In the village of Malava, I live very close to the marketplace where there are many shops, small buildings, and even some homes made out of cement and bricks, but if I walk only a few minutes in any direction I can see mud huts all around. A group of mud huts together make up the traditional Kenyan Homestead. In Swahili, the homestead is called the bomas.
In the village of Malava mud huts are all around!
The traditional Kenyan homestead is typically is made up of many mud huts built close together and occupied by many generations of the same family all living together. It is very common for a man and a woman to live on the same land as their children and grandchildren all at the same time.
Some Kenyans practice the tradition of polygamy. In those families, each wife is given her own hut, but it is the hut of the man’s first wife that is always the largest of them. When the children grow old enough to be considered men and women they are each given their own hut as well. Then when the men get married they will bring their wife to live at the homestead, while the women will move away to live at the homestead of their husband.
The average mud hut is not very large and only contains two or three small rooms and so separate huts are built for the kitchen and the latrine. In addition to these huts other mud structures are also built for keeping animals and storing grain.
Each tribe of Kenya uses a different style of building and huts across the country can have a lot of variation. The huts from the Luyha (LOO-YUH) tribe around Malava are made in several stages. First the land is cleared and a foundation of mud is formed. This foundation also serves as the inside floor of the hut. Then walls are built up around the floor out of tree limbs and sticks. Afterwards the limbs and sticks are covered with several layers of mud and left to dry in the sun. Square and rectangular holes are cut in the walls to serve as windows and are fitted with small wooded shutters. When the mud walls are finished a cone-shaped roof is constructed of wood limbs and finally covered on top with grass thatch.
The mud that is used to build the floor and the walls is made out of soil and water, but can also contain cow dung. When dried cow dung is said to be several times stronger than soil and water alone. Some modern huts can be covered with a layer of cement to make them strong and can even be fitted with glass window with metal frames.
On several occasions I have had the great pleasure to visit Tom, the groundskeeper at the St. Julie Centre, and his family at their traditional Kenyan homestead. Every time I have come he has given me a tour around the compound. He always begins the tour by proudly showing me his hut, where he lives with his only wife and their one-year-old daughter. Then as we continue to walk around he will show me the huts of his father, mother, brothers, and cousins. We are followed every step of the way by all the children of his family. They are all very curious and shy at first but soon they all begin running and laughing and will dance to the music on the radio. When we get to the far edge of the homestead Tom shows me a newly constructed hut that looks very much like a house. It is made of cement and bricks and has glass windows with metal frames. I always remark at how nice it looks. Then Tom will smile and turn to me and say, “This is where you will live when you marry my cousin.” That’s when I smile and turn to him and say, “I think it’s time for me to go.”