The people of Rabai are known as Rabai (Warabai in Swahili) and their language is also known as Rabai (kirabai in Swahili). They are one of the nine tribes known as Mijikenda. Other tribes include: Giriama, Digo, Duruma, Kambe, Chonyi, Jibana, Kauma and Ribe.
Additionally, Rabai, also called Rabai Mpya (New Rabai), is a historic location and Sub-County in Kilifi County, Kenya about 12 miles northwest of the city of Mombasa. It is the first place in Kenya where missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) established a Christian mission.
Culture of the Rabai People
Kaya Mudzi Muvya is a sacred forest of the Rabai. They have other Kayas like Kaya Bomu and Kaya Fimboni.
The traditional staple crops of the Rabai are sorghum and millet, but these two cultigens were largely replaced during the nineteenth century by maize. Additional food crops are beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, and yams. Coconuts and castor seeds were grown for oil, and coconuts, sesame, sorghum, millet, and maize were traded.
The most important crop of the Rabai is the coconut palm. The major products of the coconut palm are the oil that is extracted from the meat, the palm wine tapped from the shoots, and the fronds, which are woven into baskets, mats, and roofing shingles. In the other areas, each homestead also keeps a few goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks for domestic consumption.
Sociopolitical Organization of the Rabai
Traditional society was primarily a gerontocracy: old men had authority over young men, and both old and young men had authority over women. If members objected to their positions in the hierarchy, they could leave and find other sources of power or support.
Rabai women, for example, created their own sacred friction drum, which was used to extract fees from any outsiders who inadvertently saw it.
Similarly, spirit possession by women, who could become mediums for messages from the ancestors, has been used to extract material goods from men. These female mediums sometimes formed tactical alliances with kaya elders.
Because young men and, especially, young women were the least powerful people in the homesteads, it was they who bore the brunt of any shortage of food.
Also, the wealthier families could call in their debts in times of famine and rely on the support of those networks that their wealth had created.
The dependents of lesser patrons, without such support, often tried to place themselves in new networks by leaving the homesteads of their paternal kin in search of new patrons before their seniors sold them or pawned them for food.
Such migration was not always in response to famines; sometimes it was prompted by arguments between the generations.
Modern lifestyle of the Rabai
Education and exposure has brought civilization among the Rabai Community.
History of Rabai Land and Religion
Rabai is situated about 25km North-West of Mombasa, off the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway on Mazeras Kaloleni road, about half an hour drive from Mombasa.
Rabai is well known in the annals of history as the place where Christianity and modern learning in Kenya started well over 150 years ago. In 1998 the Kraft Memorial Museum was founded to give formal and a perpetual reminder of monumental events during the advent of early missionaries. Stories about the first missionaries were passed on by word of mouth and are still today.
Dr. Ludwig Krapf, a German missionary of the church society of England arrived in Rabai with a mission of spreading Christianity in the region. He was warmly welcomed by the Rabai Kaya Leader Jindwa and later given 92 acres of land by the Kaya elders. Together with Johan Rebmann in 1846 they build a church, later followed by a school and cottages. The church, St Paul Church is still in use today.