Delegation of the European Union to Kenya

Kenya-EU cultural relations

06/12/2017 - 10:21
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Cultural ties between Kenya and Europe still reflect the limited amount of contact between eastern Africa and Europe until the last century, but contemporary cultural links are flourishing

Colonial links between Mombasa and Portugal date back to Vasco Da Gama in 1498, and women on the coast first produced Kangas (decorative textiles) by sewing together handkerchiefs that had been imported from Portiugal. Christian missionaries from Europe in the 19th century had a huge impact on religious beliefs in Kenya, and the designs of Masai traditional Shuka textiles seem to have been inspired in the mid-19th century by imported Scottish tartan.

However, it was only from around 1920 (when Kenya was formally established as a British colony) that substantial numbers of British and other European people came to settle. From 1909 the Finnish artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela and his family lived on the outskirts of Nairobi, painting, travelling, and collecting both natural and ethnographic artefacts. In 1937 the Danish writer Karen Blixen published her first major book "Out of Africa" about her experience of life in Kenya from 1913 to 1931. Other European authors (notably Beryl Markham and Elspeth Huxley) also wrote about settlers' lives in Kenya.

During the colonial period a few Kenyans, including the country's future President Jomo Kenyatta, were able to study and live in Europe. Kenyatta's study of Kikuyu culture "Facing Mount Kenya" (1938) challenged stereotypes of Africa that were prevalent in Europe at the time. However, there was generally little interest from Europeans or Kenyans in each other's cultures during that time.

In more recent years, contemporary and traditional forms of culture in Kenya have attracted growing interest. Contemporary native and non-native Kenyan authors have written about cultural interaction and diversity: examples are Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Koigi wa Wamwere. Music, theatre, art and cinema are all encouraged by Kenyan cultural initiatives. Bomas of Kenya displays exhibitions of traditional folk buildings from different parts of the country as well as regular performances of traditional dance.

Contemporary Kenyan and European cultural events are promoted in Nairobi by the cultural institutes of four European countries: the Alliance Française, the Goethe Institute, the Italian Institute of Culture, and the British Council. The European diplomatic missions organise several film festivals every year, including the European Film Festival which is held in Nairobi in May every year. And, as part of our efforts to strengthen European cultural relations with Kenya, the EU Delegation's website now also lists a monthly compilation of Cultural events in Nairobi.

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