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Do historical records, monuments and artefacts make economic sense?

By X N Iraki | July 3rd 2016

Recently, I came across my grandfather’s original marriage certificate dated 1924. It is the oldest document in the family. The certificate describes his occupation, that of his wife and the priest who solemnised the wedding and the place.

Another gentleman shared with me the discharge certificate and the medals of his father who served in World War II, from 1939-1945. The records show he was a driver and was discharged with conduct, very good. He served in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) as a driver.

An old colonial house near Nyahururu, formerly owned by Patrick Clark Turner (Muhuhu). The building on the right was a hangar for his biplane. All Such houses should be declared national monuments. [PHOTO: XN Iraki]

And recently, I met another Kenyan of European descent who has his genealogy up to 1747. Another has furniture that dates to 1680. What is the oldest artefact or document in your possession? At the national level, we have the national archives that keep historical records while the museum has artefacts and protect monuments. Have you been there lately? Whether at individual or Government, such records, artefacts and monuments link us to the history and serve as an inspiration to the next generation. They are better inspirers than Spiderman or James Bond.

Great families and nations take pride in past successes and failures. Think of the pride American families have in talking about emigration from Europe. Or Kenyans of Indian or European extraction talking of how they came to Kenya. I have noted that lots of Britons were coming to Kenya even in the middle of Mau Mau rebellion. It seems life in UK after WWII was very bad. Or did Britons believe that uhuru was not coming that soon? Paradoxically, Afrikaners were leaving back to South Africa. Our historians seem to have ignored the presence of South Africans in our history.

What about the Kenyan families that have also moved around from one part of the country to the other and how they dealt with adversities? Such records, monuments and artefacts are sources of national pride. Britons take pride as having not been conquered since 1066. Americans find pride in turning the tide in WWII. Singapore takes pride in becoming a developed country in less than two generations. Ethiopians are proud of never being colonised.

One reason we are so tribal and prone to inter-tribal conflicts is because we do not have a sense of national pride. Apart from athletics, where else do we derive our national pride? The liberation War that was Mau Mau is a source of national pride, but it is being attenuated by time and parochialism. One failure of our leadership is stirring national pride. Tribalism and other vices have filled the vacuum.

Enough digression, do such historical records make economic sense? First, they are rare and that raises their prices. How much would you buy the original copy of the American constitution? And the statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower? The original painting of Mona Lisa? Where is Kenya’s original constitution? Where is the leopard skin that Dedan Kimathi was wearing when he was captured? How much would it cost?

Where is Jomo Kenyatta’s flywhisk? And his first official car? Where is ‘fimbo ya Nyayo’? These documents, monuments and artefacts are so expensive that we cannot attach any price to them. The emotional part of it makes them even more precious. It was good news to see National Museums of Kenya requesting governors to name the most important monuments in their counties. That campaign should involve all Kenyans, not just governors.

My unsolicited suggestion is that all the colonial houses in the Happy Valley (Wanjohi Valley) in Nyandarua County should be declared national monuments. That should extend to other counties too. It is so sad that the former house of Lord Errol was destroyed. I salvaged a brick. The former house of Morgan Glenville was dismantled to build a primary school.

Museum’s efforts should extend to the documents too. Where is Kenya’s first PhD certificate, from where? Who was the first Kenyan to be baptised? When was the first title deed issued in Kenya? To who? Attachment to the past reminds us of where we came from. It helps us pause and reflect on where we are and where we are going.

That is necessary in a world driven by materialism and pride in new things from clothes to electronics. It is easy to forget the past and focus too much on the present. We are forever waiting for the next big thing, the next movie, the next smartphone, the next car, the next fashion and breaking news. While these are transient, history represented by artefacts and documents is fixed; it serves as an anchor in stormy seas.

Is it not time you started a small museum at home to share with kids and visitors? They will not ask you for the password to your wifi. Such focus to the past could save us from the tyranny of the Internet, social media and meaninglessness.

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