Connect with Kenyan history

A history of the National Museums of Kenya

1909 – 1910

The idea of a museum in Kenya came about on March 25, 1909 when ten people met at the house of Lieutenant F.J. Jackson for ‘…the purpose of considering the formation of a Natural History Society of East Africa…’
This group of scientists and amateur naturalists formed the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society. The Society has since been renamed East African Natural History Society (EANHS).
 Society members included: Blayney Percival, two canons of the Church Missionary Society (CMS): Rev. Harry Leakey (father of Louis Leakey) and Rev. Kenneth St. Aubyn Rogers; some government officials: C.W. Hobley and John Ainsworth, doctors, dentists, big game hunters and plantation owners.

The Society rented a room in a building at the centre of Nairobi (where Nyayo house stands today). The museum was a room measuring 30×25 feet for display cases, with a smaller room for committee meetings. This became the first museum in Kenya.
The building that housed the museum was erected for the Society by a wealthy member of the Asian Community, Mr Aladina Visram and rented to the Society for 1 rupee a year. The building became ready for occupation on August 16, 1910.

The Museum was called the Museum of Natural history, its first honorary curator, Mr T.J. Anderson, a Senior Entomologist in the Agricultural department.

1911 – 1920

In 1912, the building that today houses Karen Blixen museum was built by Swedish Engineer Ake Sjogren.

1913: The building that houses the Nairobi Gallery was constructed under the supervision of the then government architect C. Rand Overy. At the time it was used as the PC’s office. It is located next to Nyayo House along Uhuru Highway/Kenyatta Avenue Junction in Nairobi. During the colonial period the settlers referred to the PC’s building as “Hatches, matches and Dispatches” at it was where births, marriages and deaths were recorded. It was officially opened as a museum in March 2006. The exterior of the building is decorated with columns, friezes and pediments of natural stone, and the entrance leads into an octagonal shaped hall covered with a dome shaped ceiling. The surrounding rooms branch off from this central space. The interior walls of the building have a lime plaster finish and the floor is of stone and the window and door frames are of teak wood.

1914: The museum of Natural History got the first paid full-time Curator, Mr Arthur Loveridge, a herpetologist.
He enlisted in the army when the World War 1 broke out
. When he left, the running of the museum fell under a small group of volunteer workers including  Dr V.G.L. van Someren and H.J. Allen Turner.

H.J. Allen Turner: Mr Turner a supporter and member of the East Africa Natural History Society had served as a volunteer at the museum since 1914. He was employed as permanent staff of the Coryndon Memorial museum in 1941. When the museum was first established he prepared most of the exhibitions.

1919: British Geologist, John Walker, discovered Olorgesailie, a lower Palaeolithic archaeological site. Olorgesailie
 is an Acheulian site located about 90 kilometres south-west of Nairobi on the road to Magadi. The site of Olorgesailie, donated to the Kenya government by the Maasai community, covers an area of 52 acres. Excavation started in 1942 and today continues led by a team from the Smithsonian Institution, USA, making unusual surveys and excavations. Olorgesailie is one of the National Museums of Kenya prehistoric sites, and is characterised by in situ displays of prehistoric materials including numerous hand axes and fossilized skeletons of extinct species of elephant and hippopotamus. The small site museum at Olorgesailie holds exhibits on human evolution, stone tools, and site formation.

By 1920 the rented room housing the Museum of Natural History had become too small to store the material that the Society members had collected.
The Society had by this time raised money to erect a larger building to house the museum.

1921 – 1930

1922-1925: The new museum building was put up on Kirk Road (today’s Valley road) where Nairobi Serena Hotel stands today.
 The museum known as Kirk Road Museum was officially opened by the then Governor of Kenya, Sir Edward Northey, in February 1922.
 The Curatorship job was held part-time by A.F.J. Gedye.

Robert Coryndon: 
Governor Robert Coryndon pushed through for the construction of a proper museum; persuaded the British government to subsidise the costs of running the museum and to give a yearly government grant towards maintenance.
 As a member of the Society he continually spoke of the museum’s potential to expand its scope far beyond natural history
. In 1925, Governor Coryndon died.
 Sir Coryndon’s wife donated all his trophies and books to the museum.
The Society decided to build a Museum and research institution in Coryndon’s name.
A memorial fund was set up to raise funds for the construction and maintenance of the new museum. On June 21, 1928, a Board of Trustees of the Coryndon Memorial Fund was appointed.

1926: 
While excavating a nearby site, palaeontologist Louis Leakey noted evidence of prehistoric habitation of Hyrax Hill . Eleven years later, Mary Leakey, noted several more habitation sites, including a stone walled fort and a group of pits. Mary Leakey began excavating the site in mid 1937 and her work produced evidence of an Iron Age stone walled enclosure and a Neolithic burial mound occupation.

The results of these numerous excavations yielded three major areas of prehistoric settlement: the oldest dating 3,000 years and the youngest to possibly two to three hundred years. The early field work at Hyrax Hill provided a new understanding to an important part of Kenya’s prehistory. Because of its significance, the site was proposed as a national monument and confirmed as one in 1943.

In 1965, the site  was established as a museum, with a small gallery established at the base of the hill in a house donated by Mrs A. Selfe. The museum displays ethnographic material of the different Rift Valley peoples; Neolithic cultures in the area are represented by excavated materials from the Hyrax Hill site, and include various types of obsidian tools and a stone platter recovered from a burial site.

1927: 
Gedi/Gede ruins was declared as a historical monument. Gede is located 16kilometres south of the coastal resort town of Malindi. Founded in the 12th century AD Gede was a large and prosperous town which flourished until its abandonment in the 17th century. Nestled in 45 acres of primeval forest, the ruins of Gede reflect the unique architectural style and wealth of many Swahili towns of that period. Excavations of the site in the late 1940s and early 1950s unearthed remains of numerous domestic, religious and commercial structures including a large ‘palace’ with sunken courts, a Friday (Congregational) Mosque, elaborately decorated pillar tombs, wells, and a town wall

1928: 
Dr Louis Leakey discovered the Acheulian pre-historic site of Kariandusi and started excavations. It is located near Lake Elementaita on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.
 Kariandusi is a living site of hand-axe man.

Kariandusi site and museum: It is an Acheulian site characterised by the presence of heavy hand axes and cleavers. There are several excavation pits, undertaken by Louis Leakey in 1928, each displaying a scattered assortment of stone tools, made made from obsidian: the black volcanic rock found in lava flows.

Kariandusi is also important because of the commercial mining activities at the diatomite deposits nearby. The opening of the mines, apart from unveiling more archaeological materials, has made it possible for dating of the site by use of pumice and other datable materials in the sediments.

The site museum at Kariandusi displays excavated fossils and stone tools.

1929: 
Colonial government set aside fifteen acres of land at Museum Hill (Ainsworth Hill) for construction of another museum. 
Construction of the museum began
. The government reacquired the land previously owned by the Society at Kirk Road. Compensation was paid into the Coryndon Memorial Fund. The money was used to build 3 laboratories and study room accommodation attached to the new museum at Museum Hill.

Mnarani Ruins were first gazetted in March 1929 in Gazette Notice No.170 as “Ruins of Mnarani” and later confirmed as Monuments in Gazette Notice No.457. Following subsequent legislations over the years the Ruins are now known as “Ruins of an Old Mosque in Kilifi”.

Mnarani Ruins: 
The ruins of the Swahili settlement of Mnarani are located on the south bank of the Kilifi Creek on Kenya’s north coast. Among the ruins is a Pillar Tomb, which was recently dismantled and carefully reconstructed to avoid potential collapse as a conservation measure. In addition, there are the remains of a large Friday (or Congregational) mosque and several tombs dating to the 15th century

1930: 22nd September 1930, the new museum, called the Coryndon Museum, was officially opened by the then Governor of Kenya, Sir Edward Grigg.
 Dr. Van Someren became the curator, helped by two assistants paid by himself.
 A Botanist, Miss E.M. Napier, and Librarian were employed.

The Coryndon Museum: 
The museum, the nucleus of the current museum, consisted of a foyer giving way to the central hall, ninety feet long and fifty feet wide surrounded on three sides by a ten-foot wide gallery. One wing housed the library and administrative offices while the laboratories and workrooms were at the back.

1931 – 1940

A conflict arose between the Society and the Board of Trustees concerning ownership of the Museum.

A committee was appointed to look into the matter. The committee’s recommendations: abolition of the existing Trust; establishment of a board of Trustees; transfer of all of the Society’s assets to the new Board; and the Society’s right to appoint two of the Trustees.

In 1937, the recommendations were adapted and the museum became officially became known as the Coryndon Memorial Museum. The assets of the East African Natural History Society, with the exception of the library were handed over to the Board of Trustees. The library remained in the Museum.

August 1933: Kanam prehistoric site, situated along the shores of Lake Victoria on Homa peninsular, was gazetted.

1938: Peter Bally, a Swiss botanist joined the staff of the Coryndon museum. During his tenure as a Botanist he mounted a series of expeditions to remote parts of East Africa from where he brought many species of plants previously unknown to science.

1940: Dr Van Someren resigned from his post as curator, after 27 years association.

1941 – 1950

1941: Dr L.S.B. Leakey was appointed and served as part-time curator of the museum. Before his appointment he had been the leader of the first African Archaeological expedition

1943: Hyrax hill was gazetted as a National Monument by the Kenya government.

1945: Dr Leakey assumes his Curatorship duties full-time. He raised funds from the public for the expansion of the museum galleries. Construction of five new galleries began and they were named after the people who had funded their construction. The galleries were the Mahatma Gandhi hall, the Aga Khan hall and the Churchill gallery.

1946: John Williams, an Ornithologist, joined the museum staff and went on to serve for 20 years. Williams contribution to the museum:

  • Hundreds of the of beautifully prepared bird specimens on display are the results of his accurate shooting.
  • Authored a hand book “A Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa” a must have for birding safari expeditions.
  • In 1958 working in collaboration with Dr Leakey he was responsible for the campaign to stop the export of live cage birds.
  • He was largely responsible for the declaration of Lake Nakuru as a bird sanctuary.
  • He left the museum in 1965 to help set up the Wildlife Advisor and Research Service.

1947: The museum was expanded using funds donated by the War Memorial Fund.

1948: Gedi/Gede Ruins site was gazetted

1950: The Society’s extensive botanical collections, numbering 16,972, were transferred to the new East African Agriculture and Research Organisation (EAFRO) building immediately behind the museum.

1951 – 1960

1950: Norman P. Mitton: Mr Mitton was offered a post on the staff of the Coryndon Memorial museum by Dr. Louis Leakey in 1950. His first task was to prepare new exhibits for the large empty galleries of the museum extensions finished in 1953. Mr. Mitton redesigned the Museum galleries. He introduced new showcases with interior lighting thereby eliminating natural light. He also designed benches which were placed at the centre of each of the galleries for people to rest on. He died in a car crash in 1966 having served in the museum as an ichthyologist, taxidermist, designer, cabinet maker, scene painter and cast producer.

1951: Mr. C.J.P Ionides, a hunter donated to the museum the magnificent specimen of a male gorilla, the white rhinoceros, and the Giant Eland on display at the museum. In the 1950s most of the snake casts on the exhibition were made from specimens donated by him. In 1954 alone, he donated 266 snakes, 205 lizards and 34 amphibians, and over the years has donated some very rare species including an adult Storms’ Water Cobra from Lake Victoria.

1952: February 23, 1952 the newly constructed halls were officially opened by the then governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring. H.J. Allen Turner, the taxidermist and preparator working with the museum died

1955-57: In 1955 a block of junior staff houses was erected on museum land. Another piece of land was obtained at Madaraka for more staff houses which were built in 1956 and 1957.

1958: Live snakes were exhibited on experimental basis at the entrance of the museum. The snakes exhibited included: Rhinoceros Horned Viper, Boomslang, Garter snake, Gaboon Viper and the very rare Storms’ Water Cobra.

Siyu Fort was gazetted as a national monument.

Siyu Fort: Siyu Fort is one of the Swahili settlements in the Lamu archipelago, with a history dating from at least the 15th century. Siyu became famous in the late 19th century when it resisted Omani domination, culminating in the building of a Fort because of an effort by the Omani Arabs to subdue the residents of Siyu.

Siyu is also host to the remains of numerous magnificent tombs and mosques.

1959: The government handed over the land between the museum and the Nairobi River to the Museum Trustees.

Plans got under way for the construction of a Snake Park surrounded by botanical gardens.

Funds for construction of the Snake Park were provided by the War Memorial Committee.

Fort Tenan Site was discovered by Mr F. Wicker.

The house that housed five of the Kapenguria six in Lodwar during their detention was constructed by the Public Works Department for the Prison Department of the colonial government. .

Kenyatta House (Lodwar): This house served as a detention camp for five of the Kapenguria six [Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Ramogi Achieng Oneko, Kung'u Karumba, Paul Ngei, Fred Kubai] serving their sentence in Lokitaung prison. Three prison warders also lived here during this period. They are seven houses, one toilet and water tank pillar were constructed by the Public Works Department (PWD-Division Kitale) for the Prison Department of the colonial government.

1960: Construction of the Nairobi Snake Park (located adjacent to the National museum) and botanical gardens was completed.

At the time of construction the Snake Park was intended to provide a research facility on reptiles, and breeding of snakes. Later it transformed into a shelter for rescued reptiles and amphibians.

Jonathan Leakey became the Curator of the Snake Park.

Tigoni Primate Research Centre (today known as the Institute of Primate Research – IPR) was established in Tigoni with the combined efforts of Dr. L. Leakey and Cynthia Booth. Dr Leakey established IPR with monkeys as models to understand human evolution and as a facility for collection and studies of East African primates. Today IPR is an institution of the National Museums of Kenya.

Kamoya Kimeu, Kenya’s renown fossil hunter joined the museum, at the time to work under Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge

1961 – 1970

In January 1961, the Snake Park was opened to the public first as a centre for snakes study before it transformed into a shelter for rescued reptiles and amphibians.

Dr  L. Leakey resigned from his position as Curator and acting director of the Coryndon Memorial Museum.

Mr R.H. Carcasson was appointed as the new director of the museum

With a grant from the National Geographic Society Dr Leakey set up the Centre for Prehistory and palaeontology.

Centre for Prehistory and Palaeontology: The director of the Centre was Dr Leakey. He held the position for seven years

Dr Glynn Isaac became Deputy director of the Centre, while Mrs Shirley Coryndon became assistant palaeontologist .

The Centre was funded by the Ford foundation, the Wenner-Gren foundation, the National Geographic Society of Washington and the United States National Science Foundation.

In 1964 with funds from the Wenner-Gren Foundation the Centre built a new laboratory which they named Fejos laboratory, in memory of the late Director of the Foundation.

Dr L. Leakey’s researches  resulted in the establishment of a framework of Kenya Prehistory.

In 1977 the Centre was renamed the International Louis Leakey Memorial Institute.

1962: Fort Jesus in Mombasa was established as a regional museum under the jurisdiction of the National Museums of Kenya. Prior to Fort Jesus becoming a museum it had been declared as a National Park on 24th October 1958 in the custody of the Trustees of National parks.

Excavation works at the Fort were carried out between 1958 to 1962 when the Fort opened its doors to the public.

Fort Jesus is located in Mombasa Island, Coast Province.

Items displayed in the museum exhibition hall consists of finds from archaeological excavations at Fort Jesus, Gedi/Gede, Manda, Ungwana and other sites.

Fort Jesus: The Fort was built on a coral ridge at the entrance of the harbour by the Portuguese in 1593. It was built by order of King Philip II of Spain. Viewed from the air the Fort was built in the shape of a man, and was given the name of Jesus. The Fort was designed by an Italian architect, Jao Batisto Cairato, who was the Chief Architect for Portuguese possessions in the East. It was the first European-style fort constructed outside of Europe to resist canon fire.

It was built to secure the safety of the Portuguese living on the East Africa Coast and to protect their trade routes to India, and as a defence base against enemy invasion from sea or land. It has been a battle front for many the interested parties who settled in Mombasa. Between 1837-1895, the Fort was used as barracks for soldiers.

Today it is hailed as a fine example of the 16th century Portuguese military architecture. However, it had been influenced and changed by both the Omani Arabs and the British.

1963: The Coryndon Memorial Museum was renamed National Museums of Kenya (NMK).

1961-62: In January 1961 the Snake park was opened to the public with Mr. Jonathan Leakey in charge as Curator until November 1961. Mr. C. Webb took over in 1962 until 1964 when he died. Mr J.O.P. Ashe took over.

Museum Education Services: In a bid to manifest the education potential of the museum the Museum Board of Trustees laid down plans for the development of a schools’ liaison service. The Ford Foundation facilitated the construction of a lecture hall to accommodate school parties who visited the museum. At the end of 1966 when the Ford Foundation grant to the schools’ liaison service expired and the service had to close down as no money was forthcoming from government sources.

1964: Upon the death of Mr Webb in 1964 Mr James Ashe became the curator of the Snake Park.

1965: The Hyrax Hill museum housed in a former farmhouse was opened. On display in this museum are artefacts from the Hyrax hill site and other sites in the central Rift Valley.

1966: Responsibility of protecting prehistoric sites was transferred to the Museum Trustees of Kenya. National Museums of Kenya expanded its services and assets beyond Nairobi by establishing regional museums. A department of photography was founded when dark room facilities became available on completion of the Osteology building. UNESCO donated the darkroom equipment. Gedi/Gede, a 15th Century Arab-African settlement, was transferred to the Museum Trustees.

1968: Following a grant from the government, the Board set up an education department and employed permanent staff including Miss A. Evans as museum education officer in February 1968.

The Koobi Fora research project was started. Koobi Fora lies on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. A unique wealth of prehistoric remains is found in an area approximately 90km by 30km extending from Ileret in the north to just south of Allia Bay. Koobi Fora was first explored by a team from National Museums of Kenya led by Dr Richard Leakey.It is one of the world’s leading prehistoric sites for the study of evolution of man. In 1972 the area was gazetted as the Sibiloi National Park and inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List on 7th December 1997.

September 1968: Dr Carcasson left his post as curator of the museum. In September 1968, Dr. Richard Leakey was appointed as an Administrative Director of the National Museums, a position he held for 30 years, until 1989. Dr Richard Leakey is the son of Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey. He is a conservationist, anthropologist, palaeontologist, and a political figure in Kenya. During his term of service at the Museum in the 30 years after his appointment he and his research team made some of the most important human skull finds, a nearly complete Homo habilis in 1972, and a Homo erectus skull in 1975.

Gede gazetted as a national monument

Cultural heritage department estabished. The department’s mission is to collect, document, preserve and present to the public items of Kenya’s material culture for education purposes and for their appreciation.

The department’s collections are a vital source of information on ethno-genesis, ethno-history, economy, technology, beliefs, leadership, health, education, aesthetics, entertainment and societal defence. The objects in the collection include weapons and tools, body-wear (clothing and ornaments), containers, ritual objects, furniture.

1971 – 1980

In 1971, the museum education services department purchased a mobile film unit using funds donated by the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

Lamu Fort (which later became the Lamu Museum) was officially opened to the public in December 1971. It is located in the Lamu Archipelago on the North Coast.

Lamu museum: The museum is housed in the Lamu Fort (a massive two-storey structure) built from 1813-1821. It marked the southern border and served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers, providing a protective presence which encouraged settlement and development around it.

The building, which is typical of 18th century Swahili architecture, now houses an unparalleled collection of ethnographic material form the Swahili, Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups.

1973: Jumba la Mtwana was opened to the public. Located approximately 20 kilometres north of Mombasa, this site represents the remains of a 13th century Swahili settlement. Abandoned about a hundred years after its foundation, Jumba can still boast magnificent standing remains of domestic houses, mosques and tombs.

While the name literally means  “large house of the slave”, there is neither historical nor archaeological evidence that suggests that this may have been the case.

The Jumba la Mtwana  ruins provide a  sense of what life must have been like over six hundred years ago, when it was home to the Swahili fishermen, craftsmen and merchants who traded precious products from the African interior with their maritime trading partners from India and Arabia.

Excavations of the site have revealed numerous artefacts including decorated local pottery and shell beads, imported Chinese and Islamic ceramics, and glass beads

December 1974 -the National Museum of Western Kenya, Kitale The Kitale museum was the first of the inland museums to be developed in Kenya and the first regional museum in the Kenya Museum Society.

Initially it was known as the Stoneham museum, after the amateur naturalist, Col. Hugh Stoneham. He had a collection insects, other animals and books he collected from 1894-1966.

Col. Stoneham founded the first Stoneham museum, a private museum in 1926. The museum was later bequeathed to the National Museums of Kenya.

He willed his collections as well as funds for a new museum building.

The new museum building was erected on five acres of land on the outskirts of Kitale town. It was opened in December 1974 and known as the National Museum of Western Kenya with Mrs. Linda Donley as the first curator

The Meru museum was officially opened in May 1976. It is housed in an old historic building, built in 1916, that served as the District Commissioner ‘s office since the colonial days. The museum is primarily designed to meet the needs of the district residents, thus it has exhibits of general interest including prehistory, cultural history and natural sciences.

Meru museum Njuri Ncheke house: The house is a traditional court of the Meru people incorporated into the Meru museum. It was constructed in 1960-61 and comprises of a large main hall which is 40 by 30 feet and a kitchen at one end. It was donated to NMK by the District Development Committee in 1989. it is oval in shape representing all parts of Meru architecture.The building was and is still used once a year by a Meru council of elders as the venue for settling disputes arising within Meru communities. The name Njuri Ncheke is derived from the ritual oath that was taken by the members of the traditional council; only the elders (judges) of the ‘court ‘ knew this sacred and secret oath.

The Leakey Memorial building at the National Museums of Kenya Nairobi grounds was opened and houses the administration, archaeology and palaeontology departments. The building also houses an auditorium with a sitting capacity of roughly 300 people which serves to hold different museum functions.

The international Louis Leakey Memorial Institute for African Prehistory was opened by Hon. Munyua Waiyaki, then Minister for Foreign Affairs. Today the building is known as the Louis Leakey Building

August 1, 1977: Takwa National Monument was officially opened to the public. Kenyatta House (Maralal) was gazetted by the Kenya government as a national monument and put under the care of the National Museums’ of Kenya.

Kamoya Kimeu became the National Museums of Kenya’s curator for all prehistoric sites in Kenya. Kamoya Kimeu was the pioneer Kenyan archaeologist to work with the Leakeys. During the research expedition to River Omo in Ethiopia he discovered a Homo sapiens fossil. In 1984 at Koobi Fora he discovered a nearly complete Homo erectus skeleton dating about 4.1 million years old. The skeleton, named Turkana Boy, earned him international recognition as one of the world’s greatest fossil finders. In 1985, the then US President Ronald Reagan invited Kimeu to the White House to honour him for his contributions towards understanding the origins of mankind. He was awarded a medal of honour by the National Geographic Society.

Kenyatta House (Maralal): A museum based in Maralal township, which also serves as the headquarters of the vast Samburu District. Established and managed by the National Museums of Kenya, the house commemorates the rehabilitation of the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. It is the place where Kenyatta was further restricted from Lodwar  before his release. Kenyatta and his family lived here.

As a museum the house commemorates the negotiation of the country’s independence, believed to have taken place here.

1976: Construction of a new premises for the Division of Natural Sciences to house the collections of entomology, herpetology, mammology, ornithology and conchology.

1977: The government of Kenya granted the Institute of Primate Research (IPR) land in Oloolua, just outside Karen, in the name of the National Museums of Kenya.

April 7, 1980: The Kisumu museum planned in 1975 opened its doors to the public. The museum, located in Kisumu town along the Kisumu-Kericho highway, stores and disseminates information on cultural and scientific issues with emphasis on Western Kenya.

1981 – 1990

 December 1981 – June 1983: Several monuments were Gazetted in this period. These are: Songhor [GN 2210/81], Fort Tenan [GN 2211/81], Italian Church Kijabe [GN 2212/81], Sibiloi (East Turkana) [GN 2213/81], Lanet [GN 2214/81], Thimlich Ohinga [GN 2966/81], Chetambe Fort [GN 3747/81], Muhanda Fort [GN 3748/81], Chemogoch [GN 1511/82], Brook’s Quarry [GN 1512/82]. (GN is the Gazette Notice number).

In 1982, Jumba la Mtwana and Takwa Ruins were gazetted as National Monuments. The ruins at Takwa are located on Manda Island. Takwa ruins are the remains of a thriving Swahili trading post. Notable features include the unique Friday Mosque with a large pillar atop the qibla wall.

In 1983 the Kitale museum started a centre called Olof Palme Memorial Agroforestry to promote agroforestry in West Pokot district.

Thimlich Ohinga, located about 46 kilometres northwest of Migori town, serves as an example of the dry stone enclosures widespread in the southern part of Nyanza in Western Kenya. ‘Thimlich’ literally means ‘frightening dense forest’ in  Dholuo language and the presence of stone enclosures (‘Ohinga’ in Dholuo). Researchers from the National Museums of Kenya began working on this site in 1980. The stone structures are said to have been built about 500 years ago by the late Iron Age settlers in the Lake Victoria region.  The first communities to settle here introduced this stone building tradition to meet their security requirements and also to exploit the environmental resources effectively: abundant rocks on the hilly areas were a ready resource to construct complex villages or cities. As a result, both early (Bantu) and later (Nilotic) settlers in the region constructed about 521 enclosures in 139 localities in the entire Lake Victoria region.

The architectural technique used in the construction of the Thimlich Ohinga stone structures is rare. The stone walls were assembled from undressed stones that were meticulously selected and set in place to interlock like a jigsaw puzzle forming a wall with stability akin to conventional stone of mortar technology.

1984: The Lamu Fort was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya. Before this time it had served as a prison from 1910 to 1984 to both the British colonial regime and the Kenya government. The Fort was established as a museum through technical and financial assistance from Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The general theme at the time of inception of the museum was environmental conservation, since the Fort is basically a community centre for the people of old Lamu.

The museum opened the first public library in the history of Lamu.

1986: The Karen Blixen museum was opened. The building that houses the Karen Blixen museum set at the foot of the Ngong’ hills was the home of Danish author Karen (from 1917-1931) and her Swedish husband, Baron Bror von Blixen. The house was built in 1912 by Swedish Engineer Ake Sjogren.

Once the museum acquired the building in 1985, many pieces of furniture that Karen Blixen had sold to Lady Macmillan on her departure were acquired back and constitute part of the exhibition at the museum.

The Karen Blixen house meets three of the customary criteria for historical significance

  • It is associated with the broad historical pattern of European settlement and cultivation of East Africa
  • It is associated with the life of a person significant in history, having been the home of Baroness Karen Blixen from 1917-1931. The house served as the setting and basis of her book ‘Out of Africa’ written under the pseudonym.
  • The house embodies the distinctive characteristics of its type, period and method of construction. The house’s architecture is typical of late 19th century bungalow architecture, including the spacious rooms, horizontal layout verandas, tile roof and stone construction typical of scores of residences built throughout European suburbs of Nairobi in early decades.

1989: Dr Mohamed Isahakia became the director of the National Museums and subsequently Director-General. He held the position for 10 years until 1999.

1991 – 2000

1991: Lamu, Mombasa and Malindi towns were gazetted dynamic living monuments.

September 19th 1993, the Kapenguria museum was officially opened. It is housed in the prison where the six influential leaders of the struggle for independence were detained. Displays in the museum include books and documents in a memorial library in honour of all heroes who participated in the struggle for independence. It reflects Kenya’s political development and the attainment of independence by Kenya in 1963. Other items on display include cultural material of the Pokot, Cherangani and Sengwer people.

Establishment of the Swahili Cultural Centre as a joint project of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The former German Post Office in Lamu was acquired by the NMK. Rehabilitation work started and was expected to be completed in September 1995.

Lamu Swahili Cultural Centre was opened.

Lewa Downs was acquired by the National Museums of Kenya as a new Site Museum. Lewa Downs is an Acheulian site discovered by Louis Leakey in 1939. it is significant because of its large handaxes and the fact that it represents evidence of tool making outside the Rift Valley during the Acheulian times.

In 1993/94 inland museums included the following: Olorgesailie, Kariandusi, Hyrax Hill, Fort Tenan, Songhor, Thimlich Ohinga, Rusinga Island, Kanjera and Kanam in Migori, Kenyatta House in Maralal, and Koobi Fora within the Sibiloi National Park on the edges of Lake Turkana.

1994: The Krapf Memorial museum was founded to give formal and perpetual reminder to monumental events during the advent of early missionaries. The museum is housed in the first Christian Church built by Christian missionaries, Dr Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann, in 1846 at Rabai mission station.

Rabai is situated about 25km north-west of Mombasa, off the Nairobi-Mombasa highway on Mazeras-Kaloleni road.

1996: Kabarnet Museum, the first museum in Central Rift Valley, was opened. It is situated in the Tugen Hills of Baringo District of the Rift Valley. Housed in former colonial and African District Commissioners’ office it is considered to be probably the first permanent building in Baringo District, constructed by Italian prisoners of War in 1930.

In December the building that houses the German Post Office Museum in Lamu, was restored with assistance from the German Embassy, was officially opened. This building was erected at the beginning of the 19th century as a private residence. It was later converted and used as the first German Post Office in East Africa, albeit briefly, from 1888 to 1891 during the time when Witu-on the mainland south of Lamu-was a German Protectorate.

The museum shows the long historical contacts between Germany and Kenya, and is unique in depicting early industrial development in Kenya in the form of communication through postal services. It shed light on a little known period in Kenyan history, yet one that was very significant.

1997-98: Opening of the Narok and Rabai Museums. Narok museum, situated in Narok, town exhibits cultural materials of the Maa (Maasai, Samburu, Njemps, and Ndorobo) speakers while the Rabai museum deals with the spread of Christianity in Kenya beginning at Rabai.

2000: The Research Institute of Swahili Studies of Eastern Africa (RISSEA) was mooted. It took shape for years later and in 2007 a fully-fledged director was appointed to head the institution. Dr George Abungu took over the post of Director-General of National Museums. He held this position for two years.

2001 – 2010

2004:  The building that houses the Malindi museum was handed over to the National Museums of Kenya in 1999. Before this time it served as an office for the Kenya Wildlife Service, prior to which it was occupied by Fisheries department.

The building was opened to the public as Malindi museum on May 10, 2004. It is not clear when the building was constructed but the suggested date of construction is within the last quarter of the 19th century, a time bracket that saw this type of building style fashionable especially in the old towns of Lamu and Mombasa.

Kakapel site situated at the Chelelemuk hills in western Kenya was gazetted as a national monument. Kakapel is a rock site located on a huge rock shelter. The site has art forms dating over 2,000 years ago and may be as much as 4,000 years old. It has paintings illustrating wild animals, rain-making and initiation symbols. The rock art is believed to have been done by the BaTwa hunter-gatherer group.

In 2005-2006 Kakapel rock art site was rehabilitated by the National Museums of Kenya. It was opened to the public in 2007.

In 2005, the Mama Ngina historical and Archaeological site was gazetted.

On October 15, 2005 the Nairobi Museum closed its doors to the public temporarily to carry out extensive renovations of the premises. This was the first major refurbishment since 1930.

2006: The president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, lays the foundation stone for the new Nairobi National Museum.

2007: Construction of an administration block dubbed ‘Heritage Centre’ was completed. It serves as the National Museums of Kenya headquarters.

In 2007, a new entrance for staff members was completed along Kipande Road, leaving the Museum Hill Road entrance exclusively for use by Museum visitors.

The Nairobi National Museum was officially re-opened by president Hon. Mwai Kibaki on 14th July 2008

The Snake Park was closed to the public in August 2008.

14th June 2008: The Loiyangalani Desert Museum, along Lake Turkana’s Eastern shores was opened. It showcases the cultural, historical and natural heritage in the region. New sites were Gazetted. These are: the Railway house of lower hill road, Nairobi; Desai house on 2nd Parklands avenue, Nairobi; and lands office on Moi avenue, Nairobi.

2010: The National Museums of Kenya is a state corporation established by an Act of Parliament, the Museums and Heritage Act 2006. It falls under the Ministry of State for Heritage. On 19th November 2010 the Centennial time capsule was sealed. It is scheduled to be opened on the 120th Anniversary of the National Museums of Kenya, in 2030.

2011 – 2020

April 2011: the Koitalel Arap Samoei Mausoleum was opened to the public. The Mausoleum was built next to the house built by the British government as a  gift to the late Manyei, a grandson of Koitalel Arap Samoei. It is believed that  Koitalel Arap Samoei’s body was buried here next a fig tree. The ceremonial staffs used by the renowned Orkoiyot were repatriated from the British Museum where they had been held since 1907 and are now displayed in the mausoleum together with other Nandi ethnographic materials.

19th April, 2011: Wajir Museum was officially opened. The museum gives a glimpse of the rich cultural, historical and natural heritage of Northern Kenya as well its interaction with the world.

Maina Kiarie Find us on Google+