It appears that you are currently using Ad Blocking software. What are the consequences? Click here to learn more.
Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

People of East Africa‏

December 28th, 2008 · 15 Comments

Print This Post Print This Post

When I lived in East Africa, I had to learn Swahili to communication with most of the people I met on safari. While many people in Nairobi understood English, few people in the countryside did.

But almost all of them knew Swahili as their second language after their tribal tongue. Swahili is the lingua franca of much of East Africa and the Congo, spoken today by about 80 million people.

Even in Nairobi my gardener, Etore, who was a member of the Luo tribe (like Barack Obama’s father), didn’t know English. I learned enough Swahili to communicate with him and with the people I met in the bush, although I never became fluent in that language and long ago forgot almost all that I learned.

The East African people who are least likely to know English are the nomadic Maasai of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. I met many Maasai, because they live near the most important game parks of East Africa, which I visited often — Amboseli, Tsavo, Lake Nakuru, and Nairobi National Parks and the Maasai Mara Reserve in Kenya, and the Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara, and the Serengeti in Tanzania. In fact, the colonial governments took that land from the Maasai when they colonized Kenya and Tanzania, and the independent countries kept it for their thriving tourist industry.

We met these Maasai children in the photo below while on safari to Amboseli. The Maasai are the least likely of any people I met in East Africa to wear Western clothes, making them easy to distinguish from the two women in the photograph below. The red-head was my first wife; the blonde was the first wife of my friend Roy Stacy, when they lived in Mogadishu, Somalia:

Maasai and Friends

Maasai and Friends

While fewer than one million Maasai live in Kenya and Tanzania, more than five million Kikuyu live in Kenya alone. The dominant ethnic group, the Kikuyu have ruled the country since independence in 1963. The Kikuyu men also rule Kikuyu women, who do the brunt of the work:

A Kikuyu Woman and Her Load

A Kikuyu Woman and Her Load

Kenya’s best agricultural land lies in the Great Rift Valley a few miles north west of Nairobi. While many Europeans settled there, parts of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya seem quite traditional:

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya

When I lived in Kenya, I often traveled to Uganda and Tanzania. Uganda is the lushest of these countries, as this scene of a village on a lake attests:

Huts by the Lake

Huts by the Lake

One of my favorite characters who I met in Uganda was this musician:

A Man of Uganda

A Man of Uganda

One day while on safari near Bundimboyo on the border between Uganda and the Congo I met this group of pygmies. The proper name for this people is the Batwa or Twa.

The guy with the ugly half-beard seems to be about two feet taller than the other people in the picture. This was my first attempt at a beard, and now I know better.

With my permission, the publishers of the book Wonders of the Rainforests reprinted this photograph years ago. You can find it on page 52 of the preview version. I don’t think that they considered me to be one of those wonders.

Ten Pygmies and One Tall Westerner

Ten Pygmies and One Tall Westerner


Never Miss An Update

Subscribe to my free newsletter “Diabetes Update”

I send out my newsletter on first of every month. It covers new articles and columns that I have written and important developments in diabetes generally that you may have missed.

I also include new photo essays from this blog in my newsletter.

Your Email Address

Posted in: Africa

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Winnie Michelle // Feb 5, 2009 at 10:12 am

    i have simply loved this site,there are places and people that i have never met yet i was born and raised in Kenya. Glad to have found this site. good job and keep the information coming

  • 2 Elias // Nov 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

    This photos are quite good. I am suprised at how much has changed since then….

  • 3 isabelle busby // Nov 15, 2010 at 9:17 am

    i found this very helpful i am doing a project and this was my main place for info

  • 4 christine // Nov 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Is the Roy Stacy you refer an eminent lawyer from New Zealand & ‘the blonde” his first wife?

  • 5 David Mendosa // Nov 29, 2010 at 9:06 am

    Dear Christine,

    I rather think that my old friend and co-worker Roy Stacy is not the lawyer from New Zealand. My friend was an American and not much interested in the law.


  • 6 charles frank // Oct 18, 2011 at 10:09 am

    the story of pygamies is very good.

  • 7 Faith // Oct 27, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    why are this people suffering up till now.

  • 8 bob // Dec 8, 2011 at 7:41 am

    why are these people suffering!?!?

  • 9 agaba k.m // Dec 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Who told you they are suffering? this is the way they are living as at now and they are comfortable in as far as they are! do you see any one crying or disoriented?
    May be they shall live like you and me at the time when they will find it desirable or you too can live like them when you find it desirable!


  • 10 mwakanyamale // Oct 18, 2012 at 4:42 am

    the history of east africa iz very complicated

  • 11 S Abdullahi // Mar 2, 2013 at 11:21 am

    That’s life, So try to thank God in what ever situation you find yourself.

  • 12 Nayeli Ahnna // Mar 28, 2013 at 6:46 am

    I would rather live the way they are. They are actually living and are closer to the universe than most. My heart breaks that I am not there, I am well aware of the struggles of surrounding areas…where is there no crime or struggle? As an up and coming osteopath, I will be visiting or staying to practice medicine….naturally. I would learn so much from the land and people, maybe find out where my family is from.

  • 13 Paskazia Elias // Oct 25, 2014 at 1:29 am

    I real appreciate the life of the pygmies.. my heart is broken too that why aim not among of them. ” l like it much”.

  • 14 Nelbath Raphael legembo // Feb 1, 2016 at 1:22 am

    Actually we come from far; good understandable peopling of east Africa; although does not show the transltion of modern E;Africa

  • 15 Gumiisiriza Rodgers Augustus // Mar 24, 2016 at 1:09 am

    Actually, this is true in East Africa. I like our culture very much than any other. Thanks so much for the good report from our mother nations Uganda, Kenya Tanzania…
    I am from Uganda and I love really my country

Leave a Comment