Kisumu Museum
The Cultural Significance of the Kisumu Museum

This essay discusses the importance of the Kisumu Museum to the collection, preservation, and dissemination of information dealing with heritage of the Kisumu region and surrounding areas. It examines the Kisumu Museum itself as well other sites and monuments under the control of the Kisumu Museum. Our report therefore explores the exhibitions dealing with culture and traditions. It also explores the locational and historical background of the Kisumu Museum and Kisumu City. Ultimately, the report hopes to bring out the overall connection between tradition and modernity as shown at the Kisumu Museum and how the history of the museum is influenced by the nature and location of Kisumu City, and the museum also influences the history of Kisumu City.

When one visits the Kisumu Museum, the first thing that one notices is a large billboard that lists the admission rates and hours of operation (Monday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) of the museum. The billboard also announces that the museum is part of the National Museums of Kenya. Underneath the billboard are words that assert that this is “Where Heritage Lives On.” The museum is located just a few minutes from the Kisumu-Kericho-Nairobi Highway in Kisumu, Kenya. Although plans to establish the museum began in 1975, it was not officially open to the public until April 7, 1990.

The Kisumu Museum, like most other institutions affiliated with the National Museums corporation, serves to collect, preserve, document, study, and exhibit Kenya’s rich cultural and natural heritage. The Kisumu Museum is therefore very important. The Museum features many different exhibits for its visitors. And, apart from the beautiful exhibits that attract people both internationally and locally to the main museum compound in Kisumu, there are also other sites and monuments of historical significance including but not limited to, Fort Tenan, Songhor, Thimlich Ohinga, and Rusinga Island that are managed by the museum.

Aside from providing exhibitions of exotic cultural and national materials for visitors to the site, the museum also plays a significant role in the maintenance and sustainability of Lake Victoria’s biodiversity. This is due to its proximity to Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

The museum also provides educational services to neighborhood schools and is often utilized by the community for a variety of events (an example being the attached photographs showing government workers and choir members celebrating there on World Tourism Day 2017).

But the most distinctive and striking features of the Kisumu Museum are its numerous exhibits, including a diverse collection of flora and fauna species. Many of the reptiles and amphibians under exhibition at the museum have been collected from Nyanza provinces.

Although most of the museum’s collections hail from within the Nyanza region, interestingly, some of the exhibitions are from neighboring regions such as Rift Valley and Western region. The Nyanza region is occupied primarily by people of the Luo ethnic group. It is notable that the former President Barack Obama’s family is actually apart of the Luo ethnic group and his father, Barack Obama Sr., is from the Luo of the Nyanza region. Many of the exhibits at the museum are therefore understandably from the among the Luo. Thus, as already stated, the Museum has multiple exhibits specifically related to Luo history and culture. The exhibits deal with the origin of the Luo people and their settlement in Western Kenya. Another exhibit displays information on traditional plants that were known for curing certain diseases.

One of the most outstanding exhibitions deals with the structure and nature of a Luo homestead. The exhibition is known as “Ber-gi-Dala” exhibition. The exhibition is essential for documenting the history of the Luo, and preservation of their culture, and the museum takes pride in this responsibility.

The “Ber-gi-Dala” is a very important and large exhibition. In fact, the Ber-gi-Dala is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) sponsored exhibition. It is a full scale recreation of a traditional Luo homestead: the homestead of a Luo man named Jaduong Odero who was married to three wives. The exhibition consists of the houses where people live in, and the granaries that could be used for the storage of cereal crops such as maize, millet, wheat, and sorghum. Crops such as beans could also be stored in the granaries. In fact, the Ber-gi-Dala could also be part of a larger kraal. The homestead represents the house of the three wives; the house of the eldest wife first and also her second son, gives foreign visitors unique insight into a traditional Luo home.

Aside from the “Ber-gi-Dala” exhibition, there also other notable things on display, including animals such as reptiles and amphibians that have been predominantly collected in Nyanza and neighboring regions. There are various exhibitions for visitors to explore such as traditional clothing and adornment, basketry, fishing gear, agricultural tools, hunting weaponry, animal dioramas (a lion, De Brazza monkey, and the largest Nile perch).

Another notable feature is a 300-year-old tortoise imported to Kenya from Seychelles in 1930. Along with several other tortoises exhibited in the museum, this particular tortoise survives through regularly being fed cabbages and water. Both sources of nutrition are available to the tortoises at all times and they all have extremely long life spans (the reptilians are actually known for having one of the longest life spans of any animals).

Three new exhibition buildings have recently been built on the museum grounds. One of the buildings serves as an educational exhibition facility while the other two are mainly gallery centered. Inside the museum, the first pavilion contains numerous aquaria with a wide variety of fish from Lake Victoria along with explanatory posters giving information on specific fish species that are on display.

The second exhibition building contains terrarium with a variety of snakes such as mambas, spitting cobra, and puff adders. Additional exhibits include a snake pit, crocodile container, jewelry, farm tools, and Trust for African Rock Art or “TARA”. However, the rock art exhibition was moved to a separate museum for protection after it was vandalized by graffiti in its original location.

As mentioned earlier, the museum also runs and manages sites and monuments in other parts of the region. One of the most important duties of the museum is managing the Tom Mboya Mausoleum on Rusinga Island. The Mausoleum was built in remembrance of Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya, popularly known as Tom Mboya. It chronicles and life and achievements of Tom Mboya. The mausoleum lists information about Tom Mboya’s family and Luo history (because Mboya was of Luo descent). Under the National Museums of Kenya, Mboya’s mausoleum is able to receive proper maintenance and preservation.

But Tom Mboya Mausoleum is but one of several significant sites and monuments that are most memorable, stunning, and notable and that are under the management of the Kisumu Museum. Regardless of one’s main interests, there are therefore plenty of amazing exhibitions and displays that can dazzle the eyes and ears of any first time visitors to the museum or to any of the sites affiliated to it.

There are also many notable research activities becoming prominent at the museum in recent years. There are research activities dealing with diverse activities including multinational investigations on the limnology of Lake Victoria. These investigations are conducted in conjunction with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) at Mbita, in the region.

The Kisumu Museum is therefore notable for helping to display, preserve, and disseminate information about Kenyan and Luo history. It does this through its many exhibits, including the Ber-gi-Dala exhibition. The preservation of history is important as history helps shape the identity of peoples and nations, as well as providing the opportunity for people to learn about the past. The Kisumu Museum should be of interest to Kenyans, who want to learn about their history, as well people across the globe. The Kisumu Museum plays an important role in Kisumu, providing people with information about their history and helping to preserve their identity.

Therefore, next time you are in Kisumu, do not forget to pay a visit to the Kisumu Museum.

Images

New Kisumu National Museum Buildings

New Kisumu National Museum Buildings: The new buildings are the exhibitions. From the left hand side is the education exhibition while the other two buildings are the gallery exhibitions in Kisumu National Museum. ~ Photo taken by Samson Ruiru, 19th October 2018.

Puff Adder Snake Pit

Puff Adder Snake Pit: Puff Adder snakes kept in snake pit in Kisumu Museum. ~ Photo taken by Mark Odhiambo, 19th October 2018.

A Gallery at Kisumu Museum

A Gallery at Kisumu Museum: Inside one of the galleries of the Kisumu Museum. ~ Raina Washington, Nadia James, Birya Ali

Ber-gi-dala at Kisumu Museum

Ber-gi-dala at Kisumu Museum: Ber-gi-dala at the Kisumu Museum. Ber-gi-dala is a full-scale recreation of a traditional Luo homestead. ~ Photo taken by David A. Victor, 5 September 2006.

Luo Homestead Exhibit, First Wife's Hut, Kisumu Museum

Luo Homestead Exhibit, First Wife's Hut, Kisumu Museum: This is an exhibition of the hut of the mikayi, the First Wife, within a traditional Luo Homestead. ~ Photo by J. Mark Souther, January 8, 2018 | Kisumu Archive, http://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2762.

Mural Depicting Traditional Lifestyle

Mural Depicting Traditional Lifestyle: This mural shows how Luos used to build their traditional homes. ~ Taken by Mark Odhiambowang, 19th of October 2018.

Luo Homestead Exhibit, Granary of the Man, Kisumu Museum

Luo Homestead Exhibit, Granary of the Man, Kisumu Museum: Photo by J. Mark Souther, January 8, 2018 | Kisumu Archive, https://archive.macleki.org/items/show/2763

Lake Victoria Diorama, Kisumu Museum

Lake Victoria Diorama, Kisumu Museum: Kisumu painting depicting ancient African fishing culture. | Photo by J. Mark Souther, January 8, 2018 | Kisumu Archive, archive.macleki.org/items/show/2728

Traditional Luo Fish Traps

Traditional Luo Fish Traps: Fish traps such as these have long been used to catch fish along the edges of Lake Victoria. These traps are displayed at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Mausoleum and Museum near Bondo. | Photo by J. Mark Souther, January 7, 2018 | Kisumu Archive, archive.macleki.org/items/show/3050

Grass Sieve for Cooking Fish, Luo Community, Late 20th Century, Kisumu Museum

Grass Sieve for Cooking Fish, Luo Community, Late 20th Century, Kisumu Museum: This item was used to safely handle fish during the cooking process. | Photo by J. Mark Souther, January 7, 2018 | Kisumu Archive, archive.macleki.org/items/show/2546

The County Government Celebrates World Tourism Day 2017 at Kisumu Museum

The County Government Celebrates World Tourism Day 2017 at Kisumu Museum: The county government celebrates World Tourism Day 2017 at the museum. ~ Use of museum grounds by the community is common.

Community Choir Utilizes Museum for Performance

Community Choir Utilizes Museum for Performance: A choir waits to entertain guests. ~ Use of museum grounds by the community is common.

Map

Busia Rd., Kisumu, Kenya ~ The Kisumu Museum is located on the Busia Road, a few meters from the Kisumu-Nairobi Highway. Once you are on the Nairobi-Kisumu Highway, locate the Busia Road, drive or walk a few meters on the road to the Kisumu. The location of the museum is unmistakable. The Kisumu Museum billboard sign is also quite visible on the road. ~ www.museums.or.ke/kisumu/