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The Kikuyu Tribe in the Diaspora

The Kikuyu are the predominant tribe in Kenya, making up more than a tenth of the whole population in a country with 42 tribes. Because of political tensions that have been aroused between separate tribes in each election, Kenyans have traditionally tended to identify themselves not as a nation per se but along tribal lines. The Kikuyu, being the dominant tribe in many aspects, is generally viewed with suspicion and distrust in many quarters. The reality of the fact that it has produced, through botched elections it might be added, three of Kenya’s presidents have not endeared it to the other 41 tribes. In an effort to heal wounds, Kenyans in the recent past have sought to concentrate on issues that bring the experience of being a Kenyan and not a tribe, to the forefront.

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Events such as International sports events, where Kenyans often perform well are discussed with great fanfare to make an emphasis on how much working harmoniously can accomplish. The issuance of identity cards also focuses on the essential Kenyan-ness of the individual and not on tribe. The Bantus, of whom the Kikuyu are a branch, are said to have drifted from West Africa to their present site about four centuries ago. They settled on the lush and productive central highlands, which they nurture to this day to produce their food. In their travelling and place of settlement, they chose to intermarry with the local, neighboring tribes on some occasions. This accounts for the reason why they exhibit a broad range of body builds, skin tone, tallness, and facial appearance.

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The missionaries, on arrival, wished to settle in the luscious highlands and so evicted the present tenants. This caused no small disturbance among the Kikuyu, who, having suffered this great cultural adjustment had to learn how to adapt to the foreigners’ ways in order to thrive in their world. They chose to embrace the missionaries’ faith and schooling and thus developed greater right of entry to the novel money economy and a better adaptability that they would later turn against their colonial masters (Fong and Chuang 286). The fact that the Kikuyu were traditionally monotheistic and worshipped one god, Ngai, has also been proposed as a reason as to why they had so few misgivings in embracing the Christian doctrine that worshipped a single Deity.

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Adapting to Immigration

In the past, during years of drought, the Kikuyu had to preserve their place in the fertile highlands and defend it even in times of drought and famine when other tribes became openly aggressive and anxiety is increased. This character and resilience has served them well in their lives in the U.S., a country where not only are they less than a minority but also where the hurdles one needs to overcome are more manifold than in their country. Having been colonized by the British, many Kenyans have already adopted learned the English language in school and thus benefit from a linguistic advantage over other migrants. In many cases within a short period after migrating, most Kikuyu will have acquired a job or multiple jobs.

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The unequal power distribution has affected different individuals in different ways in the Kikuyu Diaspora. First, a thinning of chances could have wrought positive change in the life of the individual exposed to it (Gudykunst 183). The overall area that he works in will also be damaged economically through loss of output and misallocation of capital. Individuals who are repeatedly exposed to this kind of discrimination, however subtle, develop apathy towards life and go about their tasks half-heartedly.

Conflicts between the Dominant Culture and the Immigrants

Most of the Kikuyu who can afford to travel to the States tend to be individuals who have already gotten a good education, and thus have been exposed to some extent, to American culture. They tend to assimilate with ease excepting minor situations that they have not considered before. For example, they exhibit habits or behaviors in pockets of personal settings in collectivistic surroundings such as airports or commercial centers in their host countries (Neuliep 286). There are many tales of how migrants have been rebuffed and not always good naturedly, when they attempt to share foodstuffs with strangers or send other people’s children on errands or to bring them something. They find that the norms of different cultures greatly differ and that to fit snuggly into a foreign culture, they have to adjust and behave as their host country’s nationals do, even if they feel fake in doing it.

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Alternately, the Kikuyu in America also report instances of embarrassment when exposed to behavior that they are not accustomed to in environments where their American hosts presume that they have sufficiently assimilated into the society and so treat them, as any American would. It just goes to show that though the Kenyans wish to and believe themselves to be fully americanised, they still are Kenyan citizens. This mostly happens in situations of collectivistic activities in individualistic settings such as family jamborees and in religious congregations (Mokros 326). A common American behavior is hugging, an action that has not caught up yet with many Kikuyu! It is especially if the person initiating the hugging is a character who would be accorded the utmost respect in traditional African society, like an old relative or a distinguished personality. It goes to explain why most Africans are so rigid when they hug even though they insist on doing it!

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The practice of poking fun at one’s self in order to make others comfortable with them is also a foreign habit that rattles Kikuyu in America who are not comfortable at all with being put or seen in any kind of vulnerable position in public.


Kikuyu migrants to the United States usually have prior arrangements made with friends already residing in the US or relatives. They so travel with the assurance that they will be welcomed and taken care of at their arrival. Many Kenyans who have travelled to the United States tend to favor settling in an area where there are predominantly Kenyans of their own or other tribes or even other Africans. Having been warned by overzealous relatives prior to their leaving home about racism and the things one can be subjected to, they tend to believe that security lies in being around one’s own race.

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Thus, the stereotypes that will experience are likely to be those held as true in Kenya about what different tribes are like or those that members of other African countries believe about Kenyans as a whole. These tend to be about the craftiness and miserly attitude of the Kikuyu as far as money is concerned and the dubious nature of their marital attachments. On a larger scale, there are individuals that have been exposed to subtle racism from members of the dominant culture. There are reports of having to accept lowly paying jobs as their academic certificates are not believed to be authentic or the Universities they supposedly attended in Africa viewed as competitive and up to standard. The Kikuyu, however, tend to ignore these jibes and accept whatever work is available as economic causes form the basis of the reasons why most of them migrate in the first place. Some Kikuyu also report that, in a strange turn of events, they tend to be more accepted in White America than authentic Black Americans. They claim that they have no defensive attitudes in their mannerisms that spring out when confronted with unexpected interrogations that would otherwise be judged offensive. They simply offer to correct their hearers and then leave matters to rest.

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