Kuria - Introduction

With the exception of the sections on history and music & dance, I've managed to find very little about the Kuria, whether in the form of books or on the internet. As ever, if anyone has any information which they feel could be included, please pass it on. Still, I'm grateful to Andrew Fedders and Cynthia Salvadori, whose book "Peoples and Cultures of Kenya" provided much of the information in this section.
In this page:
Facts & Figures


The Kuria are one of the three Bantu-speaking peoples in western Kenya, the others being the Gusii, who are their immediate neighbours to the north and to whom they are closely related, and the Luhya, who live north of Lake Victoria.

Their area occupies the southwestern tip of Kenya, adjacent to Lake Victoria and Tanzania, where the majority of the Kuria reside. Undulating hills cover most of their Kenyan territory, with only few stretches of flat land. Although traditionally cattle herders, a history of forcible migrations away from larger and more powerful groups such as the Luo and Maasai, have meant that their land area is physically restricted to the hills just east of Lake Victoria, and so agriculture has taken over as their primary occupation. Rainfall is generally sufficient for their needs, and enables them to produce cash crops such as coffee, sugar cane, tobacco and maize. Nonetheless, cattle remain ritually important, and figure above all in marriage negotiations, where hefty bridewealth (dowry), paid for in cattle, remains the norm.

Kuria marriage has recently attracted a lot of attention from both Westerners and the Kenyan Government: praise, for their unusual marriage arrangements between women, and vitriolic scorn, for the early age at which girls were traditionally married off, often by poor parents grateful for the bridewealth payments. The debate surrounding the latter typifies the conflict inherent in the change-over from a traditional society to one dictated by the norms and expectations of the Western capitalist system.

You'll find more about both kinds of marriage in the section on Marriage.

Facts & Figures

Also known as: Umukuria (singular); Abakuria, Kurya, Kuriya, Koria, Bakuria, Bakira, Wakuria, Ikikuria, Igikuria, Ekiguria, Bukira; Tende, Batende, Watende, Nyabasi, Bugumbe, Bwirege, Kiroba, Simbiti, Sweta.

Ethnic group: Western Bantu. The academic classification is Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, Kuria.

Neighbouring tribes: Marach, Gusii, Luo, Luhya/Tiriki (?), Maasai, Suba.

Language: Kuria. Kenyan dialects are Nyabasi, Bugumbe, Bukira and Bwirege, and are very closely related. The Tanzania dialects are Kiroba, Simbiti and Sweta.

Population: Kenyan population was 112,236 in 1989, and 135,000 in 1994. A 1979 estimate put their number at around 60,000. The Tanzanian population is roughly twice as large, with a figure of 213,000 quoted for 1987. A recent estimate for their combined population was 400,000, up from 348,000 (no date given).

Location: Straddled across the border of Kenya and Tanzania, just east of Lake Victoria (Nyanza). Undulating hills cover most of their Kenyan land, with a few stretches of flat land. The altitude varies from 1140 metres on the shore of Lake Victoria to 1600 metres in Kehancha and Ntimaru divisions.
   In Kenya, they occupy Kuria District in the southern part of South Nyanza Province, in the southwestern corner of the country. In Tanzania, the occupy North Mara and South Mara. Their main town in Kenya is Migori.

Way of life: Originally primarily cattle-herding pastoralists, subsistence farming has now taken over, although cattle remain important, not only for food (mainly milk) but also for use in ritual ceremonies and for exchange of bridewealth (dowry payment for brides).
   The slopes of hills are used for growing cash crops like coffee, sugar cane, tobacco and maize. Rainfall is generally continuous with little distinction between long and short rains (March-May and June-September respectively); annual rainfall averages 700-1800mm.
   Lake Victoria provides an important source of revenue in the form of fish, which are processed in Migori.

Religion: 59% Christian, 41% traditional religion.

References: This information has been gathered from a number of sources. The best general sources about Kenyan culture are Andrew Fedders & Cynthia Salvadori's excellent "Peoples and Cultures of Kenya" (1979: Transafrica, Nairobi), and the equally good series of booklets produced by the Consolata Fathers in Nairobi, sadly now out of print. Specific sources that have been of help in writing this site are credited where appropriate.

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