A visit to Trans Nzoia County can never be complete without a tour of the historic Kitale Museum, located in the outskirts of Kitale township.
First opened to the public in 1924, the repository originally known as the Stoneham Museum is one of the biggest cultural heritage sites in the North Rift region.
It is a haven of relics that are of great educational and touristic attraction. “After the World War, Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Stoneham, a Second World War veteran and artefact collector, was awarded a piece of land in Trans Nzoia County by the Queen of England for the good job during the battles,” said Mr Kennedy Kimuna, the museum's public relations officer.
Stoneham initially settled at the Cherang’any Hills, where he did farming. “Before Col Stoneham died, he willed funds as well as his entire collection to the Kenyan Government so that it could establish the current national museum, which boasts of different species of flora and fauna,” the PRO says.
“He bequeathed his entire collection to the Kenyan Government and that is why the museum was relocated from Cherangany area to where it is now,” Mr Kimuna says.
In 1974, a new museum building was founded in Kitale on a five-acre plot, making Kitale Museum the first regional museum to become part of the Kenya Museum Society.
Ms Donley Linda, a volunteer officer, was the first curator when Stoneham died.
Kitale Museum is the epicentre of one of the oldest attractions in Western Kenya region. “The museum means a lot to the people in Western Kenya region. It acts as a live classroom for students. There is modest space for camping and weddings equipped with cultural facilities,” Mr Kimuna says.
Most collections are items gathered from the Luhya, Maasai, Kalenjin, Pokot and Turkana communities. Learners from university, secondary and primary schools visit the museum.
At the gallery, visitors are able to witness Stoneham collection, traditional artefacts and heritage of the people of Western Kenya and parts of the Rift Valley.
The museum also showcases a lot of taxidermy mammals and the human evolution.
At the entrance of the museum is a gigantic model of a dinosaur, a mammal believed to have wandered the expansive and agriculturally rich Trans Nzoia County and believed to have become extinct 66 million years ago.
“The museum is home to anthropological collections, including early man history,” explained Mr Kimuna.
The museum also holds animals such as Nile crocodiles, leopard tortoises and various types of snakes such as the puff adder, rock python, gaboon viper and the rhinoceros viper.
The museum also has a number of traditional setups characterised by traditional houses from different communities.
There is also weaponry, utensils and native musical instruments displayed in the museum.
There is a nature trail created in 1977 which is located towards the back of the museum.
The nature trail is one of the unique trails in Kenya. It is the only trail found within the tropical forest that has different species of birds and also provides medicinal herbs.
It is a serene makeshift rainforest that allows visitors to the museum to experience what it is like to be inside an actual Kenyan rainforest.
“In this museum exists a cultural centre of its kind,” noted the Kitale Museum Curator, Mr Chole Kizilli.
The museum provides a conference hall for the community at a subsidised rate. It also provides sources of income to the community during major events and visits.
The biogas that comes from animal waste is also an important programme at the museum.
Some of the challenges facing the museum are encroachment and illegal logging. “However, efforts by the National Land Commission, the National Museums of Kenya and the community to get back the grabbed land have paid off,” noted Mr Kizilli.
Since the museum is located in town, there is a problem of pollution that comes from a poor drainage system, where sewage spills over the forest and adversely affects some plants.
Kitale Museum is one of the museums devolved to the county government and has 35 staff. “Revenue generation is our main challenge in maintenance of the facility. Whatever is collected meets our recurrent expenditure, making it difficult to give it a facelift,” said Mr Kizilli.
The institution mainly depends on students from learning institutions to generate revenue to sustain its operations. April, May, June, July, August and September are the peak months.