The Kenya National Archives

Click on the pictures to open the full sizes. I took them with my IDEOS phone, and combine that with the lighting and lack of flash, you might want to excuse the quality of the pics :-)

On Monday morning this past week, I was early in town for a breakfast meeting, which I found out had been canceled. So I had a few loose hours, and since it was too early in the morning for internet chatting, and I was standing right outside the Kenya National Archives while I figured what to do, I decided that was the time to explore it. It costs only 50 shillings.

I always used to be fascinated by the building. I imagined dusty documents piled in all the rooms on whose doors marked the era the documents are from. That was before I read about it in the newspaper and saw some pictures. It’s not actually a repository of documents from Kenya’s history but a museum of sorts.

It’s not made up of small tiny dusty rooms but it’s a large airy space building with good lighting. There is so much artwork, mostly donated by the Murumbi Trust. Joseph Murumbi was a vice president during Mzee Kenyatta’s time, although I think he only served for a month! There are paintings, religious and cultural artifacts, sculptures, pictures, books, letters, etc from all over Africa. I was fascinated by everything I saw. I stayed for over 2 hours and still I didn’t see it all!

The Kenya National Archives is not a place you go once. You have to keep going back in order to exhaust and savour all there is. If you do it all in a day, you’ll need about 8 hours, and you may miss to appreciate some of the work on display there. So this first time, I just skimmed through.

The place has 3 floors, most of the artwork is on the ground floor. On the first floor are lots of historical pictures and a huge stamp collection from all over the world. There are also a few other items like flags and books.

On the 2nd floor, there is a reception room of sorts with a flat screen TV mounted on the wall that was showing Naija films on Citizen TV at the time. I think films are watched here. The rest of the places on the 2nd floor are offices though I think I saw a library.

You can step out of the 2nd floor onto the roof but you’ll not see much, maybe because I’m short.

Despite the warning sign asking us not to take pictures without permission or to touch anything, I did both. I was the only visitor at the time and nobody was watching. Okay, I didn’t touch brittle looking things, and the few pictures I took are not for commercial publication so it’s alright? I hope I don’t get sued.

I’ll share some of the pictures:

This is a picture of a Luo elder. Reminds of the days when men were still men, whatever that means. Anyway, it was an impressive painting and I could picture living in those days, when I could go gossiping with the girls at the river and someone would abduct me and take me and make me his wife.

Luo Elder

This is a beautiful painting, I just felt drawn to it. If it was on sale, I’d buy it. It looks alive somehow… a camera cannot capture it. Maybe it’s just me.

Painting of man in the first two decades of last century

This is another painting of the colonial scene that captured my imagination. This was a collection by John Boyes, so called “King of the Kikuyu.” He apparently “owned” Mt. Kenya for a number of years!

painting of a colonial scene

This is a collection of jewelery from some Kenyan tribes and they’re locked in a glass casing. I would’ve been sorely tempted to pick a souvenir!

earrings

This is a picture of Ethiopian story told serially. Just like a modern comic strip. This tells the story of King Solomon when he visited Queen Sheba in Ethiopia, and their son established the Menelik Dynasty. It’s fascinating. There’s even a ‘sex scene’. Just click on the picture to open the full size and prove me wrong(or right)!

Ethiopian artwork

There was some weird art by some artists. I would love to see how their minds work, their morbid and disturbing thoughts that put grotesque images on canvas. I love this kind of art.

Below is kind of abstract art. Looks uber erotic if you ask me.

weird art

In the picture below, there are four canvases on which are painted giraffes. Some realistic art is beautiful too. The picture does not do it justice. I can’t remember the name of the artist though, so I will go back and note these names.

More weird art, I couldn’t figure out the meaning of this painting. Anyone?

more weird art

So I saw this little latch on the floor, and I thought what if I open it? Will I go spiralling back into the past? Future? Some morbid room of torture where a serial killer traps his victims? So I opened it anyway. It turned out to be a socket so you can imagine my disappointment.

socket

I ventured upstairs and here are some more pictures:

This is a letter Dedan Kimathi wrote on the eve of his execution. I shudder to think what he was going through. It’s a rare glimpse into the mind of a hero dying for his country. Tears came into my eyes when I read this.. like seriously. Just read it for yourself.

Dedan Kimathi's last letter on earth

I moved on to portraits of Kenya’s historical figures, and one captured my eye. Pio Gama Pinto was Kenya’s first political assassination. Sad, huh? He looks so young and handsome in this picture.

Pio Gama Pinto

This is a view of the ground floor of the National Archives. I was on the first floor when I took this. So much history down there.

view of the ground floor

The last photo here shows Jomo Kenyatta during his days as a student. No one can deny Uhuru Kenyatta is the son!

Jomo Kenyatta

Next time, who wants to come with?