Faces of Kenya: 12 Beautiful Busts From Nairobi National Museum

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Faces of Kenya
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 these communities, including this collection of busts, which represent faces from many of Kenya's diverse groups.

Soapstone bust of a Kipsigis woman
The Kipsigis are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting Kenya. They are the most populous sub-group of the Kalenjin, and speak the Kipsigis as their native language.

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Soapstone bust of a Kipsigis woman
The Kipsigis originated from the South Sudan region, and by the 19th century, they had settled in the Rift Valley. The fundamental basis of the Kipsigis social structure was the family, and also based on the age-set system known as 'ipinda', which young people joined after initiation (tumdo).

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Clay bust of a Turkana woman
The Turkana are a Nilotic ethnic community connected to Turkana County, in particular Lake Turkana. One of the largest nomadic communities in Kenya, they are known for their basket weaving and annual Turkana Festival. Traditionally the Turkana were mostly located in Turkana and Marsabit counties. Notable personalities include Olympic champion Paul Ereng and supermodel Ajuma Nasenyana.

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Clay bust of a Samburu man
Internationally known for their beautiful and colorful attire, the Samburu community were traditionally nomadic pastoralists. They speak the Maa language, and belong to the Nilotic ethnic group. Closely related to the Maasai community, the Samburu have distinct cultures, traditions and rituals, which have been immortalised in several Hollywood movies including 'Mogambo' (1953).

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Clay bust of a Samburu woman
The Samburu are sometimes referred to as 'The Butterfly People' due to their colourful ornaments, attire and hairstyles. Traditionally they made clothes and ornaments from animal skin, beads, shells and brass. Men dyed their hair with red ochre. Warriors (Morans) kept their long hair in braids, and dressed in more colourful attire than other members of the community. The women adorned themselves in beautiful multi-colored beaded necklaces, and other traditional jewelry.

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Clay bust of a Samburu man
The Samburu 'Lmuget' ceremony takes place every seventh year and marks the passage from boy to warrior, or moran. More than 400 warriors and over 100 families gather for this special occasion, which sees hundreds of cattle being slaughtered. The ceremony is similar to the Maasai Eunoto which is held every 15th year.


Young warriors (morans) would wear ornaments and dye their braided hair in red ochre.

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Clay bust of a Maasai girl
The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic community, who speak the Maa language. They are a member of the Nilo-Sahara family of languages related to the Nuer, Kalenjin and Dinka. The Maasai community are internationally known for their distinctive culture, rituals, 'high jumping dance', custom dress, and being courageous warriors.
Notable Maasais include: Oloibon Lenana, Stanley Shapashina Oloitiptip, Ole Ntimama, athlete David Rudisha, and human rights activist Nice Nailantei Lengete.

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Plaster bust of a Maasai moran
The Maasai are known for their distinctive dress and decorative beaded jewelry. Different Maasai sub-groups can be distinguished by the color combination of their beaded jewelry. Traditional ceremonies such as the 'Eunoto', when Morans (warriors) return to their villages as mature men, offer exciting occasions for parties and enjoyment.

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Clay bust of Kitosh man
Bust of a man from the Kitosh or Bukusu, which is one of the 17 sub-communities of the Luhya community. The Luhyas belong to the Bantu group and are one of the largest communities in Kenya.

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Soapstone bust of a Kikuyu man
The Kikuyu (also known as Agikuyu) are a central Bantu community. They share common ancestry with the Embu, Kamba, Tharaka, Meru and Mbeere. Traditionally they inhabited the area around Mount Kenya.

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Clay bust of a Kikuyu man
The Kikuyu are among the Kenyan communities that championed the struggle for Kenya’s independence through the Mau Mau movement and the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA).

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Plaster bust of Kikuyu man
Notable members of the Kikuyu community include: freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi; the first president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta (1963–1978); the third president, Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013); the fourth president, his excellency Uhuru Kenyatta; Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the late Professor Wangari Maathai; and award-winning writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, among others.

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