“The Theater of Kenya’s History”
The Kenya National Archives was established in 1965 by an act of parliament. One of the key functions of the Kenya National Archives is to showcase Kenya’s and part of Africa’s political and cultural history and heritage by acquiring and preserving valuable public and private records. The records have historical, financial, legal, administrative or research value like the John Boyes “The White Agikuyu King” and Murumbi African Heritage Collections.
The Kenya National Archives is managed by Kenya National Archives and Documenting Service. When it was established it was placed under the office of the Vice President and Ministry of Home Affairs but later on its management was placed under the office of the Vice President and the Ministry of State for National Heritage & Culture.
Why it stands out
The Kenya Nation Archives stands out because it offers local and international visitors the chance to learn about the history of Kenya in details. It also offers one the chance to view the vast collection of Africa’s communities artwork. It has also has collection of contemporary artists especially from the East African region.
How to get there
The Kenya National Archives is located within the central business district of Nairobi, opposite the Nairobi Hilton Hotel on the side of Moi Avenue. It can also be accessed via Tom Mboya Street.
Opening hours and charges
The Kenya National Archives is open from Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 5.00 pm. The entrance fee for all adult citizens is 50 Kenya shillings while for children it is only 30 Kenya Shillings. Or get there with Uniglobe Lets’ Go Travel
Where to eat
Due to its strategic location, one has a variety of places to choose from. The front side of the building faces the Hilton hotel which is only 0.1miles from the National Archives. One can also have a snack in Galitos, Creamy Inn and also Pizza Inn which are located at the Union Towers building, a one-minute walk from the National Archives. Hotels and cafes around Kenya National Archives which are less than 0.5 miles from the National Archives are Sarova Stanley, Oakwood Hotel, Diamond Hotel and Best Western Plus Meridian Hotel.
What to do and see
John Boyes Collection
The John Boyes collection is a collection of paintings from Kenya’s colonial history. John Boyes, also referred to as the “White Agikuyu King” in the books A White King in East Africa and How I Became King…..of The Wakikuyu”, was an adventurous trader and former owner of Mount Kenya, the second highest peak in Africa and king of the Agikuyu people of Kenya. He acquired the mountain, which he owned for several years, after trading some goods with a Kikuyu chief in exchange for Mt. Kenya. The Agikuyu people believe that God, Ngai or Mwene Nyaga, lived on Mount Kenya when he came down from the sky. Since the mountain was sacred to the Agikuyu people, John Boyes became a respected king by virtue of owning the mountain. Of course the mountain is now Kenya’s property and a world heritage site.
John Boyes collection of paintings were purchased at an auction following his death. Most of the paintings were painted during the first two decades of this century.
The Murumbi Art Collection
Inside the Kenya National Archives, on the ground floor, you will also find part of the Murimbi collection, a collection of unique and rare works of African art collected and later donated to the state by Kenya’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and second vice president, the late Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi (1911–June 22, 1990) and his late wife Sheilla. Most of the collection is kept as a permanent exhibition at the Nairobi Art Gallery, a 20-minute walk from the Kenya National Archives.
The art collection found at the Kenya National Archives include stone carvings from Elkana Ongesa from Kisii, Nigerian Art, Contemporary Kenyan art, Makonde Contemporary art, Banana Fibre Mosaics by Waswa Kinta, Bronze castings, Art by Mumia Aukah from Western Kenya among other pieces of art.
Bakuba Palm Fibre Tunic
It is a delicate palm Fibre weaving done by the Bakuba women for the women of the royal court or the royal dancers. The Fibre is clipped with velvet and adorned with cow shells
Bakuba ‘Mwash A Mboy’ Mask –DRC
This mask is worn at the initiation rites to symbolize the culture hero, woot, who originated from the Bakuba royalty, the political structure of the tribe and most of its arts and crafts. The super structure of the art of the mask appears to represent an elephant trunk which is a royal emblem. Men from a royal descent were the only ones allowed to wear it.
Zaire (DRC) Masks
These masks are called the Kifwebe masks of the Sangwe and they are very famous in Africa. They inspired people like Picasso and also artists of the 20th century.
It often depicts stories in stories in panels much like modern comic strip or film. This particular art tells of the historic meeting and union of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Jerusalem. Their union produced the dynasty of King Menelik.
The weaponry section showcases weapons that were used during battle by Kenyan communities like Luhya shield and spears, Luo shield, Turkana weapons, Maasai weapons, Bushmen Quivers & bows, Wakamba weapons, Bakuba weapons among other African communities.
African textiles and jewelry
This section is where you will learn about Iman, one of the world’s most beautiful women and also the history behind the Annual African Heritage nights. It’s an exhibition of different textiles in Africa and also the jewelry African men and women wore.
The musical instruments section tells the story of the melody of African music. It includes drums from the Kamba of Kenya, the Buganda of Uganda and the Senoufo of Ivory Coast. Flutes from the Fulani of West Africa, horn from the Pokot of Kenya and a small slit gong from the Bayaka of Zaire can also be found in the musical instruments section.
Swahili Furniture and African Tools
Swahili beds and cradles were imported in the dhow trade from India and the Middle East. In this section one can also find information about the Swahili cooking which is a communal act of love and piety. The African stool is found in many parts of Africa if not all. The Kenya National Archives has the golden stool on display which is made of wood. In Ghana, the Ashanti people believe that the Golden Stool symbolizes embodiment of the Ashanti people in their ruler, the Ashantahene. He keeps this stool and is only viewed on ceremonial occasions.
Local and foreign visitors can learn about the iconic leaders who have defined the history of Kenya. Among these iconic leaders are; Jomo Kenyatta who lead Kenya in gaining its independence, Wangari Maathai who won a Nobel Prize for her work in environmental conservation, Tom Mboya who was one of the founder fathers of Kenya among others. There is also information of the way of life of Kenyans, our struggle for independence, structure of the government and other prominent personalities of Kenya.
My Product Experience rating
This is the best place to learn about Kenya’s political and cultural history through unique and rare works art and newspapers. Who knew Kenya once had a white tribal King??Rating: 7/10
Guiding and interpretation
Though there were labels below each item, there was no guide to explain deeper about each item. The labels contained summarized information which is not enough especially for a visitor who wants to learn more about a certain culture or artist. Rating: 5/10
The environment inside the Kenya National Archives is relatively clean. At the entrance there was food wrapping left by children but later in the day there were cleaners who came and ensured the National Archives was clean. Natural and artificial lighting was used to ensure the collection could be seen. The management was responsible enough to keep instructions at the viewing sections instructing people to switch off the lights after viewing. Rating: 7\10
Overall rating: 6.3/10
If you are a history enthusiast or just interested in interested in the history of Kenya, The Kenya National Archives is a must visit. However, the management should at least hire guides to help visitors interpret the collections found in the facility.
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Reviewed on 8th July 2017 by Ann Wacera