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 in a natural clearing with fashionably monochromatic colobus monkeys hooting at us from the treetops.

Our waiter was very pleased to surprise us in the forest with hot tea & delicious biscuits.Our waiter was very pleased to surprise us in the forest with hot tea & delicious biscuits.
A guided walk offers the most intimate portrait of a wild place.A guided walk offers the most intimate portrait of a wild place.
The Kikuyu name for ostrich is kere-nyaa.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 a distance 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.

Our guide captured our hearts with his tale of how the Kikuyu named Mt Kenya for the snowy plumes of an ostrich & so too named the birthplace of African safaris.Our guide captured our hearts with his tale of how the Kikuyu named Mt Kenya for the snowy plumes of an ostrich & so too named the birthplace of African safaris.

Now that you can pronounce Kenya with complete confidence - and know how this incredible destination was named - all you need to know is how to answer someone who invites you to visit this birthplace of the African safari in Kiswahili.

You say: ndiyo, tafadhali! (Yes, please!)