Giriama of Kenya

George, a Giriama by birth, invited me to travel with him to visit his elderly father at the family farm deep inside the Giriama homeland. More than a year had slipped by since his last visit. Since a son coming to the rural area from the big city is expected to arrive heavily laden with gifts for all members of the family, each visit taps all available resources.

The Giriama are the largest people group on Kenya's coast, numbering 745,000. Although hemmed in by Islamic groups, only a few have become Muslims. They are 73% African traditional animist and 27% Christian. Their homeland extends 30 kilometers inland and reaches from Mombassa to Malindi.

George and I made the 1 1/2 hour journey into a very remote area. After leaving the main road, George said, "This is real Giriama country with no outsiders living here." It was farmland, but the drought had persisted for over three years and it looked pretty barren.

We had picked up George's half-brother who was attending secondary school on the main road. George needed his brother to guide us for he was not sure he could locate the family farm on his own. George's father left the farm at an early age and George grew up in an urban community. It was during this time that his father converted to Islam. After George left home, married and was on his own, the father returned to the family farm in the bush.

There were not many villages in the region for families are scattered through the area as single units; sometimes with four to ten houses providing for the extended family, including children, aunts and a brother's children. This is what I found upon arriving at George's home.

George's father was setting on a bench under a mango tree when we arrived. The family was pleased to receive us. Soon neighbors began stopping to greet George. They had seen the vehicle come to the family compound so they came quickly to see what was happening, just in case the old father had died. He had been sick the week before so one can understand their neighborly concern. 

The gifts were received with joy. The drought had taken its toll on the family's well-being. With no crops, they were selling off their goats for about KS 1,100 to make ends meet. George showed me a ram he had given his father on a previous visit. It had turned out to be a big blessing, supplementing the family's available maize.

George's mother had died after giving birth to six children. His father remarried and had an additional 5 children. His wife presented me with a chicken as a token of their appreciation for my visit. I asked if she could cook it for me. She agreed and preparations began immediately for a grand celebration feast.

While the ladies were preparing the meal, I asked George's younger brother to show me the clinic where his father had been treated the previous week. It was just over the hill behind the family farm. On the way up the hill, the brother showed me a tree church with several limbs placed on the ground for benches. It looked like they could seat about 30 people who meet on a weekly basis.

At the top of the hill, the brother pointed out the Roman Catholic church where he was baptized when he was in the eighth grade. Then he pointed out five other Protestant churches that were visible from the hill top. It was evident this vicinity is well evangelized. I asked if there was a region without churches. He explained that 10 kilometers further interior there were no churches, and no roads into the area. Many witch doctors practice there, putting curses on individuals. The society is deeply involved in the worship of evil spirits.

The clinic seemed to be well stocked with medications. The young man operating the clinic graduated from a two-year medical training program, but because he was unable to pay off his school fees, he has no official certification. However, the people seemed to trust him and he was serving them well.

The Giriama language is similar to the Chonyi language. The grammar is the same, but with different pronunciation of some words and each language has a few of its own words. However, they can communicate with each other. George told me of a Roman Catholic priest who studied Giriama for two years in Malindi. George mentioned with a great deal of admiration, "He spoke sweet Giriama." Language proved to be his inroad into the society. It is apparent that if church planters spent more time with language learning, they would have a more significant impact on the public.

After a four-hour visit, George and I returned to Mombassa. It had been a great visit, one of the best during my two weeks in Kenya.



Introduction / History
The Giriama (Agiryama) people are Bantus living along the coastal areas of Kenya. They have migrated from Singwaya in the north eastern sides of Kenyan coast bordering the Oromo.

Where are they located?
They largely live along the Kenya coast, mostly found in the Kilifi and Malind district. They are found also sparsely in Mombasa and Kwale Districts of the coast province.

What are their lives like?
The Giriamas were largely famers, hunters and gatheres. They currently farm, though in really small scale. The crops they plannt include perennials like coconuts and cashewnuts which act as main cashcrops. They also plant Maise, Millet and peas. The Giriamas are largely social, leaving in extended families though recently the trend seems to be dropped. They live in Makuti thatched houses mostly which are mud walled, but recently iron sheets and brick structures have started to be common. Some take advanted of the close proximity to the Indian ocoean by fishing though is small scale. those that do this practise it purely for subsistance.

What are their beliefs?
The Giriamas were originally traditionalist, believing in idols, called the Koma. They used to sacrifise at the Koma,nearly on weekely basis. Sacrifices included Alcohol (the tradiational Manazi) which is palm wine. They believe that the koma were actually the representatives of the living dead, they would therefor name the komas with names og all the elders that have gone befopre them. The koma was a curves piece of wood, and the eledest of them that have already gone before them was represented with a bigger peice of wood called the Kigango. When trouble befalls a family, they would sometime go to scarifice by the koma side, sometimes porridge and blood would be used. Th Giriama however are now largely migrating from these believes and majorly have become Christians, with some few becomeing muslims. There are afew however that stiil practise the tradition religion. They also believed in witchcraft.

What are their needs?
The Giriamas need largely education and Evangelism. The preaching previously of the gospel was not of accepting the Lord Jesus the Christ but was rather on going to church which resulted inmany going to church whilst still practising their religion and traditional beliefs.

Prayer Points
* Breaking the yoke of traditional religion
* Removal of the bonage of curses
* Move of the Holy Ghost to teach on acceptance of Christ

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