There’s no doubt about it — the Meru Museum still looks good for a building put up in 1916.
The seven-room house, which served as the residence of the colonial district commissioner, stands in the heart of Meru town, near the county assembly chambers.
Now run by the National Museums of Kenya, the museum was established in 1974 and is the only one in the region, serving Meru, Tharaka-Nithi and Isiolo counties.
It has several sections, including the natural gallery, which features information such as the geographical location of the Meru region, showing Mount Kenya and how the volcanic mountain was formed. There are also preserved stuffed animals found in the Mount Kenya Forest and in Meru.
“The natural gallery is important because when groups of students visit, we teach them the geography of this region and the types of animals found in the forests,” says Mr Fideris Buge, a guide.
STATUE OF MUGWE
The cultural gallery provides information about the Meru people — their origins, how they lived and their values. It has a collection of artefacts used by the community, including spears, bows and arrows, traditional grindstones used to make flour for making porridge, and images of young people, women and warriors in their traditional attire.
A statue of Mugwe, the God-chosen man believed to be the divine leader of the Ameru people, is awe-inspiring, with visitors to the museum fascinated by his history.
According to legend, Mugwe led the Ameru during their migration from Shungwaya on the coast to the interior.
Dr Stephen Mugambi, a lecturer in Kenyatta University’s Educational Communication and Technology Department, says Mugwe was so revered by the Meru that he never left his home and would be consulted on all aspects of life.
Dr Mugambi is writing a book on the cultural pillars of the Meru.
“Before people sowed their farms, they would take the seeds to him so that he could pray for them. They would also give him gifts, including the first fruits of their harvest, in order to get his blessings. To protect their farms from invasion by pests, they would seek his guidance,” offered Dr Mugambi.
Mr Cornelius Njeru, the curator, says the museum was established to preserve the cultural and traditional artefacts used by the Meru.
“The exhibitions largely stimulates awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage, particularly among the young generation, besides serving as a source of information for visitors,” Dr Mugambi says.
As part of history, the section also features an illustration of the stages of man’s evolution and the tools he used during each stage.
Films depicting various aspects of the Meru culture, wildlife and the evolution of man are also screened.
One of the unique features of the Meru Museum is a garden of indigenous medicinal shrubs and herbs, with various types of indigenous trees, some of them found only at the facility. There is also a compound with a model Meru homestead.
There are sections reserved for monkeys and crocodiles, while the snake park has various types of snakes, including the spitting cobra and an 18-foot African rock python.
In September 2017, the python escaped and hid under a kiosk about 30 metres way, causing panic among the residents. The enclosure has since been secured with a higher wall to prevent the serpent from scaling it.
Attempts to relocate the museum to the Njuri Ncheke shrine at Nchiru, near Meru University of Science and Technology, about 16 kilometres from Meru town, have sparked controversy.
The relocation was intended to pave the way for the construction of offices for members of the Meru County Assembly, which means the colonial building would have to be demolished.
Mr Njeru noted that because managing the national heritage is a devolved function, the county government is at liberty to relocate the museum but the National Museums of Kenya must have a say. But he said it is important that the building be preserved.
“We should realise that the building housing the museum is a protected monument that was built in 1916, and is the oldest in this region. The relocation can be done, but the building should be jealously protected, if we are serious about our history and heritage,” Mr Njeru said.