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Discovering western’s historical gem

During my recent visit to Kitale, I had the chance to visit one of their pride and glory in terms of matters tourism; their museum. Located just between Mount Elgon and Cherengany Hills, Kitale is an agricultural town in the northern part of Rift Valley and serves as the headquarters of Trans-Nzoia county.

While it is much smaller than Eldoret, a lot has been going on in terms of tourism in the area with the first domestic museum in Kenya being opened in the area in 1924.

It is located just one kilometre from the town centre and approximately 380km from Nairobi. Visiting on a Sunday is unadvisable as there is no curator to guide your tours and one has to battle with the noise from the churches, which have rented a space on the grounds to worship.

Nevertheless, here I was on a Sunday at the entrance, impressed by the scale model of a dinosaur, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is purported to have wandered the vast terrain in what is today the country’s grain basket.

After paying the Sh200 entrance fee, it was time to tour the museum, beginning with the tortoise corner and further on, I had the chance to learn about various snakes such as both poisonous and nonpoisonous such as the Gaboon viper, puff adder, rhinoceros viper, black mamba, forest cobra, as well as the rock python.

I learnt that the Gaboon viper can feed on an entire rabbit all by itself and has the longest fangs, the highest venom yield of any snake.

Forest cobras weigh between three and four kilogrammes and with its threatening hoods and intimidating postures, it is one the most feared snakes in the world. The museum is also home to two crocodiles both aged over 40 years.

As a means of preserving the various cultures in the county, the museum has a section of the various homesteads representing the different tribes such as the Nandi, Bukusu as well as Sabaot. There are also displays of traditional utensils, weaponry, as well as their native musical instruments. It was interesting learning how each lived and named their various artefacts.

A picnic site is also present for those who wish to have a small bite or a quiet moment after learning. I managed to get to the museum and learn more about the man behind the entire place; Colonel Hugh Stoneham.

The museum was originally named Stoneham Museum after its founder who was a large contributor and collector of the artifacts, which were held up until his death in the year 1966.

It was later renamed the Kitale Museum when it was established by the National Museums of Kenya in 1974.  Stoneham was an amateur naturalist and a lieutenant who made Kitale his humble abode. It is said that at the tender age of five years old, he already had a large collection of insects, various species of animals as well as books from 1894.

After developing the private museum, he decided to will his collections and funds towards a new museum building as a gift to the Kenyan republic.

This wish to have a museum was done and a building was erected on a five acre parcel of land on the outskirts of Kitale town. In 1974, the National Museums of Western Kenya was opened, making it the first regional museum in the Kenya Museum Society.

He continued doing this till his death in 1966 and in 1974, Mrs Linda Donley, a peace Corp volunteer, became the first curator.

Other things that one can view in the museum are Stoneham’s collections such as his grand piano as well as his writings and the various species of animals present in the county.

The museum is open from 9 am to 5pm every day and is currently involved in environmental conservation, which is complete with a nature trail as well as Olof Palme Memorial Agroforestry centre, which was created in 1983 to promote agroforestry in West Pokot district.

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