Everything is on the drum: how life works in the Kenyan Duruma tribe

The food should be natural, the house should be made of sand, the water should be from a well, the toilet should be in the yard. Fanta, sandwiches and other evils are from the West. And goodness comes from the ancestors. Such is the wisdom of this people


One of the nine tribes of the Mijikenda group, the Bantu-speaking peoples of Eastern Kenya. They mostly live in the Kwale District of the Coastal Province. The total number of & nbsp; – about half a million people. Around the 10th century, Kenyan durumas mixed with settlers from the Arabian Peninsula. Some converted to Islam. In the 15th century, under the influence of the Portuguese missionaries, Duruma began to convert to Christianity. But many are still faithful to the cult of their ancestors.

Everything is on the drum: how life is arranged in the Kenyan Duruma tribe

Bakari Munga

Chief of Duruma commune in Ukunda

Born in 1963.
Never studied anywhere.
He lives in a village in the forest. Earns by playing drums in coastal hotels and beaches. Fluent in English.
Married. Father of five children.

“Duruma —poor people. But healthy”

I live in a sand house, like all the people of my village. Any man will build such a hut with his own hands. You dig four pillars into the ground, intertwining rods between them. You cover everything with wet clods of sand. The sand contains clay, so it is quite sticky. When the walls are ready, you put on a roof of fresh palm leaves. The house will stand for five years. Then, of course, the rods will rot. The roof will live for two years, no more. Holes have already formed in mine: the leaves have dried up. We need to put new ones.

Everything's on the drum: how life works in the Kenyan Duruma tribe

We don't have electricity. Windows often too. If you don't cut through, the wall will collapse. Sunlight barely penetrates through the gaps under the roof. And at night, an oil lamp saves. We sleep on decks made of palm branches. Yes, duruma are poor people. But healthy.

Our houses are without toilets. I agree, it's inconvenient. But, on the other hand, the toilet in the home is a breeding ground for bacteria. So we take a shovel and go to the forest. When the job is done, you need to carefully bury everything under the bush. And then in the shower. We have a shower room – a separate house made of sand.

We take water from a well, which I inherited from my grandfather. And he received it as a gift for some merit from the government of Kenya itself. Fresh water is valuable. There are no rivers or lakes nearby. If there were no wells, we would have to buy bottled water. It is terrible to imagine this poison.

Durum is eaten and drunk only natural. When we need salt, we don't go to the supermarket. We put a large boulder on the ocean shore at high tide. The water will come down – we will scrape the salt from the stone. And that's it! No chemical treatment.

We grow bananas, papaya, cassava, guava, mango, tamarind. The main plant is maize. Ugli is cooked from it. This is our food for all occasions. Hearty, tasty, healthy porridge. She gives us energy. Therefore, there should always be a supply of cereals in the houses. Durum women peel maize grains from the husk every day from early morning in a wooden bowl, which we call veil. Then the grains are crushed in a kinu stone mortar. You don't wonder why wood and stone? Of course, because these are natural materials.

Duruma eat only what they have prepared themselves. Everyone cooks in their own kitchen. This is a mandatory extension to the house with a stove in the corner: we build a fire on the ground, put a shelf of strong rods above it.

Everything is on the drum: how life works in the Kenyan Duruma tribe

On holidays, for example, on a birthday, we bake a banana pie. Not like you Europeans. You won't get diabetes from our baked goods. We take the leaves of a banana palm, put the pulp of a banana in them, pour over with coconut wine, wrap and bake for 20 minutes. Dried in the sun – and you can eat.

Coconut wine & nbsp; – an elixir of durum. I will share the recipe. You need to climb a palm tree, cut off a green coconut, gouge a hole in it, wrap the coconut in palm leaves and put it in the sun. After five days, the milk will ferment, alcohol will be produced. We drink it on every occasion, whether it is the birth of a child, a wedding or a funeral. Yes, we drink every day. Coconut wine is a natural viagra. It also lifts the mood. You feel like a happy person.

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“When you beat the drums, you feel a surge of energy and happiness”

I am a leader and can provide first aid to the people of my commune. And for serious cases, there is a doctor. It becomes a young man or an adult man of the village, who discovered in himself the talent of healing. Medical school doesn't teach us what we know. Our doctor learned from his predecessor, and he learned from his. Ancient knowledge is passed down from generation to generation.

Everything is on the drum: how life works in the Kenyan Duruma tribe

The whole day the doctor sits in a hut of palm leaves. This is his workplace. Before entering to him, you need to say: “Ta-ireni.” So we ask him for blessings for treatment. The doctor is holding a donkey's tail in his hands. Before proceeding to heal the patient, he fans him with this tail to cleanse him of evil. Then he turns to the seashells that stand nearby – the good spirits of nature. They must transfer the healing power to the doctor. Well, then he chooses a suitable jug of medicine.

In medicinal jugs made of pumpkins, healing ashes from a particular ailment. It is obtained from various herbs and trees. For example, with problems with potency, the ashes of seven trees help. The doctor pours it into a boar tusk, adds water and gives the patient a drink. Then he makes two girdle incisions on the man and sprinkles the ashes directly into the blood. After 15 minutes, the problem is gone!

Or, let's say, a girl is unrequitedly in love. The doctor puts a handful of ashes from 14 trees in the patient's palm. The girl should turn in the direction where her beloved lives and, pronouncing his name, blow off the ashes. The guy will come for her himself!

Cheerful people get sick less often. I have already said that the universal remedy for blues is coconut wine. But there is something else. Drums! For a durum, this is more than a way to earn money. When you beat the drums, you feel a surge of energy and happiness. And if you also make a wish, it will certainly come true. We, fools, believe in it.

Kenya, Ukunda

Everything is on the drum: how life works in the Duruma tribe of Kenya

Area of ​​Kenya: 580,367 km2 (48th in the world)
Population: 51,526,000 people (28th)
Population density: 82 people/km2
Ukunda population: ~ 80,000 people

Points of interest: the beaches of Diani with white coral sand, the monkey sanctuary Colobus Conservation Trust, the Elephant National Park Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary.
Traditional dishes: ugali maize porridge, fried goat meat, banana pie.
Traditional drinks: coconut wine, coconut milk.
Souvenirs:drums and drums of various sizes, wooden animal figurines, purses and handbags made of coconut.

Distance from Moscow to Ukunda: ~6700 km (from 12 hours in flight excluding transfers)
Timecoincides with Moscow
Visaissued online
CurrencyKenyan shilling (100 KES ~ 0.7 USD)

Photo: Hemis/Legion-media, East News, Legion-media (x2), Ashikoye Okoko/National Museums of Kenya, Legion-media

Material published in Vokrug Sveta #2, February 2017, partially updated in August 2023

Katerina Mironova

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