Boma is a Kiswahili word meaning “enclosure.” It refers to the thorny thicket often grown around traditional Kenyan homesteads and cattle enclosures. The Bomas of Kenya is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s diverse cultural heritage, featuring model or replica villages and homes in the traditional styles of over 20 different people groups. It is not far from our home, and we recently enjoyed a day there.
As we toured these homes, we were intrigued by both the similarities and differences. Cultures from northern Kenya, an arid region, tend to be nomadic. Their homes were often made from sticks and grass. Those with beasts of burden (camels) usually took their homes with them as they followed their cattle in search of grazing land and water. Cultures from southern Kenya, which experiences the rainy seasons, often packed their homes with mud or cattle dung. The Kikuyu, from the forested highlands, built their homes with timber.
(As always, click on any of these photos to open a larger slideshow.)
In nearly every people group, women were responsible for building the homes. The height of a Maasai house is determined by the height of the woman who builds it, making shorter Maasai women less desirable for marriage. In some cultures, the men build the frame of the house, while the women pack it with mud or dung. Some pack only the inside of the frame, while others pack both the inside and outside. In one culture, men pack their huts with mud and dung, while the women’s huts are covered with grasses.
Most of the homesteads we visited reflected a polygamous culture. Jody was pleased to find that the hut of the first wife was nearly always the largest and most prominent hut in the homestead, but less pleased with the the second and third wives’ huts. Ryan was dismayed to find that the husband’s huts were never anything to write home about.
In many homesteads, the children stay in their mother’s hut. In some, there was a separate boys’ hut for the unmarried sons over the age of 10. In at least one, the boys and goats sleep in the husband’s hut. In another, the unmarried girls sleep in the grandmother’s hut. Our girls were happy to find at least one village that included a separate girls’ hut.
In addition to the homesteads, the Bomas of Kenya features a cultural dance presentation. The different costumes and dances of the various people groups reminded us in some ways of the variety of costumes and dances with origins in Dutch provinces and villages that are featured at Tulip Time in Pella. Some colonial influence was evident in at least one dance, in which the primary accompaniment was an accordion and some of the dance steps resembled a waltz (video below).
A major highlight of the show, however, was the Jambo Mambo Acrobats‘ show. Watch the (hopefully not too shaky) video posted below the pictures, and you’ll soon see why the announcer told us: “Don’t try this at home!”
At the end of the day, we took some time to enjoy the childrens’ playground, which featured a few rather unusual playground guests!