Kenyans are deeply religious. It’s in the fabric of their upbringing and socialization. Respect of the spiritual world is held close to the heart. Despite the influx of alternative lifestyles that question the need of religion, it still remains an integral pillar in Kenyan Society. Therefore religion is pivotal as Kenya’s tastemaker.
The beautiful paradox is that Kenyans jokingly referred to themselves as the drinking nation. A reference to the Kenyan love for binge drinking at the flimsiest of reasons. To reinforce deep seated religious views, binge drinking episodes are usually followed up by diligent church attendance. To pray for their weak hearts that lead them astray.
Religion as Kenya’s tastemaker in fashion;
Church is a colourful affair in Kenya. Special church worthy outfits are fished out of closets and pressed meticulously. The term for church worthy clothes is ‘Sunday Best”. A concept propagated from our upbringing. The typical Kenyan mum instils( knowingly or not) the concept of Sunday best. These are clothes reserved for church and attending functions or weddings where the parents need to make an impression. As if that was not enough, Kenyan mums to slather copious amounts of vaseline on the children to accompany the shiny outfits. God forbid the child doesn’t stand out from a mile.
Young Kenyan ladies, on the other hand, get a chance to flaunt the handywork of their tailors. The designs they painstakingly selected and commissioned. The ankara outfits that only call for special occasions and church. The pride of any self respecting Kenyan woman is a killer ankara outfit they can feel great in. Bonus marks if the outfit gets a nod from the parents or older generation. Therein may lie your future in-law. For the ladies in committed relationships, engaged, or married, it is common to see them and their significant other in matching or coordinated outfits.
The older women adorn themselves in a silent competition of who still got her groove on. With designs heavily borrowed from our Nigerian sisters, Kenyan women make a point of budgeting for an elaborate outfit every now and then to keep their wardrobes fresh. Droves of kids and responsibilities are no contest to the battle for beauty. It is not uncommon to see a Kenyan woman immaculately dressed and strutting in heels with a child on the hip, another holding her hand and a stunning handbag dangling from her arm.
Church comes in many shapes and sizes in Kenya. There are the mainstream churches where the attendees are free to explore with their fashion choices. There are also the hip churches in the city where a western laid back dress code is followed. Then there are the sects and churches that follow a uniformed or prescribed dress code. The most popular ones include the Salvation army, The akorinos and many others.
Kenya has amazing freedom of religion and there is also a sizable population of Muslims in the country. They have a distinct identity because of their religiously prescribed dress code. Their food and lifestyle habits are influenced as well, since they borrow heavily from the Arab way of life. Their music tastes gravitate towards the Arabian style that complements their lifestyle and religion. Many muslim women are known to be stunning with their outfit, hair and makeup always on point. The picture below is of a popular media personality, Amina Mohamed, looking very stylish during the Ramadhan season.
Religion as Kenya’s tastemaker in Lifestyle and Social Conversations;
Religious groups not only influence fashion choices, but also influence food and entertainment consumption habits. The most notable consumer trend among the churchgoers are those of the Seventh Day Adventist members. The church advocates for a healthy lifestyle and you are likely to find a lot of Soya and other natural organic products in their homes. They also have a distinct choir music style that they love to listen to.
In terms of conversations, both online and offline, Kenyans are quick to update their status on a religious activity, event, ritual or milestone. We see many social media posts of baptisms, church selfies, Ramadhan quotes during the fasting period, Diwali posts from hindus and many more. They appear like clockwork as an indication of the heartfelt importance of religion in the lives of Kenyans. Whether or not one truly practises the religion is inconsequential. Posting about it accords one certain social acceptance.
A new breed of religion inspired conversations is also taking shape. Anti religion proponents, agnostics and atheists have began shaping some religious based narratives. Such conversations rose into prominence with the influx of church scandals and dodgy pastors. They talk of religion but within the context of rebuking blind following or entirely refuting the concept of a supreme being. The popular target of criticism is Christianity, with little or no mention of the other religions. This has brought controversy, expectedly, with open contempt towards their alternate point of views.
It’s a beautiful mixture of colour and diversity in Kenya where hints to a person’s beliefs are visible in their choice of attire, food and conversation. Tastes can be acquired in the course of life but are more often that not, socialised as the definition of normal. What’s your definition of normal in your corner of the globe?
Catch more of this Kenyan tastemakers series here as I discuss the things and people that shape the lives and habits of Kenyans.