- Have you been to the Nairobi National Museum?
- Have you been to the Nairobi National Museum when you are grown?
Not on those school trips where all kids do is copy everything on the museum labels for the famous ‘Trip to Nairobi National’ compositions.
The ones where after the obligatory ” I got up at the crack of dawn” introductory paragraph (because what is a trip without waking up very early ), what follows is a download of all the copied labels.
“Our first stop was at the Nairobi National Museum. There we got to see the stripped weasel. The stripped weasel scientific name is Poecilogale albinucha. The stripped weasels look like skunks and….. We also saw the crested rat. The crested rat scientific name is Lophiomys imhausi when frightened the crested rat erects the……you get the drift.
When you do this for over 50 artifacts because the three paged composition needs filling, should that composition be titled ‘a trip to the National Museum’ or ‘the artifacts of the Nairobi National Museum’?
Sidenote…On an earlier visit, I strolled behind two schools that were on a visit there. As they slithered their way through the various sections, it was interesting to observe that though different the two schools were very similar. The most glaring though was in both schools; the girls were the ones doing most of the writing. Boys and particularly the bigger ones in their long shorts few inches shy of the knees were all macho strolling behind the larger groups and snickering at the female sculptures. You should have heard them, at the human evolution theory section….Now those compositions I would have loved to read. NB; I was not following the groups around I was strolling behind them. There is a difference.
The National Museum according to the Museum’s website was initiated in 1910 by currently the East African Natural History Society with the first paid curator employed in 1914.When Kenya became independent in 1963, the museum formerly called “Coryndon Museum” was renamed the “National Museums of Kenya.” The Museum was first housed at the Nyayo House before moving to the Nairobi Serena Hotel site and later to its current location at the museum hill. The museum which is open 365 days a year aims to interpret Kenya’s rich heritage by showcasing temporary and permanent exhibitions while within the grounds are also the Nairobi Snake Park, the Botanic Garden, and a nature trail. They also have a t commercial wing with restaurants and shops.
After signing in at either of their gates, two magnificent pillars welcome you to the house of Kenya’s heritage. By paying a citizen’s fee of Kes 300, you get a combined ticket that gives you access to the museum and the snake park. The botanic gardens are free.
While your eyes are try to adjust to how large the museum hall is, a view understated by its size on the outside, your body also registers it’s a bit cooler leaning to chilly inside the building in contrast to the glaring noonday sun currently filling our days.
Once in sync, the first thing you see which I also feel was strategically and appropriately placed is this large gourd outpouring small gourds. This humongous artifact gives me a subtle energy of Luke 6:45: “for of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Further inside you get to experience Kenya over the years. Different sections explain the various aspects of Kenya with specimens made so close to real life that it’s hard to tell the real things and the make believes. These range from wildlife housing some animals that I have never heard of-, human life evolution, Service industry development including a real railway, the different Kenyan cultures, countless species of birds, trade development to what we have at current and a legion of other things that CANNOT be exhausted in one single visit.
My all-time favourite section and also where I get to spend most of my time anytime on a visit to the museum is the Struggle for Kenyan Independence section. Spending time here reading through the letters, seeing some of the real clothes worn by the fighters, skimming through the guns and weapons used in that period gives me not only a feeling of patriotism for what our forefathers went through for us to get to call Kenya a free country but it also accentuates gratefulness in my heart that we had selfless people who were willing to die for something to be enjoyed by others. In addition, the section also houses a small screening hall where they have continuous films showing on the struggle for independence and the history of the lives of most of the freedom fighters.
Their being mostly in black and white and having grainy pictures further emphasizes the films authenticity and reality. These films show the mau-mau fighters, caregivers, chiefs and others involved in the struggle give their accounts of that period in mother tongue (translations are also transcribed).
It’s how they speak in that sluggish longish form. With sad eyes that never look directly at the camera. Pausing mid-sentence as if they have gone back to that period and are filtering what is coming through their mouths because some truth of what they had to do or what was done to them is better left in the past that gives me Goosebumps which can never be achieved by any book ever written on the topic.
“J.M. Kariuki ahurirwo rithathi haha kieroini. Akiuga areherwo chai wa wacuka noguo akunyua. Anyuire chai ucio birika ng’ima. (After a long pause) Ndeciririe niundu wa thakame iria aitete tondu hau akomete haiyuire thakame theri.”
“Ithui riria twaiguire rithathi yarira mwena uyu ya mbere, tweciririe ni nyamu irahitwo. No riria ya rathukirio ria keri tukiuma ihenya turorete na kuu mbu irauguo.”
These are examples of excerpts of the films running in my head picked from my last visit there. There is particular film one the first cabinet meeting with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta swinging his famous whisk while his cabinet members are sited in a round table that looks more of a primary school head teacher’s meeting with the former president, Moi, looking like the meeting’s rapporteur that makes you appreciate how far we have come.
I already got a strategy for my next visit there. Since I have promised three of my people who have never been to the Museum a trip there, I’ll leave them to enjoy the artifacts on their own while I sit in that hall and watch as many of those films as I can.
If you have been to the Museum, you understand it’s not possible to absorb all the information available in one visit. However, you still have to spare some time and visit the snake park. I cannot say much here because those slippery things even behind the glass give me the chills but in addition to the snakes, you also get to spot different types of fish, crocodiles and the turtle family.
True story: At the snake park, I always stand as far away from the glass compartment as I can. I know they are secure and all that but to feel safe and in the case of anything (he he), I prefer standing a bit further away. Also, I do not like their shiny skin how they slither when they crawl, how they shed their skin or even how the cobra looks when it has swallowed its prey waiting for digestion to take place. That should tell you I like nothing about snakes including snakeskin shoes or even snake jokes.
During a visit there, my pal prodded me to move closer to catch something he thought important to be missed out with my far away stand. Just as I got to the glass barrier my phone that I was holding on my left hand vibrated. I think that vibration translated to my mind that the snake was on my skin because all I heard was a wail. Faces staring at me together with the attendant who now walked discreetly near me for the rest of that section is when I recognized that; that sound came from me. On the upside, though, he got to answer all of my snake related questions.
With the few minutes left now before closure at 5:00 pm, you can sit at the outside amphitheater. I once caught a play from here a while back. Though a bit vague now, the play was on social injustices and how to correct them. The audience were allowed to stop a scene at any time they felt there was an injustice and further expound on how to correct it or the audience could also step up and act out an alternate social justice situation. The play had a feel of those ‘ushenzi’ and ‘uungwana’ initiatives.
On the last visit there though I got to sit on a smaller dilapidated looking amphitheater on the botanical garden. If you feel the struggle for Kenyan Independence is too much for you; you can sit in the gardens and have a cry there. On a serious note, though, the Nairobi National Museum has calm, serene gardens with named trees where you can catch up on some reading or even a picnic. Just don’t litter.
Given is just a snippet of what the Nairobi National Museum because to adequately describe it I need the school children above with their writing materials together with a mention of the art gallery, exhibitions, events venue and the library.
To everyone. Tembelea museum when you are grown.
And while there, don’t vandalise. Evidenced particularly in the coin section.