Nairobi National Museum houses some of the most celebrated collections of history, culture and art from Kenya and East Africa. The museum aims to interpret Kenya’s heritage by stimulating appreciation and learning. A visit introduces you to its history, nature, culture and contemporary art in all its splendour. Also within the grounds are the famous Snake Park, Botanical Gardens and Nature Trail.
Nairobi National Museum was initiated in 1910 by the then East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society (now the East African Natural History Society). Its first site was at the present Nyayo House in the Nairobi city centre. The area soon became small. The government put up a larger building in 1922 where the Nairobi Serena Hotel now stands.
In 1929, the colonial government set aside land at Museum Hill, and construction work started at the current site. On September 22 1930, it debuted as the Coryndon Museum, honouring Sir Robert Coryndon. At one time, the Governor of Kenya, Sir Robert, was a staunch supporter of the Uganda Natural History Society. On attaining independence in 1963, the museum changed its name to the National Museum of Kenya (NMK).
On October 15 2005, the museum closed its doors to the public for an extensive renovation and expansion that transformed into a magnificent piece of architecture that puts it in competition with other world-class museums. Here are five things that you should not miss during your visit.
1. See The Joy Adamson Peoples of Kenya Paintings
At the Nairobi National Museum, you will see original art by Joy Adamson – yes, the one and only Mama Simba! She set off on her painting journey with wildflowers shortly after arriving in the country. As she travelled across Kenya with her second husband, Peter Bally, the countryside set the stage. In 1945 Joy began a new pastime of painting portraits of Kenyan tribesmen and women. She had never painted portraits before.
At the commission of the British government, she went on to paint a record of the twenty-two most important tribes of Kenya. In total, she completed over seven hundred portraits.
2. Visit the Snake Park
The Snake Park was founded in 1961 by the colonial government. Back then, its only occupants were snakes. Nowadays, it also accommodates vertebrates such as fish, reptiles and amphibians.
3. See Nature, Culture and History
The Nairobi National Museum is modelled around nature, culture and history – the three pillars of Kenya’s national heritage. The pillar on nature consists of five exhibitions (geology, human origins, natural diversity, ecology of Kenya and mammalian radiation). Culture includes creativity, cycles of life and cultural dynamism. History has exhibitions on the cycles of life, history of Kenya and cycles of life, and Kenya Before 1850.
4. Unwind at the Nairobi Botanical Gardens
The Nairobi Botanical Gardens provides a venue of beauty where you can spend time relaxing, savouring the aroma and sounds of the garden and learning about nature. The gardens modelled on sixteen conservation themes are home to over 600 indigenous and 100 exotic plant species and cultivars. The botany and habitat theme, for instance, focuses on the Children’s Garden. The recognition of botanical gardens is integral to a nation’s heritage and culture. Their collections only differ from those in an art gallery by being alive. That is why the Nairobi Botanical Gardens sit next to the museum, which preserves material culture. Entry to the gardens is free.
5. Visit Ahmed, The King of Marsabit
At the Nairobi National Museum, the mummified statue of Ahmed still stands tall nearly a century after his death. Ahmed lived and died at the Marsabit National Park. He was part of an iconic breed of tuskers who possess an extraordinary ability to grow large. But it was his enormous tusks that made him become the first living national treasure protected by a presidential decree. Up to his death in 1974, Ahmed spotted a round-the-clock entourage of armed guards who protected him against poachers. Legend says he died leaning against a tree resting on his giant tusks.
If you are in Nairobi with some time to spare, I would recommend you visit the Nairobi National Museum. More so if history, culture, and heritage interest you. From the Nairobi CBD, it is about a ten-minute drive off Waiyaki Way along Museum Hill Road. The museum is open daily (including public holidays) from 9:30 AM to 6:00 PM.