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Kilifi Travel Guide

Giriama Culture

The local people in Kilifi are predominantly Giriama; Giriama is one of nine groups that made up the Mijikenda people of the East African coastal region. The nine Mijikenda groups speak dialects closely related to the Bantu language, which is very similar to the Kiswahili language.

Giriama families reside in homesteads, most Giriama are farmers, there are also pastoralists living in the hinterland and migrants, who earn money as laborers or fisherman.

The Giriama are unconditionally proud of their own customs, they have strong tribal identity, their history talk about the resistance to foreign cultures, especially during the 20th century, where Giriama people resisted colonial influences.

In despite of the influence of Christianity and Islam, there is a strong belief in the power of their ancestors and ancestress. A "witch doctor" is a powerful force in the Giriama people, local medicines are used to treat disease such as asthma, arthritis, eczema.

Vigango, are ornate funerary objects, these depict human faces and are erected within their respective makaya (kaya when singular) for members of a secret society, the "gohu" (similar to the Lions Club or the Masons), most are 120 to 240 centimeters (4 to 6 feet) high, vigango (kigango when singular) are believed to embody the spirit of the ancestor, vigango are the tangible link between the living and the dead, remove a kigango from its original site will trigger the jinx of the ancestral spirit.

Giriama people had Kayas, these are sacred forest shrines and places of worship, which were being destroyed by the missionaries, a woman warrior called Mekatilili Wa Menza became a Giriama hero by actively fighting against those British missionaries in 1914.


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