Monday, February 28, 2011

A visit to Nairobi National Museum: Home to Kenyan and Human History

We clustered in group of five for our special group besides Education building and library of The University of Nairobi, UoN. This was on 8th February 2011 during the Maseno University fourth year media students Nairobi tour for five days.

Previously we had had a talk on media by KTN reporter Zipporah Karani and Standard reporter turned freelancer Sam Rambaya. The talk was facilitated by the Journalism Department of the host university.

We mingle freely before I with a group of about 20 colleagues opt to visit the Nairobi National Museum in Museum hill road at Westland’s round about – A 10 minute walk from UoN.

“Let’s walk around to the Museum before heading to Nation Media Group at 2” it was mid morning as Ndinda Kilonzo advised and went to get gate pass money from George Ojuondo, a lecturer.

We move away chatting animatedly like weaver birds plundering a corn field. It was my first visit to the Nairobi National Museum.

We passed the UoN gate opposite Fairmont the Norfolk Hotel, down past Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, KBC, further down adjacent to K24 TV station before arriving at the Westlands’ round about.

The road was under construction for a flyover and underpass. The museum’s gate had been brought down by bulldozers to make way for the road construction. As we arrived at the Museum the empty yawning entrance felt like an old aunt inviting us for a warm hug at her warm bosom.

A buzz of murmur of “are we there yet?” passed through the group. We took a bench as a Julie Digo, a classmate took a seat next to me and talk excitedly about the famous snake park. Ndinda went about to hustle tickets for us.

An ice cream vendor rolled his cart around and a swarm of primary school children thronged him for cones like flies to a morning excreta. Another bunch of a noisy mob of pupils were using the toilet with their teachers looking at them hawk eyed.

I wiped my note book and scribbled.

To our left stands a life size stone carving of a dinosaur frozen, startled its eyes scanning the world carelessly. In front is another carving of a woman with breasts the size of a hand ball about to hug a boy. Behind us on the bench is a statue of a stonemason carving another man.
I move about after scribbling taking photos with my mobile phon. My other colleagues also pose for photos as others buy ice cream.

The Nairobi National Museum stared in 1929 when the British colonial government allocated land where it stands. A year later in 22nd September it was officially opened and named Coryndon Museum in honor of Sir Robert Coryndon, a onetime governor who was a great supporter .

After Kenyan independence it was renamed to the current name and managed by National Museums of Kenya, a parastatal. The museum has grown with branches in Kisumu, Lamu, Kwale and Fort Jesus in Mombasa amongst others.

The Famous Snake Park, Fish Aquarium
Finally Ndinda comes with the tickets and we start with the famous snake park harboring the reptile section.  A guard stamps our tickets and we move to a concrete enclose with a thorn bush in the middle. The encloser if full of snakes, lizards and a lonely tortoise oblivious of its surrounding.

We appoint as a long slender egg eating snake tries to climb a wall before falling back. It scares us and we laugh happily.

Safely locked in their cages, with a glass for viewing the snakes look docile and almost inertia in the noon heat, giving visitors a pitiful glance. Slicked next to cages is info about the reptiles.

Two African rock python intertwine tightly together mating, while a third is a third is barely visible in a cave like a discarded rope in an empty homestead.

In the next cage a giant savannah monitor lizard flicks its forked tongue lazily, looking for insects. It spins its neck giving us a curious stare and moves furthest from us.

We see a Gabon viper which is famed to have the longest fangs at 4cm, red, forest and brown spitting cobra and a puff udder amongst others.

“Why can’t I see the crocodile” someone asks as we reach the Nile crocodile cage.  We scan the cage with a pond in the middle before we make out the 2 meters croc carefully camouflaged under a young coconut bough.

Its grey rough skin looks offending. Its grey calculating eyes look at the world: their wildness tamed in the safety of the cage.

We troop to the aquarium floating about leisurely accustomed to their limited space were different species of fish. These four dimly lit rooms give visitors to see tilapia, Nile perch, mud fish, and coral el amongst other species around Africa.

“Come on Manuel take a photo of me and this yummy mud fish” Izzo inquires before we swap places. The mud with its ‘whiskers’ lies inertia in the muddy water.

Afterwards we move to the main building divided into nature, culture and history sections. The reception is expense with beautiful; art pieces dotting the walls.

A startled receptionist jumps as we walk in.
“No entry until you pay” She says sternly in a quick sheng. She gets the tickets and proceeds to count us physically.

“Msipigie wageni wengine kelele (Don’t make noise for other visitors)” She announces satisfied and goes back to seeping with a straw from a bottle hidden by a black polythene bag. Tour less since entered the museum, someone grunts about the services.

We throng on, Enock Moturi; a friend pulls me aside to the bookshop of African collection hinting the subsidized prices on books.

The jovial old man attendant smiles warmly, a catharsis from the cold receptionist. The bookshop is lined with an array of souvenirs with an African touch; birds, cards, greeting cards, notebook and sandals amongst other gifts.

Veteran journalist Hillary Ngweno’s DVDs are beautifully displayed among other African authors and films. I ask the price of a beautiful African shirt which costs ksh. 1,200. (Talk of subsidy!)
After few rounds I settle for Prof. Wangari Maathai’s The Challenge for Africa which is subsidized at Ksh. 800. Enock buys Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and Kwani?6  a literary book.

“So you come from Maseno University? I have my home next to the Siriba campus” The jovial old man chat with us as he wrap our souvenirs. After inquiry he promises to look for a curator to talk to us.

We thanked him and move to the culture pillar a one storey exhibition area with a massive guard display surrounded on the wall with beautiful painting of Kenyan culture and dotted with tribal artifacts. We idle about like lost children while a white family is taken through by a tour guide.

We hear muffled laughter which takes us to the nature section. We find some friends admiring a stuffed gorilla about to charge with a threatening snare.

In the middle of the exhibition area is life size stuffed elephant, eland, giraffe, zebra kicking in the air and a mammoth skeleton of a mammoth.

A stuffed Columbus monkey poses quizzical as if thinking of a prank next to the gorilla, baboon and baboon. Other stuffed animals are hedgehog, porcupine, warthog, and skunk amongst others.
Beautiful birds with their beautiful plumage perch delicately in an adjoining room. Their plumages are displayed beautiful

History of Kenya, Mankind
I guess the beauty and gem of the Nairobi National is the history section and the human origin section of the Leakey Memorial Building having the fossils of early man. The hall was n honor of the famed archeologist Dr. Louis Leakey who was instrumental in building the museum.

In the history department we see the ceremonial seat which President Jomo Kenyattaa sat on during Independence Day. At the foot there is a souvenir Nation publication of independence.

We are taken back by the photos of Mau Mau struggles, and old photo of Nairobi city looking ancient. The last photo of field marshal Dedan Kimathi arrested by British colonialist haunts.

“They could not find his body” Someone says remembering the fake Dedan Kimanthi who was brought from Ethiopia.

Dedan Kimathi’s clothes before he was arrested and his pistol are preserved in a glass column. I stand there lost only to be brought to life by a sound of a train the adjacent room.

The sounds come from hidden speakers as the front of a train tries to pass a small rail. An artist Impression of a white engineer shouting at an Indian is real life. Graying photos of construction and hung about.

We finish our Museum tour by harrying to the human origin where the skulls of early men and a full skeleton bring to life our high school history lessons. They are carefully laid inside a glass. They have been constructed to look as if they were dug yesterday.

An artist impression of the old world in 3D shows an early man family. A mother checks a bird’s nest to the waiting arm of an expecting child. Two of them are skinning an animal using stone flint while one is starting fire by striking two stones.

I stand there transfixed, stock still with my mouth semi open.

They look so real life; their only mistake is being on the wrong time of history. I stand in the glass 3D before an SMS informs me we should regroup at the entrance.

I rush out to be in time for a tour of Nation Media Group in Kimanthi Street.

1 comment:

  1. The national museum is one of the most visited places in your one day nairobi city day tour. It is also included with the snake park where you will see most of the snakes found in Kenya including the drealy ones