7:57 PM / Saturday September 30, 2023

13 Jan 2013

Kenya is not a theme park (part two)

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January 13, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon


“Ugai borori uroagirira, na ando maroingeha.”

“Say ye that the country may have tranquility and the people may continue to increase.”

–Gikuyu Blessing


The Maasai traditionally watered their herds in a place in the Central Highlands they called “enkare nyarobe” or “cool water.” It began a second life in the late 1890s as a railroad camp to facilitate the building of the railroad called Nairobi. In 1907 it was deemed the capital of British East Africa. Modern Nairobi is a unique city with wide thoroughfares and tall buildings and where it is not unusual to see a traditionally garbed Maasai warrior talking on a cellphone.


Tours of the city should begin at the Nairobi National Museum Archives founded in 1930.Here you can obtain enough information on Kenya’s natural, cultural and historic background to make the other sites more comprehensible. The tour begins outside with a volcanic stone sculpture, “Mother and Child,” by Francis Nagenda and proceeds inside to galleries on two-levels.


A very impressive Tower of Gourds is a featured display on the ground level. Gourds, dippers, collected from nearly fifty different tribal groups, represent Kenya’s diversity. The tower reaches the ceiling and provides a wonderful photo op. The Cradle of Mankind Gallery recounts the history of mankind from his earliest origins. Life-sized dioramas show us how early man lived and skeletons on display trace man’s growth and development.


Louis Bazett Leakey functioned as honorary curator for 20-years and the Kenya born archeologist and anthropologist is commemorated with a bronze statue. Though born of European missionary parents he grew up with the Kikuyu and is credited with causing anthropologists to consider Africa as the cradle of civilization. Though there is no statue of her, Mary Leakey, Louis’ wife, deserves kudos also for her work in the field.


The Nairobi Railway Museum may be a little difficult to locate but I urge you to persevere because it is worth it. Founded in 1971 to preserve and present the history of the railroad in East Africa it does this through a series of indoor showcases and exterior rolling stock. The interior is one large gallery crammed with models, artifacts, photographs and posters. Highlights here are a bicycle that attached to the track for supervisors to ride the rails and a scaffold that attached to the locomotive of the train, referred to as the ‘Lunatic Line,’ and provided special seating for big game safaris. You rode this at your own risk.


There are approximately ten steam trains in the railyard that are available for both viewing and exploration but the featured item here is the authentic rail car in which Henry Ryall was killed by the man-eating lions of Tsavo. He was a railroad inspector who fell asleep in Inspection Car #12 while waiting to kill the lions. For nine months during the 1898 construction of a railroad bridge on the Mombasa-Uganda line two lions were reported to have killed and eaten as many as 135 workers. (Modern stable-isotope analysis has proven they “only” ate 35 people.)


The lions were killed by Lt. Colonel John Patterson who had them skinned and used the pelts as rugs. In 1924, he lectured at Chicago’s Field Museum and sold the skins to the museum for $5,000. The two pelts were restored and are currently a popular display in the Field Museum. The Kenyan government recently began efforts to regain the lions. The story has been kept alive in several movies, the most notable of which is the 1996 “The Ghost and the Darkness” and Patterson’s, ” The Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” published in 1907. Other railcars of interest are the car used by Theodore Roosevelt while on safari in 1909 and the one used in the movie, “Out of Africa.”


At 10:39 AM on August 7, 1998 the US Embassy in Nairobi was the victim of a terrorist attack that resulted in the death of 218 people, 12 Americans, and 5,000 injuries. The plan was to drive a bomb-laden truck into the embassy but guards at the gate stopped the truck. The terrorists detonated the bombs. August 7th Memorial Park was dedicated on August 7, 2001 on the former US Embassy site to memorialize the attack. The park features a sculpture made of debris recovered from the site, a granite slab listing the names of those killed and a Peace Museum that features photographs and documents that tell the story of the attack.


PHOTO: Nairobi National Museum.


Karen von Blixen-Finecke, born to a wealthy family in Denmark in 1883, was by the age of 23, a published author. She wed her second cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, in 1914 and moved to Kenya and established a coffee plantation in the Ngong Hills, the largest in the country. She divorced her husband in 1925 after a four-year separation and embarked on a romance with the love of her life, Denys Finch Hatton. He died in a plane crash six years later in Tsavo. She buried him at a spot in the foothills where they often picnicked. Shortly thereafter she returned to Denmark where she quickly became renowned as a writer under the pseudonym Isak Dineson. Her best-known book, “Out of Africa,” detailing her life in Kenya, was published in 1937. She died in 1977 of malnutrition and left a sum of money to the more than 1,000 Africans who had worked on her plantation.


The Karen Blixen Museum is located in a suburb named Karen in her honor. The Danish gave M’Bogani House, her farmhouse, and grounds to Kenya in 1963 and it opened as a museum in 1985. The house contains many original objects, photographs and pieces of furniture as well as items used in the 1985 Meryl Streep and Robert Redford film version of Out of Africa. Her study is 100 percent original and in the living room only the desk is a replica. The grounds, gardens and gift shop are included with admission.


Langata Giraffe Centre, funded by the African Foundation for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW) was established in 1983 to protect Rothschild’s giraffes. When the center was founded there were only 130 of these giraffes left in the wild in Kenya and today they are no longer endangered. Visitors can climb the steps to a circular viewing platform that allows them to interact with the animals. These regal animals are trained to come when called and feeding them is part of the thrill.


The political history of Kenya is recalled and honored at numerous locations throughout the city. On a driving tour you can visit all the significant historic sites easily within a day. I suggest you contact an agency and hire a private car and driver so that you can tailor your sightseeing by choosing your venues and maximizing your time. My guide, Daniel Muthee, was an expert on both the city and his nation’s history ([email protected]).


The 1899 arrival of the railroad in Nairobi established it as a trading center and important point between Mombasa and Lake Victoria. The completion of the railroad would prove the impetus for Kenya’s colonization by the British and Nairobi would become the apex of the Kenyan resistance to their incursion on their hereditary homeland.


Colonizers settled on land adjacent to the railroad in the Highlands and the Maasai were relocated to two native reserves. In rapid succession Kikuyu land was also taken and the number of Maasai reservations was cut down to one. In 1915, all male Africans were ordered to carry a kipande, an identification card, in order to leave the reservation. After WWI the number of settlers increased, to approximately 30,000, as it did after the Depression and WWII. The main crops were coffee and tea and in order to force the Africans to labor for the white settlers they were prohibited from growing certain crops and heavy taxes were levied against them.


Henry Thuku founded the East African Association (EAA) in 1921 to protest against racist policies and programs and was exiled without due process one year later. Demonstrations were held to protest his initial arrest in which 25 Africans were slain by whites, both citizens and authorities. Jomo Kenyatta became secretary of the renamed EAA. He agitated for African rights and was exiled in London from 1931 to 1946. In 1947 Kenyatta became the face of the movement that protested, among other unfair practices, forced military conscription and the fact that more than 1.5-million Kikuyu had access to only 2,000-sq.-miles of land.


Many Kenyans felt that 50-years of peaceful protest had failed and thus the Mau Mau Rebellion was born. Contrary to popular belief the Mau Mau were not a tribe but guerilla fighters and the name is actually a corruption of the words “Uma Uma,” which meant, “come out, come out.” These words were a warning to other Africans viewed as collaborators to stop being complicit with the white settlers. Violent attacks were launched against both the settlers and the Africans.


Things came to a head in 1952 when a state of emergency was declared, 77,000 Kikuyu were sent to concentration camps and Kenyatta was arrested and sentenced to 7 years. By the end of the uprising more than 11,000 Mau Mau were dead as well as about 32 settlers and 90,000 Africans.


Though it appears the revolution failed the British ultimately realized the cost was too high to retain the colony. The first African parties were formed in 1960 and on December 12, 1963 Kenya was deemed an independent nation. In 1964 Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president. Currently there is a case in the British courts for reparations.


Parliament House was built in 1950 on the City Square. Visitors can watch the proceedings from the public gallery when it is in session. Bordering the building are the office of the President, City Hall and Kenyatta’s Mausoleum.


Kamau wa Ngengi, Jomo Kenyatta, was president from 1964-78 and died in Mombasa on August 22, 1978. The burial of Mzee Kenyatta took place on the 31st.


A large, bronze, portrait statue of Jomo Kenyatta sits in 7, 585-sq.-ft. City Square. The monument, sculpted by James Butler, was dedicated in 1973. The 12-ft. figure is seated clad in official African regalia and holds an iconic fly-wisk, a Maasai symbol of authority.


Uhuru (Freedom) Gardens is a superb setting for one of Kenya’s most notable national treasures, the 100-ft. Uhuru Monument. The monument was created by Hamid Mughai, dedicated in 1983 and placed where, on December 12, 1963, freedom from colonial rule was declared. A sculptural group of four freedom fighters are depicting raising the Kenyan flag. The focal point of the memorial is a visual depiction of “Nyayo,” “Peace, Love and Unity, ” a pair of hands clasping a heart with a dove above. An additional monument with a fountain commemorating Independence was added nearby in 1988.


Uhuru Gardens are located a short drive from Nairobi’s most famous, must visit, establishment, the Carnivore Restaurant. The restaurant has been a hit on all levels, service, cuisine, décor, entertainment and ambiance, since 1980. All types of charcoal grilled meat are offered skewered on Maasai swords, ostrich, camel, chicken, beef, pork, crocodile, etc. Food is carved at your table and you are served until you, literally, lower the flag on your table. The complex also includes shopping opportunities. Carnivore is consistently rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. Do not pass up this experience and be certain to order a “Dawa,” the signature cocktail.


Kenya is so much more than a game park that the adventures are nearly endless. This really can be the trip of a lifetime.


I wish you smooth travels!


*Numbers, spellings and dates vary by source. I have relied heavily on the writings of Jomo Kenyatta for information.

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