Traditional Games in Kenya & More on Sports in the Country

Traditional Kenya sports: Bullfighting is one of the most popular traditional sports in Kenya

This post is about sports and traditional games in Kenya.

Table of Contents

Kenya National Sport / National Sport of Kenya

Kenya does not have a specific national sport, though as mentioned above, football is the most popular sport in the country.

4 Traditional Kenya Sports

Some of the traditional games and sports in Kenya since antiquity have included wrestling, racing exercises, stick fights, hunting (using spears and arrows), board games, bull fights and dances.

Read on to find out more about traditional games and sports in Kenya.

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Traditional Games and Sports in Kenya #1. Bullfighting in Kenya

Bullfighting is prevalent among the Luhya community of western Kenya.

The sport was originally practiced to mark key events in the community, such as funerals.

However, the sport has evolved to become more competitive, and is a source of income on occasion.

The lovers of this sport have vowed to ensure that this treasured traditional sport lives on.

Kenyan bull owners have formed an association, and this has led to the establishment of a stadium in Ikolomani constituency for bullfighting called Malinya Stadium.

Bullfighting events are usually held on Saturdays and public holidays.

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The bulls that participate in the fights are usually prepared by keeping them in zero-grazing situations and isolating them from other cattle so that they can become wild.

They are also given a balanced diet.

On the eve of a bullfighting event in western Kenya, the competing bulls are usually given a local brew known as busaa so that they become aggressive during the bullfight.

bullfighting is not the national sport of Kenya

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Traditional Games in Kenya #2: Board Games (Bao)

Bao is an ancient mancala board game played by the Swahili community in Kenya and Tanzania.

Bao is the Swahili word for board or board game.

A person who masters bao well is referred to as bingwa (master) or fundi (technician).

Bao is still popular today at the Kenyan coast, especially in Lamu, where bao tournaments are held regularly.

These bao tournaments may not be popular enough to get listed on platforms such as Betway, but they attract considerable attention.

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Bao usually attracts scholars because of the strategic and complex thinking required to win the game.

Scholars of disciplines such as psychology, complexity theory, and game theory are fascinated by bao.

Kenyan communities, other than the Swahili, also have their own versions of bao, including the Turkana, Luhya, Luo, and Samburu.

traditional games in Kenya: Men playing Bao in Lamu

Traditional Games Kenya #3. Wrestling (Enyameni, Ndikano)

A number of communities in Kenya practice traditional wrestling, including the Abagusii where it is known as enyameni and the Ameru where it is called ndikano.

Generally, these games feature two strong (preferably married) men, aged between 25 and 45 years.

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These men battle it out in an open field with a charged crowd cheering them on.

Winning the game requires a combination of both strength and strategy. He who fells his opponent is declared the winner.

These traditional forms of wrestling risk losing their significance as people shift their interest towards foreign forms of wrestling.

Traditional Kenyan Games #4. Stick Fights

You will find some sort of stick fighting among several different communities in Kenya, especially herding ones.

Stick fighting Pokot Kenya
Two Pokot boys stick fighting

The sport is also very popular in Lamu on the Kenyan coast.

If you visit Lamu, you will often find crowds enjoying a stick fight at the waterfront.

This form of stick fighting is believed to have originated from Oman, which has historical ties with Lamu that stretch back more than a century.

Final Thoughts on Traditional Sports in Kenya

Despite the influence of western culture and modern sports, Kenyan communities seem to be fighting hard to safeguard their heritage, including indigenous sports.

Even though these sports are not popular on platforms such as Betway, they remain an important cultural treasure.

If you travel to remote villages in Kenya, you will still find locals taking part in these beloved traditional sports.

Samburu Warrior Jumping

Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Kenya, although Kenya’s national soccer team, the Harambee Stars, has had little international success.

The three most popular sports in South Africa are football, rugby, and cricket.

Basketball, volleyball, and netball are also popular sports in Kenya.

Kenya is making a name for itself in rugby union. Rugby is popular in Kenya especially with the annual Safari Sevens tournament.

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The Kenya sevens team ranked 12th in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for the 2020 season.

Cricket is another popular sport in Kenya. In fact, it’s the most successful team sport in Kenya.

Kenya has competed in the Cricket World Cup since 1996. Since then, they have played in five Cricket World Cups from 1996 to 2011, with their best result being a semi-final appearance at the 2003 Cricket World Cup in Southern Africa.

The Kenya cricket team also won the inaugural World Cricket League Division 1 hosted in Nairobi and participated in the World T20.

The Baseball Federation of Kenya (BFK) and Kenya Little League (KLL) have been promoting baseball in Kenya since 1992 and 2010 respectively.

The sport was flourishing in the ’90s before slowing down in the 2000s.

When it comes to baseball, Kenya has previously participated in the All Africa Games–and is currently ranked 5th on the continent–the Kenko games in Zambia, and The World Children’s Baseball Fair in Japan (4 times).

Kenya hosted the World Cup Baseball U18 Africa Qualifiers at the Meru University of Science and Technology (MUST) in December 2014.

Baseball is popular in Nairobi, Meru, Migori and Makueni.

It is played in both primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities led by MUST.

Swimming and softball are also popular sports in Kenya.

Photo Credits: Washington Examiner, The Elephant, Eric Lafforgue, FurnitureAndDecorNY, Discover Walks Blog

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