9 Must-See Galleries at Nairobi National Museum

Beaded BeltNational Museums of Kenya

A place of discovery

Welcome to Nairobi National Museum, which tells the story of Kenya's rich heritage. The museum's mission is to collect, preserve, study, document and present Kenya’s past and present cultural and natural heritage. This is for the purposes of enhancing knowledge, appreciation, respect and sustainable utilization of these resources for the benefit of Kenya and the world, for now and posterity. 

Coryndon Museum BuildingNational Museums of Kenya

The history of Nairobi National Museum (NNM)
The idea of a Museum in Kenya came on March 25th 1909, when ten people met at the house of the then Lieutenant Governor, F.J. Jackson, for the purpose of considering the formation of a Natural History Society for East Africa. After the formation, its activities involved making scientific collections of natural history specimens, where an obvious need to house and exhibit them arose. The solution was a museum.

A small building, 30x25 feet, was constructed near the Provincial Commissioner's office, and it was occupied on August 16th 1910. The first curator was Mr. T.J Anderson.

Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

On August 29th 1910, the Governor allocated a plot of land on Kirk Road for a permanent museum. It was opened by Governor Sir Edward Northeye in 1922.

A new site was selected at the Ainsworth Hill (now Museum Hill) where NNM stands today. It was named the Coryndon Memorial Museum, in memory of the late Governor Richard Coryndon, a one-time Governor of Kenya and a staunch supporter of the Uganda Natural History Society. This museum was officially opened on September 22nd 1930 by Governor Sir Edward Gregg, and Dr. Van G.L. Someren became the Curator.

Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

In December 1964, in keeping with the new status of independent Kenya, the museum changed its name from Coryndon Memorial Museum to National Museums, headed by Dr. R.H. Carcussion. A board of trustees was constituted, chaired by Sir Ferdinand Cavendish Bentinck, and with Mr. R.E. Leakey as administrative director.

On October 15th 2005, the Museum closed its doors to the public for an extensive modernization and expansion project that lasted three years. The new name underscores the museum’s flagship status in view of over 26 museums, sites and monuments under the management of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK).

Main gate of Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

NMK as a research institute
In 2017, NMK was for the first time in its 107 years history, registered as a Research Institution and, with NNM being the flagship museum of NMK, all research work past or present, is coordinated from here.

An extensive research process was employed, in preparation, before these galleries were displayed for public consumption. This requires a host of staff from relevant departments coming together to make these exhibitions a success. The objects showcased are a representation (or a cast) of the real thing. The real items and all research work(s) are housed in the museum.

As such, the museum offers the following services: research, exhibition, venue hire, training and consultancy, filming and photography, resource center-library services, casting, and the creation of education programs.

Hall of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

1: The Hall of Kenya

The Hall of Kenya is dedicated to highlighting the country's unique tangible and intangible heritage. In this gallery Kenya's nature, culture and history meet. The objects on display are a testimony to the country's diverse and rich heritage. All the information on display, the objects, and all research works can be found in the Cultural Anthropology department at the museum.

CalabashNational Museums of Kenya

Celebrating the peoples of Kenya
Dating back centuries, the stories and traditions of the peoples of Kenya are some of the most fascinating in the world. The centrepiece in the Hall of Kenya consists of hundreds of calabashes, celebrating the rich heritage of all communities in Kenya.

Joy and George AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

2: The Joy Adamson gallery

Joy Adamson (1910–1980) was an illustrator, conservationist and author. She is known for her contribution to the conservation of Kenya’s natural and cultural heritage, winning her international acclaim. Joy Adamson was a colorful, if at times controversial, character whose work continues to affect how people view conservation. Much of her work is immortalized not only in her illustrations, but in her books and films, which have been pivotal in preserving the diversity and richness of Kenya’s people and nature. Because of Joy’s inspirational efforts, people around the world now consider how they can preserve their own cultural and natural heritage. All works by Joy Adamson are housed at the Archives section in the Earth Sciences department at the museum.

Calodendrum capense (L.F.) Thunb. - Rutaceae by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Moorish idol by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Maasai Warrior by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Elsa the Lioness by Joy AdamsonNational Museums of Kenya

Elsa the Lioness
Joy Adamson is perhaps most famous for the incredible story of Elsa the Lioness, immortalized in the book Born Free. Joy Adamson put the spotlight on the need to conserve African wildlife and sparked the creation of Kenya’s national parks.

History of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

3: The Cycles of Life

Life amongst Kenyan communities is filtered through different stages. From birth, through youth to old age, death and transition into ancestry. This gallery samples cultural practices from Kenya’s communities as associated with these different stages in life. There is a wealth of material and intangible cultural heritage to be appreciated in this gallery. All information on display here can be found in the Cultural Anthropology department at the museum.

Shield, From the collection of: National Museums of Kenya
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Gourd, From the collection of: National Museums of Kenya
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Love Bag, From the collection of: National Museums of Kenya
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A bag with the power to help find love
This small woven string bag (kondo-kaleve) was used by young unmarried men "in order to marry". The owner would jingle the attached bell and call the name of the girl he was in love with, making her fall in love with him.

Birds of East Africa Gallery, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

4: The Birds of East Africa gallery

They came from far and wide, in all colors and sizes, from the most primitive to the most advanced and found a home in the Birds of East Africa gallery, showcasing the rich diversity of birds in the region. The Osteology section in the Zoology department keeps all the information showcased here.

Birds of East Africa gallery, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

Birds of East Africa
East Africa is one of the world's richest regions for birds, and holds more than 1300 species.

Birds of East Africa Gallery, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

Hall of Mammals, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

5: The Great Hall of Mammals

The Great Hall of Mammals traces the development of mammals over time, with a focus on their adaptations to movement, feeding and protection. The gallery confronts the visitor with points of congruence as well as divergence in the make up of the mammalian world. To access further information, the Mammology section in the Zoology department are the ones to consult with.

KangaNational Museums of Kenya

The Big Five
Get ready for a harmless close-up experience with some of Kenya’s renowned safari favourites, including the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.

Ahmed the ElephantNational Museums of Kenya

6: Ahmed the Elephant

Perhaps the most famous elephant in the world, Ahmed was known for his large tusks and put under 24 hour protection in Marsabit National Park by Kenya's first president, Kenyatta. Ahmed's skeleton, with the original tusks, can be found in The Great Hall of Mammals inside the museum and a life-size model can be found in the courtyard of the main gallery building. 

Human Evolution, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

7: The Cradle of Mankind

A unique collection, which points to Kenya as the cradle of humankind, is on display in this gallery. The gallery traces human existence as evidenced by fossil findings across Kenya. All information, artifacts (fossils) and research work can be accessed through the Earth Sciences department at the museum.

Original ManNational Museums of Kenya

A hotbed of archaeological discoveries
Kenya has fossil evidence telling almost the entire human evolutionary story. The National Museums of Kenya holds more than 350,000 fossils in its collection, about 700 of which belong to ancient humans.

Skull of Proconsul AfricanusNational Museums of Kenya

Proconsul africanus: 25 million years old
Proconsul africanus lived about 25 million years ago. This fossil holds a special place in hominid paleontology as it marks the point at which 'old world' monkeys and apes diverged, making it the first true ape. The Proconsul is believed to be the earliest ancestor of humans and the 'new world' apes.

Turkana BoyNational Museums of Kenya

The Turkana boy: 1.6 million years old
In August 1984, Kamoya Kimeu found a small piece of hominid skull on a dry river bank in Nariokotome on the western side of Lake Turkana. As a skilled fossil hunter he was able to spot it because it was slightly lighter coloured than the black lava pebble surrounding it. He found other fragments nearby and eventually the whole bank was excavated to find almost the entire skeleton. Despite intensive searching, the bones of the feet and hands were never discovered.

History of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

8: Historia ya Kenya

The gallery highlights Kenya’s history in three major phases: pre-colonial Kenya, the period of colonial rule, and independent Kenya. Key historical events that have shaped the lives of Kenyans are highlighted, including the Kenya-Uganda Railway, land alienation, and the two world wars. For more information on Kenya's history, the Cultural Anthropology department has it all.

History of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

History of Kenya, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

Temporary Exhibition, Nairobi National MuseumNational Museums of Kenya

9: Temporary exhibitions

The museum's temporary galleries highlight some of the most exciting contemporary artists and aspects of Kenya and Africa. The Museum extends services to individuals and institutions that wish to exhibit any information they deem important. A great example would be that of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) who created an exhibition on the Kenya shilling's evolving history, dubbed 'the Numismatic Exhibition'. 

Rush hour in Nairobi (1998) by Margareta OchollaNational Museums of Kenya

Sharing the cake (2008) by Joseph BertiersNational Museums of Kenya

From the third eye by JB MaingiNational Museums of Kenya

Flamingo (1999) by Martin OtienoNational Museums of Kenya

Credits: Story

Learn more about the National Museums of Kenya by visiting our website.

Exhibit Curator: Joseph Saoli, Marketing Manager, Innocent Nyaga, Marketing Officer National Museums of Kenya. jsaoli@museums.or.ke

Photography and Creative Direction: Ibrahim Mwangi, Audio Visual Department. National Museums of Kenya and
Gibson Maina and Muturi Kanini. Gibs Photography

Exhibit Layout: Barnabas Ngei

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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