Future generations will blame us for ignoring historical sites

Because I harbour dreams of writing historical fiction one day, and because I find Kenya’s pre-colonial history fascinating, I decided to, sometime back, visit the Lord Egerton Castle located on the outskirts of Nakuru town. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • On citing my concerns to the guide, he promptly informed me that there was neither written material nor household wares because the castle had been vandalised after the death of Lord Egerton and every valuable, including his mattress and diary, taken away.

  • I had forgotten about this incident until a few weeks ago, when I saw a story in the Daily Nation.

Because I harbour dreams of writing historical fiction one day, and because I find Kenya’s pre-colonial history fascinating, I decided to, sometime back, visit the Lord Egerton Castle located on the outskirts of Nakuru town.

Having researched and read about the place, I went armed with a camera and a number of questions. I intended to find out and, hopefully, eventually fictionalise the lovelorn Lord who was an agriculturalist,

photographer, world war veteran and, as the tale goes, a hater of women after his heartbreak.

The tour started off well. However, as we moved from room to room, I found out, to my utter dismay, that there was nothing to see but empty rooms and oral tales that, truth be told, turned out to be

somewhat different from what I had gathered from secondary sources.

On citing my concerns to the guide, he promptly informed me that there was neither written material nor household wares because the castle had been vandalised after the death of Lord Egerton and every

valuable, including his mattress and diary, taken away.

I had forgotten about this incident until a few weeks ago, when I saw a story in the Daily Nation.

According to the story, Lokitaung, a detention camp where five of the Kapenguria Six freedom fighters were imprisoned in the 1950s, has been neglected and thus risks losing its place in history.

Its six cells, study room, toilets and prison warden houses, are either collapsed or in very bad state. Sadly, it has been left to the local elders of the Lokitaung community to form a committee to rehabilitate the buildings.

The elders hope to turn the camp into a museum. They also hope that the artefacts the freedom fighters used, which were vandalised, would be returned to them.

EFFORTS NOT BORNE FRUIT

However, their efforts to write to the National Museums of Kenya for assistance haven’t borne any fruit because the Museum people have not responded.

Interestingly, Kenya has over 1,200 cultural and historical sites and monuments documented under the National Museums of Kenya. However, the major sites and monuments in our country are either in very bad shape or run down.

Take the well known historical sites in Mombasa for instance. The base of Fort Jesus, the UNESCO world heritage site located in old town Mombasa, built in 1596, is slowly being eroded by the rising sea tides and the town’s sewage.

Also, according to a story carried in the East African newspaper last year, the foundation of the Vasco da Gama pillar, built in 1498, has been eroded and its pillar hangs dangerously because of the rising sea levels and the widening cracks.

As though this isn’t enough, the Jumba la Mutwana ruins in Mtwapa, built in the 14th Century, are quickly disappearing into rubble as the walls cave in.

As a school teacher who stoutly believes that learning and patriotism are best passed down through showing and not telling, this information is, of course, giving me sleepless nights.

I am of the impression that if we do not take care of our heritage, the only evidence we will have of, say, the slave caves in Shimoni, Kwale, will be in Roger Whittakers’ song "Shimoni" from his album My Land is Kenya.

It might be true, as from the National Museums report, that the natural tidal erosion can’t be avoided. However, NMK can engage marine engineers to help in controlling the erosion caused by rising sea water.

Just across the border in Uganda, the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda, the Ugandan National Museum and the Kampala Capital City Authority have very recently identified 51 sites in Kampala which were

constructed before 1969 and which reflect Uganda’s history and past.

The CCFU has even gone ahead and launched a map of the historical sites which includes photos of the buildings, their architectural merits, aesthetic quality and unique design.

Moreover, the Kampala Capital City Authority has started guided tours of Kampala city.

Further west, historians are also quite serious about preserving their historical heritage. A few examples will suffice.

In Amsterdam, The Anne Frank House was converted into a museum. The Secret Annex, a house in which the Jewish teenager, Anne Frank, wrote her diary during the two years her family hid from the Nazi, has been preserved for historical purposes.

The diary was discovered by Anne’s father, Otto, after the Second World War, in which Anne died, had ended. It was published as the bestselling book Diary of Anne Frank. The Anne Frank House, which

opened to the public in 1960, receives over half a million visitors every year.

And it’s not only historical facts that are preserved. Some countries are even preserving their literary history.

Ireland’s most famous literary, son James Joyce, whose patriotism made him set his nobel-prize winning book Ulysses in Dublin, has received honour from his country as well.

To keep the author alive in the mind of Dubliners, towers have been named after him, days set aside to recreate the events in Ulysses and, incredibly, a full museum put up in the author’s memory with his

manuscripts, rare editions of his books and personal belongings displayed.

Meanwhile, some outlandish African leaders, in futile efforts to turn their citizens’ hearts patriotic, are busy introducing patriotism lessons in schools and turning to tribalism.

In the end, it is true that unlike the Biblical wall of Jericho, the walls of our historical buildings do not require trumpet sounds or marching feet to crumble, they only need to continue being neglected with the sorry excuse that our government does not have enough funds for maintenance.

Meanwhile, the very state can afford MCA’s millions of shillings to globe trot, earn hefty allowances and marvel at historical sites and wonders in other countries.

Nonetheless, as film-maker Ken Burns says, history is best understood by walking the ground where it happened. May Burns’ words keep haunting us even as we steal from our future generations by neglecting our historical sites and monuments.

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