were responsible for providing for and protecting the community. They built houses and cattle enclosures, herded cattle, cleared land for agriculture, hunted, farmed, and instructed the young warriors on defending the community.
This knobkerrie (irungu) was made by men using wood from the omotaburo tree. It was used as a weapon and for killing small animals.
The Kuria celebrated childbirth, harvest, circumcision and wedding ceremonies with a variety of traditional songs and dances. They wore special costumes, body markings and clothing for the dances. After work, men rested as they drank their local brew and smoked pipes, among a host of other forms of leisure activities.
Amongst the Kuria, graduation from childhood to adulthood was traditionally known as 'saro' and initiates got to join an age set (esaro).
This ritual was marked with circumcision for both boys and girls. When a girl was married, her age set group was changed to that of her husband, as no one was allowed to marry from the same age-set.
This is a painting of a Kuria circumcised boy wearing an elaborate skirt, which indicates that he had recently undergone circumcision and was in seclusion.
In Kenya today, female circumcision is illegal and communities are encouraged to adopt alternative initiation practices that do not involve female genital mutilation (FGM).
Traditionally, when a Kuria young man found a suitable girl to marry, he was expected to pay twenty to twenty five cows as bride wealth to the bride's family. If he was unable to afford this, his family members would contribute one cow each to make up the total number. A man was accorded respect depending on the number of wives he had. A traditional Kuria wedding ceremony was characterized by a great feast, songs, dance and merry-making.
Mandara was a headband made and worn by married and unmarried women for dancing. The beads are threaded on sisal fiber.
The Kuria had a quasi-matriarchal system, which allowed barren women of means to marry younger women in order to have children.
The older woman would invite a younger woman into her home, who would choose (often in secret) a male partner to biologically father her children. The children were brought up by the two women without the involvement of the father or the older woman's husband. The older woman could be a widow or single women who lived like a male elder – attending to light business affairs.
This dancing platform is made of wood cut from the mutembe tree and curved using an adze and knife. It was used by young men during a grand traditional dance called Isubo. The platforms were attached to the feet by cow hide thongs. This fastened them firmly to the feet so the wearer could stamp and jump freely in the heat of the dance.
Isubo was an important ceremony for initiating old men to ritual elders. During the ceremony, all the young men within the community brought beer, cows, goats or sheep. It cost a great deal as fifty cows would be slaughtered for the feast.
A council of elders was responsible for ensuring law and order, decision-making, ritual oath taking, religion, and administration. Traditionally, the elders presided over all issues concerning the Kuria community as a whole. The Kuria court system (council of elders) is still efficient and most conflicts are solved traditionally.
The Kuria believed in the existence of a supernatural power, referred to as 'Rioba, Nokwe, Gekoni, Getemi, Mosacha–Obairo, Keng’ori or Nyamohanga'. He is represented by the sun, and associated with all good things. They also revered ancestral spirits, observed taboos and superstitions, and believed in the powers of diviners, rainmakers and medicine men.
In the past, the Kuria men wore their hair long and coloured it with red murrum. In order to wear it longthey would pierce a tin with many holes, fill it with hot charcoal and ‘iron’ it over their heads, very muchlike a modern day hair straighteners! The women wore beads and shaved their heads, and mostpeople wore animal skins and walked barefoot. Animal skins have however not been worn since 1963when poaching was outlawed, and most people now wear Western clothing and shoes. The tradition ofpiercing and stretching their ears into long loops has also mostly stopped.
The name "Kuria" seems to have been applied to the whole group by early colonial chiefs, mainly to distinguish them from the other Luo peoples along the southern shore of Lake Victoria (who were known as Abasuba). According to major Kuria clan tradition (including the Abanyabasi, Abatimbaru, Abanyamongo, Abakira, Abairegi, Abakenye, Abanchaari, and Abagumbe), their ancestor was Mokurya. His descendants migrated from Misiri, and after many years of wandering along Lake Victoria they reached present-day Bukurya. According to this tradition, the Kuria have been divided into two families: the Abasai (from Mokurya's elder wife) and the Abachuma, from his younger wife.
In another view of the name's origin, between 1774 and 1858 Kuria people lived on Korea Hill (north of the Mara River in the Musoma district of present-day Tanzania). The region's inhabitants became known as "Korea people" after the hill, which evolved into "Kuria hill". During the colonial period, the Kenyan Kuria called themselves Abatende (after the Abatende clan in the Bugumbe region); the Tanzanian Kuria continued to be known by their totems. Around the 1950s, the name Kuria gained wide usage. Mijikenda, Abaluyia and Kalenjin also became generally accepted as ethnic names during the 1940s and 1950s, when they sought political recognition from Kenyan colonial authorities.
The Kuria people may not have a common origin, although a number of clans claim to have come from Egypt. Kurian culture is an amalgam of several heterogenous cultures. Among the Kuria are people who were originally from the Kalenjin-, Maasai-, Bantu- and Luo-speaking communities. Between AD 1400 and 1800, during migrations into Bukurya, the foundation was laid for Kuria cultural and political development. Early inhabitants of Bukurya were Bantu and Nilotic speakers, who brought their distinct cultures; the predominantly-agricultural Bantu came into contact with Nilotic pastoralists. This combined agriculture and pastoralism, with nomadic tendencies. Kuria agriculture resembles that of the Abagusii and Luo, and their cattle-keeping has borrowed practices from the Maasai, Zanaki and Nguruimi.
The 2006 Kuria population was estimated at 909,000, with 608,000 living in Tanzania and 301,000 in Kenya. Anthropological research in 2012 estimated the population of the Kuria in Kenya at about 650,000, and the Tanzanian population at about 700,000.
The Kuria people were primarily pastoralists during the pre-colonial era. The Kenyan Kuria lean towards crop production, and the Tanzanian Kuria tend towards pastoralism.
Kuria are part of the Bantu people who migrated from West Africa to Great Lake areas and to the Southern Africa. As members of Great Bantu migration the Kuria who were composed of different clans settle in Kenya, sometime between 200AD and 1000AD. The proto-Kuria could have arrived in Kenya from Uganda via the Mount Elgon region to the north. The Kuria are an amalgam of various pre-existing Bantu peoples were settled in Kenya until the turn of the sixteenth century, when the first Nilotic-speakers, in the form of the Luo's ancestors, arrived in Kenya, to be followed shortly after by the Maasai coming down the Rift Valley. Numerically much stronger than any of the Bantu people, and with an aggressive expansionary attitude, the various Bantu tribes living on the shores of Lake Victoria had little choice but to flee or be conquered.
According to Kuria ethnic researchers Fred Maseke and Friday Bwiyere "The Abagusii state that their ancestors originally came from "Misiri" and that they migrated with the ancestors of the Abakuria, Abalogoli, Ababukusu, and Abasuba and that they lost contact with these people in the Mount Elgon area. The Abagusii and Abalogoli followed river Nzoia Valley which eventually took them to the northern shores of Lake Victoria probably between AD 1500 and 1560. At this early stage there doesn't seem to have been significant differences between the Abagusii, Abakuria, Abalogoli and Abasuba among others. Their distinctive names and identities appear to have developed much later when they had separated into their present homelands.The origin of the name Kuria is a thorny point in Abakuria history. The major Abakuria sub-tribes such as Abanyabasi, Abatimbaru, Abanyamongo, Abakira, Abairegi, Abakenye,Abanchaari, and Abagumbe have traditions to the effect that their ancestor was Mokuria (or Mukuria) who lived in "Misiri". His descendants migrated from "Misiri" and after many years of wandering on the other side of Lake Victoria, they eventually reached and settled in the present Bukuria.
According to this tradition, the Abakuria have been divided from time immemorial into two families: the Abasai of the elder wife of Mokuria and the Abachuma of the younger wife. But this tradition does not explain how the Abakuria people got their generation sets, such as Maina, Nyambiriti, Gamnyeri on the Abasai side, and Mairabe (Norongoro), Gini, Nyangi on the Abachuma side. These generation set names are also found among other people such as the Ababukusu, Kalenjin, Agikuyu, Aembu/Ambeere and Ameru. It is therefore most probable that the early Abakuria people who brought the generation set system into Abakuria society were a splinter group from a much larger community living in the area of Mount Elgon from which the Kalenjin people, a section of the Ababukusu and the Agikuyu clusters emerged. Paul Aseka Abuso in his book A Traditional History of the Abakuria has written thus: Abakuria section of the Abagumbe, Abapemba, Abaasi and Abasonga also state in their tradition that they travelled together with the ancestors of the Kikuyu among other people from Misiri to Lake Baringo in the Kenya Rift Valley where they finally separated. Although Kikuyu history does not corroborate this point it looks as if at one time the ancestors of these people originally lived together in some area north of Mount Elgon. Perhaps the people known as Sirikwa mentioned above were part of that larger ancestral community — or possibly their descendants. This is not yet clear." The other view of the origin of the name Kuria is as follows. Between about 1774 and 1858, some of the Abakuria people were living in Musoma
district in the present Tanzania and were settled in a hilly area north of the River Mara then known as Korea hill. The inhabitants of that area in time became known as Korea people after the name of the hill, which eventually changed to Kuria hill whereby the people became known as the Abakuria. The divergent views on the origin of the name would explain why the name had not gained wide acceptance among the Abakuria even at the beginning of the last century, as people still largely identified themselves by the sub-group names. During the colonial period, it was the name Abatende (after the Abatende clan in Bugumbe area) rather than Abakuria, which was in common use among the Kenya Abakuria. Those living in Tanzania continued to be known by their totems. It is only in about the 1950s that the name Abakuria gained wide usage. In a similar manner the Mijikenda, Abaluyia and Kalenjin became generally accepted as collective ethnic names in the 1940s and 1950s, at a time when in Kenya they were seeking political recognition by the colonial authorities.
The Abakuria are divided into several clans which include the following; the Abagumbe, Abairege, Abanyabasi and Abakira who live in Kenya (a total of 4 clans) Abapemba, Ababurati, Abakira, Abamera, Simbete, Abanyabasi, Watobori, Abakunta, Wiga, Kaboye, Abakenye, Abagumbe and Wasweta, Abatimbaru among others (a total of 13) who live in Tanzania.
The Kuria people were mainly pastoralists in the pre-colonial era but currently the Kenyan Kurians lean towards crop production and the Tanzanian Kurians learn more towards pastoralism. The Abakuria are said to have abandoned Pastrolism after they were forced to do so by the Germans when they landed in the modern-day Northern Tanzania. The Kurians in the Serengeti district are distinctly pastoralist. Details on how Abakuria started crop production and abandoned pastrolism will be available as a researcher is currently working on the same.
Currently, Kuria are mostly farmers, mainly planting maize, beans and Cassava as food crops. For cash crops, the Kuria community mainly grows tobacco due to the near location of the BAT tobacco company. They are also cattle herders and have gotten into some scrupples with the neighbouring tribes, mainly the maasai, over cattle rustling.
The Abakuria society is organized into a patriarchal and patrilineal kinship system whereby the family name and property is passed along the male line and marriage was often patriarchial. The Igikuria proverbs echo dominant social rules and norms concerning women and men’s behavior and emphasizes the necessity of male control over women.
Women as a group become the marked, endangered category and are always subject to the society’s strict scrutiny. With this male dominated system, the Kuria Woman inevitably occupies a marginal status. In their homes, women are often regarded as temporary members and pilgrims. They are seen to be a future loss to the family while the male child is viewed as an investment. Upon marriage, they are viewed as intruders or strangers by their husbands’ kins.
Wakuria have developed a generation system which place every individual in a generation group. There are two sets of generations
The first set is called Monyasae and the other is Monyachuma.
The Monyasae has a four circle generations as follows: Abasae—Abanyamburiti—Abagamnyeri—Abamaina
The Monyachuma has also four circle generations as follows: Abachuma—Abangorongoro—Abagini—Abanyangi
The generations identifies an individual in the Kuria society. For example, a child of a Mosae from the monyasae generation circle will be a munyamburiti and will give forth to Omogamunyeri. No one is allowed to marry a child of the same generation. One generation circle is considered to last 25 years. A complete generation circle is hundred yearS. By knowing your generation you can easily calculate the age of your parents and grandparents. In the case of a mugamunyeri, his or her father is a Mnyamburiti.
By using the generation system you can even know when a major event took place by associating the event and those who witnessed the event if their generation is known e.g. Uhuru, Second World War etc
Kuria man from Bomas in Tanzania playing iritungu (traditional lyre). © Bill Given. A traditional lyre type of instrument known as an iritungu was brought out and lots of dancing followed. This is typical of any big life events in Kuria culture, such as weddings where music and dance play big roles.
Change from childhood to adulthood is an important Kuria ritual which transform individual to another stage of life. The change known as saro is a passage to adulthood. Every boy or girl must pass through saro to be recognised as an adult; otherwise, he is Mulisya or Mosagane.
When one is circumcised he/she is placed into an age-set (esaro). It is not the purpose of this issue to describe the circumcision process but to emphasise the importance of the ritual. In Kuria society one is recognised by the age set group. All people circumcised at the same time are given an age set (saro). When a girl is married her age set group is changed to that of the husband if their saro are different. No one is allowed to marry children of same saros, All ceremonies are done on the basis of saro or amakora. One will not be allowed to marry or married if he has not gone through circumcision. In modern times boys are circumcised in hospitals and it is slowly being accepted but looked down as an inferior process. A real mkuria should face a mosali get circumcised without a wink.
Traditionally, circumcision was done at the age around 13 years, but this differed significantly from one clan to another. The Abairege had most of their men circumcised at 15–18 years and above. However, this has changed to the onset of puberty. To this date, various organisations are working to ensure the tradition of female genital mutilation is aborted. Also, due to increased spread of HIV/AIDS organisations advocate for care during circumcision rituals. Many families are opting to take their children to hospitals and the traditional circumcision experts have now opted to use individual razors for each person during circumcision. After the cut, the boys or girls that have undergone the practice are normally led back home by fellow villagers amidst singing and dancing and money is pinned onto their shukas. The shukas are one-piece coloured sheets that the circumcised tie around themselves so as to let the blood drip freely to the ground. Once circumcision has taken place, according to tradition, the boy or girl is deemed ready for marriage. Kurian people are from the Bantu-speaking group of Kenya. They are traditionally farmers, mainly planting maize, beans and Cassava as food crops. For cash crops, the Kuria community mainly grows tobacco. They are also keep cattle and this has led clashes with the neighbouring tribes, mainly the Maasai, over cattle rustling.
In Kuria language, almost every aspect of life is commented on and evaluated through proverbs. There are proverbs echoing the dominant social rules and norms concerning both women and men’s behaviour and family roles and necessity of social control. Kuria society is concerned with maintaining its belief system and as Munene (1995) observes society is often guided by truth often gotten from proverbs.
1. Omokarinoonoaiboye (A woman is the one who has delivered). A husband whose wife was not able to deliver was advised to send her away and look for another woman but if it was him who had the problem he would secretly allow his brother to get him children with his wife. this is shown in the proverb below.
Enoyaatebankogogweere (A cow which is barren is slaughtered).
2. Inyuumbaenoetanamumuranentakaterrabokereehanini (A house without a son is poor it will not rise to defend when an enemy attacks)
3. O we sera ne hotoyaisa (A child of good character is pride to his father)
4. Iching’ombenindwamataawa (Bridewealth is given for a lazy woman as well as a hardworking one.)
5. Ichiharekanensarrania (Polygamy is a damage); This means that the more women a man has in his house, the more problems he has because women have no upright words but crooked ones only. Men were allowed to have extramarital relationships but women were prohibited. If a woman was found cheating on his husband, he was allowed to divorce her and marry another wife, but if it was a man he was only punished by paying fine in form of a goat or sheep.
Firstborns (Abatangi): Firstborns are important to every family hence their names must correspond to the greetings the mother or father would be greeted. Once one has a child he/she will be greeted by the name of his son or daughter. Wakuria have six names for firstborns. Chacha, Marwa and Mwita for boys and Bhoke, Robi and Gati for girls. If the first born is a boy, one of the three names Chacha, Mwita or Marwa is selected. The father now will be greeted Isachacha, Isamwita or Isamarwa. The mother will be greeted Nyamwita or Nyachacha. If the first born is a girl the names available are Bhoke, Robi, Gati and greetings will be prefixed Isa or Nya to the respective name. You will note that there are no greetings like nyaryoba, isamatinde, because these are not names for firstborns. Note that a Kuria will be greeted by the name of the firstborn. When one gets grandchildren then the greeting will change to nyakorochacha or nyakororobi, isakoromwita. The greetings are changed by the first born grandchildren names. If one was greeted isachacha and gets a first born grandchild called Robi his greeting will change from Isachacha to Isakororobi.
Ancestor names (ichidonko): Kuria also name their children after the names of the ancestors (Abhakoro). Such naming will occur if the wish of the dead grandfather or mother requested to be named a boy or girl. That is why there is mwita for both girls and boys. Some for sake of love one would like to name the ancestors as a sign that the ancestor has been reborn. A child can have two names one for obhotangi and another for endoko. My son is Chacha because he is a first born and he is called Monata a name after my grandfather. The other cause of naming ancestors will result when the child is sick or misfortunes come to a family and they seek omogabho/omoraguli to find out the problem. The omoraguli will advise to name a child an ancestor whose spirits have been troubled by the family. When naming the child, the family will be required to sacrifice (kumwensa) a goat or a cow depending on the wish of the spirits and the magnitude of the problem. Similarly names like Nyamohanga, Ryoba, Magaigwa, Nsato, Sabure, Wankuru, Ng’oina, Wanchoka, Mwikwabhe are named after the spirits. That is why when Kurias were baptized their native names were rejected because they were assumed to be associated with the spirits.