A lot of history at Nairobi National Museum

I decided to take a trip to the Nairobi National Museum.  I didn’t have any expectations really but it turned into a great day out. I just wish I’d set out earlier so I could have had more time there. As it was, I stayed about 4 hours, bought a stack of second hand books from the shop, and vowed to return in the future.

Nairobi National Museum

The Museum

An easy place to get a little confused in due to all the interconnecting rooms, but they do provide you with a map. I could seriously spend three days living in this place and still not have ‘finished’. Of course, I’m a massive fan of museums and anything history related so this was the perfect location for me. In my 4 hours there, I did learn an awful lot. So here’s an idea of what there is to see.

The birds of East Africa

There are over 1300 species of birds displayed here (taxidermy) from the huge storks and vultures to the tiny finches and sunbirds. All displayed according to family and each with an information card. Apparently there are thousands more available to study in the archives. Perhaps a trip for another day. There’s also a display showing common birds that migrate to the area from elsewhere in the world. I learnt that this is where our British swallows come for the winter.

Evolution

Fascinating exhibition showing fossils and bones found in the area. Africa is known as the birthplace of life so there’s some amazing history here. There’s a skull thought to be of a distant ancestor of ours that is 17 million years old. That is so hard to grasp – that you’re standing in front of something that has existed for 17 million years.
Also here are the almost complete skeletons that are famous in the field of archeology and evolutionary science: those of Lucy and Turkana Boy.

Sculpture at the Nairobi National Museum

Mammals

More taxidermy plus a few fossils and a couple of mock-ups. Lots of animals I’ve never even heard of, let alone seen. My highlights were:

  • Dugong – a relative of the elephant that lives in the sea.
  • Spring hare – looks like a small, very furry kangaroo.
  • Potto – related to the bush baby. Very very cute.
  • Mountain gorilla – wow. Now I really want to do a gorilla trek!
  • Crested rat – very furry and huge. Thought to be poisonous but not confirmed.
  • Crested porcupine – a nice close up view of an animal I saw briefly in the forest yesterday.

Dinosaur Sculpture at the Nairobi National Museum

The Joy Adamson Exhibition

Of ‘Born Free’ fame.
Her efforts led to the creation of the first Kenya wildlife reserves. She released hand raised animals into the wild which was, at the time, pioneering.
The exhibition showcases some of her beautiful watercolours from botanical illustrations, to fish, and the tribes of Kenya with jewellery, weapons, and traditional tribal instruments. There’s even a lovely painting of Elsa as a lion cub.
More paintings are available to view in the archives.

The Cycles of Life Room

Shows all the stages of life as practised by the traditional tribes of Kenya and the modern citizens today.
There’s everything from artefacts from initiation ceremonies, clothing, marriage gifts and household items to the kit of a medicine man and charms to keep away evil spirits and protect from witchcraft. There are some recreational items, amongst which I recognised a game I love myself. It is known as bao but I know it by another name – mancala.
One display that made me cringe a little showed ear stretchers. Some were scarily huge, even one the size of a log you would put on the fire. Ear stretching is almost a dead practise in Kenya now except amongst the Maasai.

History of Kenya

This room fascinated me. I know very little about Kenyan history except what I’ve picked up in conversation. I feel a little bad about that, particularly as Kenya was a British colony so it’s actually partially my own history. Feeling guilty about my ignorance was nothing to how bad I felt when I learnt about the fight for independence though. The British did some terrible things.
As well as colonial history, the exhibition details progress in politics, military, education, health, and economics.
There’s information (and an interactive map) about the original peopling of Kenya by the Bantu, the Cushites, and the Nilotes.
There’s even a small cinema here. I don’t know how long the rolling movie is because I didn’t have time to see it all. I hope to go back one day and view the whole thing because the bit I saw was very well presented.

The Temporary Exhibitions

Two galleries of art to peruse today.
The first: celebrating women, for international women’s day.
The second:‘Digitized’. Some fascinating pieces about the impact of technology and it’s confusing nature and overload of information. By Adrian Nduma.

Overall

A great day out that wasn’t long enough. Just time for a tasty salad and a glass of mango juice in the cafe and a browse of the souvenir shops (be warned: pretty much everything for sale here can be found cheaper in the markets). Now it’s time to sit back and delve into my new books, learn some more fascinating history, and plan my next adventure.

Sculpture at the Nairobi National Museum

 

Useful Info

How to get there: From the city centre there’s no decent public transport as you’d be travelling on the wrong side of an 8 lane highway. But it’s an easy 1.8km straight, flat, walk up Uhuru Highway. You can’t get lost. Returning it’s possible, but convoluted, to get a matatu. I just walked. Can be done conveniently as part of an organised city tour with private transport provided but see my upcoming post regarding those tours.
Opening hours: 8:30am-5:30pm 365 days a year.
Entry charges: for non-residents, it’s 1500 shillings for a combined ticket for the museum and the snake park. Significant reductions for residents and citizens (take your ID/evidence).
A tour guide?: I didn’t use a guide. I heard snippets from other people’s tours and they weren’t bad. However, there’s so much written information (in English) that the guides don’t really add a lot. Also, I enjoyed being able to take my time and go at my own pace. The guides seemed to skim over a lot that I wouldn’t want to miss.
Top tip: cling to your ticket like it’s the last piece of food on the planet. You can’t actually exit without it as you need to scan it to release the gate! I doubt the curators would hold you hostage in the museum if you did happen to lose it though.

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