Bukusu fieldsite in Kenya

Primary Site Researcher

Tanya Broesch

Tanya Broesch is a PhD candidate at Emory University in the Department of Psychology. She completed her dissertation in May 2009 after conducting research on 'social learning' in various islands of the South Pacific. Her research is focused on the broad topic of how culture shapes cognition - with an emphasis on the first few years of life. For the past six years, she has carried out extensive cross cultural experimental studies in collaboration with Dr Philippe Rochat and Joseph Henrich.

tanya.macgillivray@gmail.com | Website


Bungoma is located in Western Kenya on the border of Uganda. It lies at the northern tip of western province of Kenya and borders Mount Elgon district to the northwest, Trans Nzoia district to the north, Kakamega and Mumias District to the east, Busia District to the west and Teso District to the south west. Bungoma lies between latitude 0° 25.3' and 0° 53.2' north and longitude 34° 21.4' and 35° 04' east. It covers an area of 2,068.5km2, which is about 25 per cent of the total area of western province.



Currently the population of the greater Bungoma district is approximately 1.3 million people. Bungoma district, which was the second largest district in Kenya, has been recently sub-divided into four administrative districts: Bungoma South, North, West and East. However, the four administrative units above are not autonomous and are still dependent on Bungoma south district which has Bungoma town as its headquarters. Each village in Bungoma district is made up of 2,000-3,000 people and is led by a village headman or head woman.

Child in Bungoma


Three languages are spoken in Bungoma, primarily English, Kiswahili and the local language which is Luhya. Of the Luhya language, there are also several other dialects which the Luhya people speak. For example, in the regions bordering other districts, languages of other ethnic groups are spoken, including other Luhya dialects, Teso and Kalenjin.

Group identity/ethnicity

The urban centers in Bungoma district consist of all the tribes in Kenya. However, the majority are still the local people who are Bukusu, which is a sub tribe of the dominant Luhya tribe of western Province of Kenya. Rural areas are mainly inhabited by the local people who speak Bukusu language.


About 80% of the people in Bungoma district are Christians (about 60% Catholic, 40% Protestant). About 10% follow traditional religious practices and approximately 10% are Muslim or Hindu.

Economic activities

Agriculture is the major economic activity in the district, with about 70% of the population depending directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihoods. Farmers plant food crops like maize, beans, sorghum, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, groundnuts several fruits and vegetables, and also cash crops like sugarcane, coffee and tobacco. Major industries found here include Sugarcane processing factory at Nzoia sugar Company (10km from Bungoma town) Pan African Paper Mills at Webuye (processing paper from timber) and several coffee pulping factories located in the district.

Other people are involved in off-farm businesses such as retail trading (own small shops, food kiosks, butcheries, small hotels). Others trade in food commodities (buying and selling at a profit), grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, and even used clothes.

Fifty-six percent of the population lives on less than one US dollar per day.

Person feeding chickens
Teaching students


The district has about 700 primary schools, 200 secondary schools, over 550 pre-primary schools and several tertiary institutions. Children typically go to school at age 3-4 years, spend two years in pre-primary school, eight years in primary school, and four years in secondary school. Currently, the number of boys and girls in pre-unit and primary school is almost the same. The female to male ratio of children attending secondary school becomes reduced significantly with girls leaving school for a number of economic and social factors.

Since 2003, the government has subsidised education - paying for tuition fees, however the parents are responsible for uniforms and other school fees. In 2008, the government has a plan to extend this to secondary school as well.


There is no affordable health care system in Kenya. Few Kenyans working in the private sector have insurance, therefore assisting with the costs of their medical bills. Currently, the government offers free treatment for malaria for children less than five years of age and for individuals having HIV/AIDS.

The larger district is served by six hospitals and several health centres. The hospitals include; Bungoma district hospital in Bungoma town, Webuye district hospital which, Kimilili sub-district hospital, Lugulu Mission hospital among others. The average distance to health centers is 5km. The most prevalent disease is Malaria. HIV/ AIDS prevalence in the district is now about 10% which is slightly higher than the national average. Other diseases affecting people in the district are waterborne and due to poor hygiene and sanitation, such as typhoid, diarrhea and intestinal worms.

The number of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in the district is about 88,000 (about 60% of these orphaned by HIV/AIDS). There are several organisations, including CREADIS, which are supporting OVC in the district.

Woman holding a child

Photos courtesy of Angus Ross and Megan Foster.

Explore this fieldsite with Google Earth

Google Earth allows you to explore sites anywhere in the world using satellite images of those sites. Navigate the fieldsite and explore it in detail using the files below:

Google Earth files for Bungoma (KMZ, 652B)


Broesch, T., Rochat, P., Callaghan, T., Henrich, J., and Murphy, C. (under revision). Cultural variations in mirror self-recognition. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Rochat, P., Dias, M., Guo, L., Broesch, T., Passos-Ferreira, C., and Winning, A. (in press). Fairness in distributive justice by 3 and 5-year-olds across seven cultures. Journal of Cross-Cultural psychology.

Callaghan, T. C., Rochat, P., MacGillivray, T. and MacLellan, C. (2004). Modeling referential actions in 6 to 18-month-old infants: A precursor to symbolic understanding. Child Development, 75, 1733-1744.

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Rochat, P., Dias, M., Liping, G., Broesch, T., Passos-Ferreira, C., Winning, A., and Berg, B. (2009). Fairness in distributive justice by 3 and 5-year-olds across seven cultures (PDF, 592KB). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 40.

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