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THE KENYA NATIONAL MUSEUM

KENYA NATIONAL MUSEUM

A mile from the city centre is the best reached via Uhuru highway and the Ainsworth Memorial garden. (Colonel John Ainsworth, originally the IBEA’s transport superintendent in Mombasa, came to Nairobi in 1899 as Sub-Commissioner for Ukamba. Through the Township Committee, he set up in 1900 the capital’s first trees. The garden was planted and this corner of a colourfully landscaped hillside is thus an appropriate tribute.)

In memory of Sir Robert Coryndon’ (where its pre-independent name) ‘and in honour of… his love of nature’ the museum was founded in 1910 and in 1930 rehoused in its present premises.

In the entrance flanked by tusks, the central ground-floor hall contains elephant skulls and attractive habitat cases pf stuffed animals; most in a three-dimensional nature morte of papier-mâché, plaster and paint.

The upper gallery’s seventeen of the Kenya National Museum show-cases include musical instruments basketry weaving woodcraft homes tools utensils and transport.

That the last should include a pair of sandals (which one beat on the ground to ensure a safe journey). A token of the displays enjoyability. This is enhanced by ‘metal personal ornaments that protect the babies from anything that might make them cry and grow up from bad dreams); by ‘clothing’ for Akamba ladies that only husbands and /or boy-friend may see, and by ‘personal ornaments made of Natural Products’ viz. ostrich ‘s egg-shells halved to cover the navels of circumcised, unmarried females whilst dancing.

For many the most interesting exhibit may well be ‘Religion, magic and medicine’; sandals soaked in donkey dung or urine, for divining; ‘magic sticks’ made from aluminium kettle, with which to talk to God; rituals for rainmaking and/or stopping plagues of hairy caterpillars; charm of horn shell, bones and beads, to protect from everything conceivable (or to ensure conception). Also ‘Cursing Objects…. Used by anyone’.

Beyond cased of Joy Adamson’s tribal portraits and ante-hill of Apollo space-shot pictures, long room ‘In memories of Harry Watts’ has been emptied of his collection of bugs and butterflies to become the  ‘gallery of contemporary East African birds are an excellent aid to identification.

Stairs here descend to Mahatma Gandhi Hall, its diagram and reproductions quite as enlightening as the tool and fossil relics. Recent additions illustrate dramatically, scale-model dinosaurs and extinct Kenyan creatures; prosaically, progress at the East Turkana site of Koobo Fora.

The adjacent gallery is devoted to the ‘building of Kenya’ and treasure Underground viz. mineral specimens and geological models.

At the end is an ante-room tapestried with water-colour flowers which; despite the alias, are further testimony to Joy Adamson talents and munificence.

The adjoining Winston Churchill Gallery contains plaster casts of the sea’; an ‘aquarium’ of sharks marlin, dugong, rays and turtles, newer displays of shells and corals chameleon, lizards and snakes, plus the skeleton of a toothed or sperm while, the source of ambergris.

Beyond the shop, alfresco, stands an ersatz Ahmend, the legendary elephant from Marsabit (q.v.). As ‘normal taxidermy techniques could not be applied in the mounting’, a first temporary sign apologized, ‘the skeleton and original Turks will be displayed at a later date’, and this they are in the ball behind, amidst a stuffed menagerie of whole animals and heads.

Upstairs, paints and photographs feature ‘Early Maps’, slavery, CMS Missionaries, Nairobi, Traditional homes and developing transportation viz. zebra-carts and rickshaws.

Joy Adamson portrays have been replaced by a painting of the Harry Thuku Riot (a bloody confrontation between colonial troops and African prompted by the arrest in 1922 of this nationalist leader). Aspects of Colonial Administration and emergency are starkly depicted by cases of curtain-rod and inner-tube fire-arms used by Kenya Freedom Fighters.

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