This week in our Kenya Unit, we will learn about one early civilization, the influence of colonization, and the sadness of chattel slavery. The foreign influence from Europe and Asia forcibly industrialized the country, contributed to the cuisine and changed the language of the people. Let’s take a deeper dive into the history of this nation. Click here for a downloadable skills and books tracker for your records.
Note to parents: Discussing topics like colonization and enslavement can feel difficult to navigate. We have written this blog post and this interview with Amber O’Neal Johnston on our blog that might be helpful. We encourage you to read them before starting this unit.
What you need:
Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):
- Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family by Dolores Johnson (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
- Serengeti Migration: Africa’s Animals on the Move by Lisa Lindblad (or read it here on OpenLibrary)
Optional chapter book:
- When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed
Optional additional reading:
- Wildlife of East Africa by Martin B. Withers (or any book on the animals of East Africa)
Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):
Note: We break down our supply list by so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.
- 1 towel (kitchen or hand towel)
- duct tape or masking tape
Gedes Ruins model:
- Minecraft, LEGO, or air-dry clay
- poster board (you can likely find this cheaper at a local dollar or grocery store)
Desert biome model:
- jar with sealed lid
- dirt, sticks, and rocks
- desert plants, like a succulent
- desert animal figurines (optional)
Beef curry recipe:
- 2 clear plastic cups
- vegetable seeds of choice
Today, we will take a deeper dive into the history and language of Kenya.
Activity 1: Read + Discover – History. As recently as the 1880s, there was no country known as Kenya. Before the arrival of European colonizers, each of Kenya’s peoples (Swahilis) had their own kingdoms, cultures, religions, and economies. The first colonizers in Eastern Africa were the Portuguese in the 1500s. (source) They were mostly interested in the coastal parts of Kenya, using them as a port for trade and to control the sea and the trade industry between Africa, the Middle East, and India. (source) The Portuguese established fort cities in places like Mombasa and Mupta, and their imprint in these cities as can be seen in some architecture today as well as the fort (Fort Jesus) that still stands. They eventually abandoned much of the land because it was not as rich in gold as they had hoped and focused on other places in Africa, such as Mozambique.
Sadly, slavery is a big part of Kenya’s history. During the 1600s and 1700s, many Kenyans were kidnapped and enslaved by Arabs, Europeans, and Americans. By the mid-19th century, slavery was outlawed by most countries, but by then, thousands of Kenyans and other East Africans had been taken to countries throughout the world. (source) But that wasn’t the end of the troubles for the people of East Africa.
The British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895. This protectorate was really colonization as it claimed and took control of the people and their land. Beginning in 1920, this part of East Africa became known as the Kenya Colony. The colonial administration encouraged British and South African white people to move from their homelands to settle in Kenya. (source) In 1903, a hut tax was introduced. This was not a necessary public finance measure—it was intended as a means of forcing Africans to work for the white settlers in order to earn money to pay taxes. (source)
During World War I, The British Empire conscripted Kenyans to fight in the war. Over 50,000 African troops fought for the British, and approximately 24,000 Kenyans were killed in the fighting.
In 1952, a war of liberation began. A group called the Mau Mau, made up of members of several ethnic groups (primarily Kikuyu), led the struggle. The Mau Mau Rebellion, as it was called, took place mainly in the highlands, where the Kikuyu people claimed that much land had been stolen from them. (source) This rebellion did not gain the Kenyans their freedom.
In 1963, independence for Kenya was finally won. The independent Republic of Kenya was formed on December 12, 1964, but the impact of centuries of colonization is still evident today. For example, English is one of the main languages spoken in Kenya, and Christianity is one of the main religions.
Many people were kidnapped from the continent of Africa and taken to other lands. Read the story Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family to learn about one family who was taken from Africa and enslaved.
After reading the book and the history synopsis above, write a journal entry about the history of Kenya. This entry can express your feelings and opinions or create a list of questions you would want to ask someone living during any period of time we have learned about. Here are some writing prompts to get you started (if needed):
- Reading the history of Kenya made me feel….
- If I met a trader from Europe in Kenya, I would tell/ask them…
- Reading the story Now Let Me Fly made me feel….
Activity 2: Today, there are over 70 ethnic groups in Kenya. The largest is the Kikuyu, with seven million people who make up 20% of the nation’s total population. The smallest is El Molo, who live on the shore of Lake Turkana with about 500 members. Kenya’s ethnic groups can be divided into three broad linguistic groups: Bantu, Nilotic, and Cushite. (source — The source link has many details about the language groups that are complicated for this age, but the images and photography are beautiful.)
The official languages of Kenya today are English and Swahili. Swahili has been greatly influenced by Arabic, and there are an enormous number of Arabic loanwords in the language. In fact, the word swahili is from the Arabic sawāḥilī, meaning “of the coast.” The language dates from the impact of Arabian traders with the inhabitants of the east coast of Africa over many centuries.
Learn some Swahili words and count to 10 with this video. This video will teach you introductions and greetings.
Chapter book suggestion: When Stars Are Scattered is a graphic novel that tells the story of a boy living in Kenya in a refugee camp that might share a different perspective with your child. Here’s a trailer of the book.
Activity 3: It is a common sight to see people in Kenya carrying heavy loads on their heads. From a young age, children in Kenya learn to do this. Science tells us this is an efficient way to carry heavy loads: People can carry 20% of their body weight on their head without burning any more calories than walking without any load. A head ring helps people balance heavy buckets and other loads. (source) Read more about the head ring here.
Create your own head ring using a hand towel and song duct tape. Begin by twisting the towel and then form it into a ring. Secure it with duct tape. Now, place the ring on your head and try balancing a few objects on your head! You might try a book, a small bag filled with laundry, or a toy. Next, try walking with the items balanced on your head.
Let’s spend today learning about some landmarks and landforms found in Kenya.
Activity 1: The Gede Ruins (also known as the Gedi Ruins) are currently part of a protected national park in Kenya.
“Archaeologists have discovered these ruins of a 13th century town that appeared quite advanced for its time. The residents of Gedi enjoyed coral brick houses with running water and flushing toilets. The recovery of artifacts included a Ming vase from China, an iron lamp from India, scissors from Spain, and beads and glass from Venice, proving that the citizens of Gede had strong contacts with the outside world and had established trade relations with global cultures. The population was estimated to have exceeded 2,500 people.
The Gede Ruins spread over a large area of land with two walls around it. It is believed that the rich people of the town lived within the safe confines of the inner wall, the middle class lived within the boundaries of the outer wall, and the peasants and other less economically powerful people lived outside the walls of the town. The town also included a mosque, a fort, palaces, and tombs built using the Swahili style of architecture. The buildings are constructed primarily of plaster, earth, and corals.
A 50-meters-deep well near the mosque, known popularly as the “Well of the Great Mosque,” is impressive in its design and was probably used for ceremonial baths. Near the 15th century palace, there are several chambers that can only be accessed by trap doors in the roof and were probably used to store the wealth of the rich.
There is immense need to conserve these ruins and its surrounding ecosystem not only because of its archaeological and historical significance, but also because the site offers an important source of income to the locals of the region from the tourists visiting to observe the ruins.” (source)
You can see photos of the ruins on this webpage, watch a video of a tour of the ruins here, and take a virtual tour here.
Create your own model of the Gede Ruins using Minecraft, LEGOs, or modeling clay. Research the trees and shrubs that are found in the park to create an accurate picture.
Activity 2: The Chalbi Desert is located on the Northern Side of Kenya near the border with Ethiopia. It’s approximately 500 km from Nairobi and approximately 50 km from Marsabit. Surrounded by volcanic remains, Chalbi Desert is the hottest place in Kenya. When you journey into Chalbi Desert, you’ll see an eerie landscape edged by rocky lava flows, cracked earth, and a sandy mixture of white salt and clay. Even in this barren and desolate location, you may see a shadow emerge in the distance, as ostriches, grevy’s zebras, oryx, and other animals are often observed.
The Chalbi Desert, though, does have a secret. On the northern edge is a gorgeous area of oases with groves of palm trees that attract sand grouse and other birds including vulturine guinea fowls. The oases are also used by the Gabra people as water sources for their camels. Another contrasting landscape in the desert are the Huri Hills and Mount Forole to the north, at the Kenya-Ethiopia border, where temperatures are slightly lower and the wilderness is much greener. (source)
Watch this video to learn more about how animals survive in a desert environment.
This video shows the Chalbi Desert, Lake Turkana, Loyangalani, Lake Paradise and Ndoto Mountains. It is quite long so skip about to see the variety of plant life and terrain in North East Kenya.
Finally, let’s build a desert biome using this tutorial.
Activity 1: The Great Wildebeest Migration, the world’s largest migration of wildlife, is a popular event to witness in Kenya. While migration happens year-round, it’s in July and August that the wildebeests typically cross the Mara River. The Maasai Mara National Reserve, also known as Masai Mara or the Mara, is a 583-square-mile protected area for wildlife where the migration takes place. Two million animals travel from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara National Reserve, including thousands of wildebeest, zebra, eland, and Thompson’s gazelle.
The Great Migration is triggered by the dry season, which can run any time between June and October. By the end of the summer, usually in September, the rainy season will begin again and the animals will start their journey back to the Serengeti. (source)
Read about the migration of East African animals in Serengeti Migration: Africa’s Animals on the Move (or read it here on OpenLibrary). Or, if you were with us for Level 2, you might have the book Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys. That book talks about several East African migrating mammals.
Activity 2: Visitors from around the world come to Kenya to see the beauty of safaris. Watch this video of one family’s visit to the Massai Mara. Have your child choose an animal that lives in the reserve and research it. Make a library trip, look through your home library for books, or research it online. We recommend the book Wildlife of East Africa by Martin B. Withers, if it is available.
Next, let’s create a research poster, a visual display and presentation of what they discover. It can include pictures your child has drawn or printed from the internet or copied from a book. The poster’s text can include details about the animal they have chosen, such as the animal’s habitat, life cycle, diet, and behavior, including migration patterns. Encourage them to look for interesting facts and funny observations. Once they have completed their presentation, watch this video for tips on presenting their research. Have your child give an oral presentation of the contents of their poster once it is complete.
(+) Activity 1: For our first activity, we’ll learn more about the Uganda-Kenyan Railway. This topic might be too much of an upgrade for younger learners, so read through it first to see if it will be appropriate for your child. First, Read + Discuss this article about the railroad. Look at the posters and maps on the museum website.
Here are some highlights to discuss:
- The British government commissioned this project. They wanted to expand their territory, block the French from expanding further East, control what would be called Lake Victoria since it connected to the Nile river, and control and connect trade in the area.
- It was also called the “iron snake” and the “Lunatic Express.”
- Nearly all the workers involved on the construction of the line came from British India. Some 2,500 workers died during the construction of the railway—four for each mile of track laid. About 6,700 decided to stay behind, creating the first community of Indians in Kenya. The rest returned home.
- Here’s a story from the construction of the railroad: One of the grisliest chapters in the construction of the railway occurred in 1898 during the building of a bridge across the Tsavo River. A pair of man-eating lions stalked the campsite, dragging away workers while they slept in their tents at night. The attack continued for ten months, during which more than a hundred victims, allegedly, were claimed. Hundreds of workers fled from Tsavo, and the construction came almost to a halt. (source)
Critical thinking activity: There are always two sides to every story, but history is often told from only one perspective. Whose perspective is this article written from? It details the benefits of the railroad and the many advantages of the industrialization of East Africa. Whose opinion does the article not describe? What information is omitted?
Next, read this article for a few more details about the railroad from a slightly different perspective. This article includes some of the negative outcomes. Watch this video to learn about an Indian migrant’s story. Whose viewpoint have we still not heard very much from?
Draw a line down a piece of paper. On one side, describe the advantages of the railroad. On the other side, describe the disadvantages of the railroad. Once you have completed this list (also called a pros and cons list), think about how you would describe the railroad to someone who has never heard of it before. After completing this activity, discuss how important it is to read multiple sources when learning about something new or forming a new opinion.
Take a ride on the railroad today by watching this video from a British tourist. Some highlights include seeing how and who updated the railroad. It is now called the Madaraka Express. What does it look like now? How are passengers able to have a 4G cellular signal in remote areas?
Activity 2: When you hear of festivals and carnivals, you might think of Mardi Gra in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are several carnivals and festivals in Kenya, too. Listen and watch this video to learn about some of them.
The Mombasa Carnival is the biggest and most engaging festival in Kenya and is organized by the Ministry of Tourism. This is an annual event that celebrates the traditions and ethnicity of tribes in Kenya. The event, which usually takes place in November, revolves around two parades which converge on Moi Avenue with Mombasa’s multicultural communities represented by floats, costumes, music, and dance. (source) A bust of color and diversity, the carnival represents both the African and Arabian cultures in a unique way.
The major vegetables produced in Kenya are Irish potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, snow peas, kales, spinach, runner beans, French beans, carrots, broccoli, indigenous vegetables, and Asian vegetables. (source) Let’s explore some Kenya-inspired cooking and farming with today’s activities.
Activity 1: The cuisines of India and Kenya share several similarities, and the two countries have more in common through food than one might imagine. The similarities are rooted in the Indian influence on the African subcontinent while under the British rule. As Indians were made to travel to Kenya, they took with them their knowledge of Indian cuisine, and traders from Gujarat were followed by laborers from Punjab. This fusion of flavor is the theme in our meal today, this beef curry recipe.
Activity 2: Greenhouse farming in Kenya is particularly advantageous. What are the benefits of greenhouse farming?
- Maximizes space, protects crops from harmful UV rays, and reduces water wastage. Drip irrigation reduces weeds.
- Best quality vegetables and fruits are bred to have better flavor and longer shelf life after harvesting.
- Produces high quality food and low chemical residue. (source)
Let’s build your own mini greenhouse with this tutorial.
***Post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, we may receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thank you for supporting our small business!***