Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Museum Hill

Last week I was lucky enough to join some of the ladies from the Association for a tour of the Nairobi National Museum. I say lucky because the reopening of this museum has been scheduled and rescheduled for months now. Everything from funding to the “Kenyan situation” have managed to get in the way of the resurrection of this cultural landmark.

Our host that morning was the Museum Society chairperson who did a fantastic job of taking us around not only the public face of the museum but also gave us the chance to see some of the lesser known artifacts that the museum has in its collection including an ancient fish called a Coelacanth.

(For the sake of full disclosure, I will note here that while we were in the museum’s back offices to see the fish I had a bit of a freak out. I have four words for you: dead things in jars. *shudder*)

At only 1,500 Ksh for a family, membership in the Museum Society is a great deal. Not only are you helping out an organization that does a lot of great work right here in Nairobi, but you also get free entrance into all the museums in Kenya including the National Museum , Karen Blixen House in Karen, and, for those who like that sort of thing, the incredibly icky Snake Park.

But on with the tour…. In the main room was an incredible sculpture made with gourds from all over Kenya. The Kenya Room, as (I think) it was called featured items from different areas of Kenya including musical instruments and hand-woven baskets.

Although it may be difficult to tell from my photo, this Kenya-shaped artwork is covered with butterflies from all over the country.

The next room tries to tell the story of the various mammals found throughout the country, from tiny hares to massive elephants. One fairly unpopular attraction to the ladies I was with was the giant scale that told you how heavy you were in comparison with various animals. Are you a gazelle or an elephant? Yeah, like I was going to hop up on that thing!

At this point in our tour, photography became verboten. Sorry. The biggest bummer of the tour was that in order to get a close look at the museum’s collection human skulls one has to pay yet another 400Ksh. I believe (although am not certain) that these skulls depict the evolutionary chain and are thus considered too valuable to have out for regular viewing.

After a (far too) brief explanation about the correlation between Sickle Cell Anemia and immunity to the mosquito borne disease Malaria we proceeded through a room filled with animal photos and finally to a display which depicts the “life cycle of the average Kenyan.”

We were told that the museum was trying to depict the birth, childhood, adulthood, and death of multiple Kenyan tribes in the exhibit. In a rather disconcerting move toward modernity, the museum chose to place modern items alongside traditional and historical objects. For example, in a display of gourds and other devices used to nurse babies was a modern Winnie the Pooh baby bottle.

Toward the back of the museum and unfortunately not very well marked was an interesting exhibit about cave art found all around Africa.

As I’ve mentioned, the museum is a work in progress and several of the exhibit halls remain all but empty. Despite this, I highly encourage people to visit the museum as soon as possible. Not only will you enjoy a fabulous cultural experience but your entrance fee is desperately needed by this cash strapped institution.

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