Billed as “Kenya in miniature,” Bomas of Kenya is a tourist village and cultural center six miles outside of Nairobi. It features replicas of traditional homesteads, or bomas, from 23 of Kenya’s ethnic groups, as well as traditional dances performed in its large auditorium.
Bomas of Kenya was founded by the Kenya Tourist Development Cooperation in 1971. It was conceived and planned by Barack Obama Sr., although you won’t find any mention of him on the official website. Despite being the driving force behind the project, Obama Sr. was fired in controversial circumstances, his superiors unhappy at what they saw as his overuse of unilateral decision making.
Despite the acrimonious beginning, the center went on to become a successful celebration of more than 40 ethnic groups in Kenya. The name of the tourist village comes from the Swahili word boma, meaning homestead, referring to the 23 replica villages found on the site, each displaying the unique characteristics of their respective ethnic group.
At first glance, these round huts all appear much the same. But on further inspection, important and distinct social structures emerge. The organization of the various homesteads reveals telling details about the particular ethnic group.
For example, the planning of homesteads in polygamous groups reflects this distinct hierarchy (first wife’s hut, second wife’s hut etc.). In other homesteads, the size and distribution of granaries reveals the responsibilities and importance of particular family members. Different construction methods, and forms of partitioning and decorations within homes, also vary between groups, highlighting important cultural differences.
Along with the homesteads, one other key structure at Bomas of Kenya is the 3,000-capacity auditorium, one of the largest of its kind in Africa. Build in the shape of an African hut, the auditorium hosts daily song and dance performances from many of Kenya’s ethnic groups. These represent a diverse tribal cultural spectrum, and include everything from Kalenjin warrior dances to Swahili taarab music and Kikuyu circumcision ceremonies (minus the actual circumcision).
Completing the cultural showcase is the Utamaduni Restaurant, where traditional Kenyan gastronomy is celebrated with dishes from various parts of the country.