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Is it Kenya or Kenya?

On a recent trip to Kenya, I was privileged to spend a morning exploring the lush forests of Mount Kenya. It was a guided walk in the care of an armed ranger – there is plenty of game in the forest, including buffalo - and a superb guide from my hosts at Serena Mountain Lodge.

In this guide’s care, we explored the intimate life of this thriving woodland, from medicinal plants to tropical insects. We came across a burrow with unlikely roommates - the daytime apartment of a hyena and nighttime abode of a warthog - and were surprised with tea and biscuits served in a natural clearing with fashionably monochromatic colobus monkeys hooting at us from the treetops.

Is it Kenya or Kenya? Enjoying our picnic lunch in the forest.
Our guide unpacking not only our picnic lunch, but the knowledge of his country too.
Is it Kenya or Kenya? Wandering through the forest on our guided walk
A guided walk offers the most intimate portrait of a wild place.
Is it Kenya or Kenya? An ostrich wanders the savannah
The Kikuyu name for ostrich is kere-nyaa.

Over tea, our guide regaled us with the tale of how Kenya came to be called Kenya. The story goes like this… A German explorer asked the Kikuyu people, who live far from Mount Kenya, what they called the snow-capped mountain in the distance. The people replied: kere-nyaa, which means white-and-black, and is, coincidentally, the Kikuyu name for Africa’s largest bird, the ostrich. Henceforth, this intrepid German explorer and the many who came after him in the Colonial land grab, referred to the territory that eventually became modern Kenya as kee-nyaa, spelt Kenya and pronounced Keen-ya.

After independence, the many nations united under one country called Kenya adopted Kiswahili and English as their national languages. Unlike Kikuyu, in Kiswahili there is no special emphasis on the ‘e’ or ‘y’, making the correct pronunciation of ‘Kenya’ today: Ken-ya. 

Is it Kenya or Kenya? Our guide demonstrating how to say the name
Our guide captures our hearts and minds with a fascinating tale of the origins of how Kenya came to be known Kenya.

Now that you know how to pronounce Kenya, I thought you’d like to know how to answer someone who invites to visit this legendary safari destination in Kiswahili: ndiyo, tafadhali! Yes, please!

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