September 25, 2019

2:30 PM - 5 PM

NMK Ford Hall


What does an independent postcolonial nation do with a painful colonial past? It was noticeable how the speaker, a Kenyan Indian included mostly pictures of the changes to Nairobi architecture and a few key people with his comments mostly based on the buildings and stories behind them. But what else was happening in the city beyond the development of the architecture? He did not call any attention to the fact that the photographs were only taken of certain areas.

Who was taking all these photos and why? Most were by settler colonials and by elites. But no pictures of the everyday life of the porters etc. A skewed perspective of the city. He didn’t include any pictures of particular events, e.g. Independence other than the coming of Roosevelt. Why does the history of contemporary Kenya in the last 50 years not come out. The talk was supposed to be Kenya over the last 50 years but in fact most of the pictures were from the first ten years of 1900s. 1900 - 1910. He was largely focused on colonial Kenya and on memorializing and nostalgia for that period of time. “They knocked this down at independence, etc. Etc.”


At least 20 white (Kenyans?). They seem to know each other. One is being helped into the room she is so frail and old. They are white haired , one with a hearing aid. In my nearly 10 years of being in Kenya, I have never seen so many white elderly Kenyans in one room. They obviously all live here. This was not the crowd I was expecting. They keep walking in. Many come and greet the speaker. A minority of Kenyans. A Chinese lady (the only one in the room) ends up sitting next to me. What are the chances… I wonder what they read me as…white or Chinese?

Group of 5 black kenyans sit in one corner. Mostly men. They know each other.  Midway through the talk about 20 young black Kenyans walk in (probably from class?).

We are waiting for the projector to work.

Overheard: “Technology is wonderful when it works…” "I have a few beehives. There are four panelists on bees??" [at upcoming Nature Kenya event?]

I didn’t realize “Nature Kenya” was the host.

Descriptive Notes of the Talk:

“Lots of familiar faces.” “This is Nostalgia for me because I am a Nairobi boy.”

First image:

  • All Saint’s Cathedral.
  • British Colonial Office. Early town of Nairobi
  • He starts the origin of Nairobi when the railway was built. 
  • ME: What about the people that lived in Nairobi before the colonialists?
  • Scalater’s Road named after Engineer called John Sclater. Demarcated the road.
  • Nayrobe
  • Maasai were truculent but eventually came around.
  • Lenana - name of the Maasai chief who made treaty with John Harding
  • Nairobi town started growing. Nairobi circa 1900
  • Central Policy Station is where the government offices were.
  • North of Nairobi - the highlands.
  • Caravan route - ukambani to Fort Smith.
  • Early days of the Railway
  • Old Clocktower.
  • Quite a landmark isn’t it?
  • Gari ya moshi. No more gari ya moshi anymore.
  • Had to put up housing for the workers.
  • Tent fortane built near railway station. After the town fortane.
  • Speaker: “Carry on, next please.”
  • Nairobi was a swamp. All houses used to be inundated with waters so they used to build them on stilts. I have one myself a small one from 1914 on stilts.
  • House at Fairview hotel moved to Kabarak.
  • One near the ministry of health. Took the house and put it in Karen.
  • “African Villages” is the present “Pangani”
  • Resident of the site for the porters who used to go along on the caravan route. Moved to Shauri moyo are the successors.
  • Of course Mathare is still there. Mathare is a corruption of Muthari. Tree called Drokaina. Shurb. Kikuyu for Muthari. Brits turned that into Mathare.
  • McQueens house is where the Jubilee headquarters are now. Farm is still there. 
  • Ngara Road - In old days, chief called Ngara wa Giatho. It became Garaini, place of Ngara. Kiboko.
  • Cemetery near Uhuru highway. First cemetery in Nairobi. Jewish, Catholic, Protestant. 
  • “I have a plot in Kariakoo. I am going to be buried there one of these days.”
  • Ngara - this is where I was born. I used to come here without any shoes. I picked up Belharzia from dipping in the river.
  • Museum Hill - Ainsworth Bridge and Hill. First commissioner. House is still there. Heritage Building. Indian Bazar is Biashara Street. Old Indian Bazarar was burnt down. 1906 plague happened and gov’t decided to burn it down and move it to Biashara street.
  • La Tema Road - River Road and Lat Tema Road is where the Old Indian Baazar used to be. The drainage was so bad.
  • Parklands - European area. All the well-to-do europeans had 5 acres each. Restricted area. Allowed to subdivide after 2nd world war.
  • Everything used to be mabati
  • 1903. One of the earliest hotels - on tom boys street which used to be called victoria street. Burnt down in 1905 called the Masonic.
  • John Ainsworth - first commissioner of Nairobi. Chaired Nairobi Town Council. Mayor of Nairobi. Lived where Nature Kenya office is. Instrumental in greening the town. Planted the gum trees. 100 years old. Gum trees were originally from Australia. Brought into Kenya by farmer from New Zealand who settled in Machakos. Kenya Orchards Limited (red plum jam). 
  • Lavington - Waiyaki Way. Chief Waiyaki. Didn’t want people to come on his land. The colonialists wanted to get him off his land. But he died before he could get taken by the colonialists and moved to Lamu.
  • Fort Smith was near Uthiru - Near Kabete. 
  • Uthiru: Chief Kinyanjui. Invited by Karen Blixon to her house.
  • Jevanjee was the first banker. Loaned a lot of money to the gov’t. Government gave him land in lieu of the cash. What am I going to do with the land. I will donate it and make a park. Jevanjee gardens was originally called Victoria Gardens 1907 opened by son of Queen Victoria. Duke of Conrad opened it. Statue of Queen Victoria was removed. Defaced. He believes that it should be returned because it was part of history…
  • “I think we should keep the history going. Victoria Gardens became Jevenjee Gardens because of the times.”
  • Gujarati language.
  • The railway cost 5 million British pounds. A fortune.
  • 1903: Reached Kisumu.
  • Idea was to make sure the French didn’t take over the British Nile River.
  • Ronald Ngala was called Duke Street (after Duke of Conrad - son of Queen Victoria). Then changed to Ronald Ngala Street.
  • Goan Institute in Pangani set up there. EAB also set up around there.
  • First coffee in Nairobi - the French Mission in Consolata in Lavington. Brought by French Missionaries from Tanganika.
  • Ali Khan - first taxi service in Kenya. 1911. Near Railway station, Duke Street/Ronald Ngala Street.
  • Duke Street (Ngala) and Moi Avenue corner - hotel built. Tea Board of Kenya - Chia House. Knocked down because foundation wasn’t good enough. Central Hotel.
  • 1907 built the golf course. It is still there!!
  • First law courts on Moi Avenue were built
  • Groven - put in here (when he raped his staff??)
  • Muthaiga was owned by Sandbag Baker. 350 acres. Then guy named Morisson said, I’ll buy some land. Muthiga - Kikuyu word for the tree. Couldn’t say it so it became Muthaiga.
  • Early bank was National Bank of India —> eventually became KCB.
  • National Green’s Bank. (Now Archives building). built in mid 1920s. Same architects. Herbert Baker - did Government Indian Primary School, etc. Nairobi Primary on the hill was also built by him.
  • “Rupia” - started as Rupees. English, Gujaratee, Arabic,. 1905. First money.
  • First government house. Knocked down and State House was built.
  • Jacaranda Jim  brought in all the jacarandas in the city.
  • 1913 - Karen Blixon took over the house from a Swedish guy.
  • McMillan’s nurse: Louise Decker.
  • Black Negro (sorry, I had to use that to describe) Black American to look after the family.

ME: He refers to colonial settlers and “times changes” but barely talk about the inequalities and segregation between Whites and Blacks. Nothing about how the city was structured to be unequal. Who was creating the city and planning it.

  • Kirk Road —> Nyerere Avenue
  • First museum was donated by Jevanjee.
  • After independence it was sold to Serena Group and it is where Serena is now.
  • Koja Mosque in 1922.
  • Kenyatta Avenue was called Delamere Avenue. First European pioneer who walked from Somalia (?). “He was quite a guy. He started Unga limited.”

ME: He speaks very nostalgically for the good old days when Nairobi was growing. I used to buy cakes from X, y, z. I bought my comics here. Etc.

  • After independence, the family removed statue of Lord Delamere and they took it to their farm in Roysambu. “Quite respectfully.”
  • Swamp road - crosses Nairobi River near Ngara. That bridge was daraja ya wanjiru. Kikuyu lady who used to farm and grow veggies, etc. And wear indian clothes.
  • Word chokoraa - Hindi word - chokora - naughty boy. Wananchi picked it up and started calling them chokoraa. Became shoeing.
  • Gilfillen House - building still there.
  • Original Kianda School was donated by Hughes family.
  • KICC was KANU headquarters. Boma thatched roof. 
  • “So this is our Nairobi. Thank you very much.”


Q: When are you going to put this on a youtube channel?

A: I’ve been very selfish. We are making a shivery of our early history. Asian and India. We are going to have an archive. That archive will have all the material with me. We are going to build an archive. It is on the way. By the end of the day. We have a room. We are working with National Museum of Archive. They have a great archive. We are going to digitize. Looking for young people who do history and anthro to come and collect the materials. It will be available for the public. We are on the right track. The state doesn’t help us. There are some generous people in the community who are helping. The potential is endless. It is a harambee.

Audience: We should be less apologetic about the role of various communities. Italian and Goan community. We tend to be apologetic about it. Italians built some of the best roads that we have. The railway, etc. The business development, etc. It is a very sensitive matter. Only 50 years. We are going through a phase. “I know what you mean.”

Speaker: "I am not apologizing. I am actually blowing my horn."

Q: How did you get these photos?

A: I used to make copies of the photos that people would ask me to make. “Can I also keep a copy of this?” So I started growing by the copies I got. “I have so much here in my grandfather’s estate. “ So I would ask, can I have it? People used to burn them.

Announcement from audience:

16th November. Traveling Telescope coming. Everyone can see the moon and venus.

70 people. Museum Society. 7 PM.

Q: Can you predict the future of Nairobi from this?

Avoids the question: “Sky’s the limit.”

I must be honest, I’ve not published anything. I’m a bit lazy.

I am working on ASAA program at the cafe. I overhear young Kenyans talking in corner about the event:

“It wasn’t entirely accurate. A few mistakes. Like telling us where the police station was, the location was actually the other side. UoN is not actually where it is. Things like those ones, he is just wrong.” He hasn’t published it. But what is publication these days anyway. The problem is, people will buy these things as truth. Look at me, that is not the problem. There are so many versions of truth. He becomes so popular."

"Because of the way you guys are deciding what publications are. It’s annoying me by the way. If he was giving this speech at a bar table with 17 of his friends, that’s another thing."

"When does accuracy start? They have banned books on x, y, z cuz you can’t contradict that it happened. Now the Herald, anyone who comes can write anything."


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

October 4, 2019 - 7:24am


Angela Okune's notes of public talk by Akbar Hussein at National Museum of Kenya (NMK)

Cite as

Angela Okune, "pece_artifact_fieldnote_1570187599", contributed by , Research Data Share, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 4 October 2019, accessed 23 June 2024.