If your county could choose a monument, what would it be?

Thursday June 30 2016

By MUTHONI THANG'WA
More by this Author

A project dubbed the 100 National Monuments is at the conceptual stage at the National Museums of Kenya.

When it takes off, the public will be closer to defining their own identity and reality than has previously been attempted.

It will also encourage cohesion and integration at least at county, if not national level.

So what is this 100 National Monuments project about? The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) was charged by the Constitution to provide for the establishment control, management and development of national museums and the identification, protection, conservation and transmission of the cultural and natural heritage of Kenya.

Natural heritage is better understood by the general public. It includes elements such as plants and animals, geographical formations and natural ecosystems. Cultural heritage consists of archaeological formations, dwellings, landscapes of outstanding historical value, buildings, works of art, and all forms of human work that have value from the point of view of science or anthropology.

In a process that is yet to be refined, each of the 47 counties will be asked to identify a natural or cultural monument that has value to the communities living within that county.

In this instance, "community" is not to be confused with "ethnic group" as there is no single county in Kenya that has a homogenous cultural or ethnic setting. Community instead refers to the people living in the geographical area of a county in their diversity or similarities.

FORT JESUS DILEMMA

Identifying such items can will help county residents redefine or rethink their values, history and achievements, and more importantly, what they value enough as a community to pass on to future generations.

Researchers and cultural experts will document and validate the sites communities identify to establish their importance, their conservation status and their potential to contribute to the development goals of counties as outlined in national blueprints.

This may include their contribution to tourism, social cohesion, identity and self-determination and economic development.

This is the first time that the rightful position of culture in development is being given the weight it deserves.

Every county will be challenged to put their best cultural or natural objects forward, yet there will be counties that may not agree, or communities that may claim that everything worthy is outside their county’s jurisdiction.

Whereas communities in Kakamega County may agree that the crying stone of Ilesi is worth a mention on the national monuments' list, the communities in Mombasa may not necessarily vote for Fort Jesus as they may feel it is the product of another culture and its achievements were oppressive to indigenous communities.

This process of self-determination should, however, not be confused with, nor can it replace, the existing established processes of national monument identification as determined by local and international law.

Communities may also find that what they take for granted as their cultural item belongs in another county.

Communities of the former Central Province may want to claim Mukuruwe wa Nyagathanga as a cultural site important to their origins and Mt Kenya as significant to their worship. However Murang'a County only nominate the former and Meru County the latter.

VINDICATING PROFESSIONALS

This exercise will ensure that all counties think beyond their comfort zones, religious inclination and cultural origin myths when identifying things worthy to pass on to future generations.

It will also present a professionally challenging time for anthropologists, if for example the communities in Meru choose not to identify Mt Kenya as an important place of worship but instead settle for Njuri Ncheke, the citadel of the Meru council of elders, or the place where Mira was first grown, just to point at examples.

Kisumu County may identify Kit Mikayi as its monument of choice, while Migori may settle on the Thimlich Ohinga cultural landscape.

Important water masses may lead to a scramble, given their importance in the livelihoods of surrounding communities. Homa Bay, Kisumu and Siaya may all identify Lake Victoria as important and Samburu, Marsabit and Turkana may all lay genuine claim to Lake Turkana.

The beauty of this process is that none of the professionals can determine what the communities will choose. It may end up being a process that vindicates professional opinions.

It can also present surprises for the Museums, should the process point out that much of what is already identified and gazetted as being of national importance does not meet the mark in the eyes of local communities.

That, however, should not stop any county identifying any objects close to their thoughts, as that will just result in a furry of research and important additions to the body of knowledge on cultural and natural heritage of Kenya.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa