Explore Kenya's Communities at Nairobi National Museum

Step inside Kenya’s heritage spanning history, culture, nature and contemporary art

By National Museums of Kenya

Welcome to Nairobi National Museum

Nairobi National Museum 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.

Celebrating Kenya's communities

Today 44 communities are officially recognized by the government. The National Museums of Kenya holds objects telling the stories of these communities, which represent the country's ethnic diversity and vibrant cultures.

The Hall of Kenya: where heritage lives on

The Hall of Kenya is dedicated to the country's unique tangible and intangible heritage. In this gallery Kenya's nature, culture and history meet. Six vitrines display key objects from the collection.

The gourds sculpture

The centrepiece consists of hundreds of gourds collected from communities all over Kenya. Made from fruits of plants, the gourds vary in size, shape and color. The gourds are used for storage, measuring and fermentation. The sculpture symbolizes the unity of Kenya.

A Motonyi headdress

The Montonyi is a traditional headdress made by Maasai youths, preferably from big and colourful birds. Before a youth was circumcised, he would wander about the countryside with his friends, catching birds for his headdress. 

After circumcision he would wait for about eight days before going out to catch some more birds. The birds on display are examples of species which were commonly hunted for making the Motonyi headdress.

The Abuu

The Abuu is a musical intrument used by the Luo community. It is a combination of gourds leading to a horn at the tip. The gourds are held together by wax and ground bark of the Powo (Grewia) tree. The Abuu is blown during important ceremonies and used for entertainment.

Butterfly Map of Kenya

This artwork represents a mosaic map of Kenya, which has been made using a collection of butterflies from various parts of the country. Kenya's butterflies are quite diverse in terms of their size and colour.

Butterflies are among the most popular groups of insects; they are relatively large in size and beautiful. They are active during the day and rarely harmful to human activities. Butterflies and moths collectively belong to one major insect group.

Kenya is very rich in different species of butterflies. This is attributed to the diverse habitats in the country. Currently, Kenya has over 900 species of known butterflies.

A Sambu/Sambut

Sambu or Sambut is a cloak made from the skins of Sykes monkeys (such as the stuffed one next to it) and decorated with pieces of black and white colobus skins. The cloak is worn by leaders of the Kalenjin people during important occasions and ceremonies. Please note that it is not sustainable to kill these animals.

The Siwa

The Siwa, the ceremonial side blown horn, is one of the most distinctive items of regalia from sub-Saharan African. This one, made of ivory in 1688, is from Pate Island. 

Among the Swahili people, the Siwa was perceived as a symbol of unity, and Swahili rulers served as its sole guardians. The Siwa was also believed to have supernatural and magical powers.

Baskets

These baskets represent how different Kenyan communities carried and stored things - each design has its own unique story.

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 culture heritage to be appreciated in this gallery.

History of Kenya Gallery

The gallery highlights Kenya’s history in three major phases; pre-colonial Kenya, period of colonial rule and independent Kenya. Key historical events that have shaped the lives of Kenyans are highlighted, including the Kenya-Uganda Railway.

Jamhuri Ya Kenya

Named after Mount Kenya, the country became independent in 1963 and was declared a republic on 12 December 1964. Jomo Kenyatta became the country's first president. Today more than 50 million people live in Kenya and the official language is Swahili.

Joy Adamson's 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.

In 1945, for her own leisure, Joy Adamson began painting the men and women from Kenya's different communities.

Joy’s paintings were published in 1975 in the book, The Peoples of Kenya, which remains a useful resource for anthropologists and others who seek information about Kenya’s traditional heritage.

Joy painted over 500 portraits, some of which are displayed in the gallery. The map shows where she met each community. Her portraits show the communities' diverse cultural practices and their functions, as well as recording the regalia, jewelry, weapons and instruments used.

Explore more

Learn about the communities of Kenya

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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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