The Bajun Community of Kenya

Get to know this costal community, known for fishing, wood carvings, and marine trade

By National Museums of Kenya

TableNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating our shared past, present, and future

Dating back centuries, the stories and traditions of the peoples of Kenya are some of the most fascinating in the world. They have enriched the country through social, economic, political and cultural activities, each with their own unique stories. Today, 44 communities are officially recognized by the government, and are classified into three linguistic groups: the Bantu, the Nilotic and the Cushitic speakers. The National Museums of Kenya holds objects telling the stories of the communities, which represent the country's ethnic diversity and vibrant cultures. Many of the cultural practices are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. This exhibit celebrates the country’s rich heritage through the Bajun community. 

Lamu Old TownNational Museums of Kenya

A look into the history and culture of the Bajun community

The Bajun are a Bantu community found in Lamu county, along the Kenyan coast. They speak Kitikuu, a dialect of the Swahili language. Due to their closeness to the Indian Ocean, their way of life is centered around the sea, and they are known to be good at diving and snorkeling.

Migration and settlement

The Bajun are believed to have migrated from Shungwaya due to conflict with the Cushitic communities, who pushed them from their native land to their current location. They engaged in fishing, farming and trade. The arrival of the Arabs to the Kenyan coast led to the community adopting the Islamic faith.

Maulidi FestivalNational Museums of Kenya

Experience Bajun culture at the Maulidi and Lamu cultural festivals

These two festivals are celebrated annually and showcase the rich culture and traditions of the communities inhabiting the coastal region. Some of the highlights to look out for are: camel races, henna painting, boat races, and many more.

InstrumentNational Museums of Kenya

Economic activities

Due to their closeness to the Indian ocean, the Bajun economy has historically been largely dependent on the sea. Men were involved in marine trade, fishing, shipbuilding and making fishing nets. Some were sea captains, sailors and ocean merchants, while others practised agriculture. Women, on the other hand, traditionally weaved baskets. 

Blacksmith toolsNational Museums of Kenya

Farming

This hoe (jembe) was used for cultivation. It was made from scrap metal by a blacksmith

Scale (1967)National Museums of Kenya

Chayu is a food weighing scale. The basketry trays were woven by women, while the men carved the scale support using wood from the "Msumbari" tree, and the baskets were attached with a rope made of twisted coconut tree fibre.

BeltNational Museums of Kenya

Social structure

Being an Islamic community, the Bajun practise and conduct themselves according to Islamic laws. Bajun weddings bring families together with music and dance, which lasts for three days. Women traditionally veil themselves from head to toe, while men cover their lower torso with kikoy fabric.

HornNational Museums of Kenya

Men provided protection to the community

This horn, Zumbe, would have been blown by an elder to summon people to war. It was inherited by sons from their fathers.

BasketNational Museums of Kenya

This is a round deep flat bottomed basket made by men. It was used for carrying farm produce from the shamba.

Clay frying panNational Museums of Kenya

Women prepared meals for the family

Clay frying pan Nyaya made and used by women for cooking chapati (flat bread). Traditionally the Bajun's main foods were coconut, fish and rice.

Bread designerNational Museums of Kenya

Bread with designs

This is a carved wooden paddler (Chapaza namu), used to put designs on bread. It is made by a craftsman from msaji wood.

Water fetcherNational Museums of Kenya

Water collection

A bucket (Kichapa) made of cowhide with wood frame. It was used to collect water from wells.

Water Pot (1919)National Museums of Kenya

Water storage

This clay pot was made by a women potter and was used to keep water cold.

Wooden pot & stopperNational Museums of Kenya

Cosmetic and spice holder

This painted wooden pot (Kikakasi) was made by a male fundi (craftsman). It was painted using mangrove and vegetable dye and used by women for storing spices and cosmetics.

AnkletNational Museums of Kenya

Political structure and religion

The Bajuni today follow the laws of Islam to conduct their affairs. A Muslim judge, or kadhi, handles the criminal and civil disputes of the community. Traditionally, the Bajun were governed by kings.

ChairNational Museums of Kenya

Kiti cha Enzi

This is a traditional king's chair.

Incense Container (1919)National Museums of Kenya

Incense for prayer

This is a small, round incense container (Ufurama) made by a craftsman. It was used to keep incense fresh, and to carry it to the mosque for use when praying.

BeltNational Museums of Kenya

Recreation and music

Bajun music and poetry is a mix of traditional and contemporary art. The contemporary music sounds like a mixture of Indian and Arabic, while the traditional music is accompanied by percussion instruments and horns. 

Horn (1968)National Museums of Kenya

Siwa

This musical horn is made of animal horn and wood from 'mweza' tree. It is curved using a chisel like tool called 'chembeu' and used in a variety of traditional ceremonies.

Bell (1964)National Museums of Kenya

Ituasi

This bell is made from cow horn and metal. It was used by the Bajun as a musical instrument to maintain rhythm while dancing to the drumbeats.

Maulidi FestivalNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating Kenya's communities today

Many of the cultural practices of the Bajun are still embraced today, but have been influenced by the changes in society. The heritage and culture of the Bajun community, along with the more than 44 communities in Kenya, continues to fascinate and inspire. The National Museums of Kenya invites everyone to celebrate the intangible cultural heritage of all communities which makes up this great nation. 

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curator: Philemon Nyamanga, Cultural Heritage Department. pnyamanga@museums.or.ke

Bibliography and research
1. Fedders A, Salvadori C. Peoples and cultures of Kenya. Nairobi: Transafrica and London: Rex Collings, 1980.

Photography and Creative Direction: Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Agnes Mbaika Kisyanga, Barnabas Ngei and Hazel Sanaipei.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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