The Kisumu Museum: A review

The last two weeks have seen me cover (though not extensively) five out of six counties in what is formerly ‘Nyanza Province.’

Kisumu. Homabay. Migori. Kisii. Siaya.

Nyanza is beautiful.

A sight for sore eyes. Cliche, I know, but it really is.

So many things grab your attention as you drive through. If it is not the women expertly balancing loads on their heads at Adiedo, it is the beautiful Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria, Lake Nyanza) glistening at a distance. The acres of rice and sugarcane farms offer a deceiving impression of a soft bed for a tired traveler. Oh, do you want to know about the glorious sunsets? No, you must see them yourself. Words hardly suffice.

Nyanza is interesting.

During the trip, the driver would often feed my colleagues and I interesting tales of why this place was named so, why that stream never dries, and many precious nuggets about the rich culture in this part of Kenya. Stories and tales every one who cares to know should have access to. I mean, it is only common sense, right?

No. Apparently not.

I was extremely disappointed when I finally made my way to the Kisumu Museum. Ideally, I should find a fairly good amount of information about Nyanza and its people in the regional museum.


After the grueling but pleasant round trip, I was eager to go to the museum and dig deep into the culture and traditions that I had only glossed over during my road trip.


The information there is Google material. I didn’t learn anything. Well, not true. I learnt that a third wife is called reru. I know the assumption would be that being from the Luo tribe, very little would surprise me anyway. That could not be further from the truth. In fact, I kid you not, any one from any other tribe who went through the 8-4-4 system would be bored silly at the regurgitated information from the GHC text books.
What did I expect? I will tell you.

1. The Obvious
Of course. The Luo homestead, the gallery showing the way of life back then (some still relevant today). Then the usual snakes. There were two crocodiles and tens of tortoises too. I didn’t expect the aquarium though, so that was a pleasant, though forgettable experience.

2. Music
I wanted to hear beautiful sounds of the Orutu and Nyatiti as I walked through the halls. The voices and foot thumping of the Ramogi dancers. Eh. How about Benga/ohangla tunes playing as you move from one section to another? Music and dance is a huge part of the Luo culture. Why would it be absent in a museum. Oh, by the way. There were traditional dancers in the Luo homestead area, only that they were dressed in modern clothes and were busy just beating stories. When we entered the ‘husband’s hut,’ we found two ladies, part of the troupe, plaiting each other’s hair inside the hut. I think they need to take part in an exchange program with the the Mijikenda to see how these things are done.

3. I should say at this point that Nyanza was/is not exclusively inhabited by the Luos. There are other nilotic groups like Kuria and Abasuba found in Migori County and environs. How about dedicating a section to them as well. The widespread intermarriage between the Luo and Abasuba is threatening to make the latter past tense. The community is actually almost extinct. I met a kind fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria at Muhuru Bay who confirmed this. He taught me the basic greeting. Here:

Salutation: Warai
Response: Bukei

4. Speaking of diversity, the Luos are quite unique in their own regions. This is especially evident in the tales and folklore told in different areas. In Kendu Bay area, you will hear the story of Simbi Nyayima and Nyamgondho wuod Ombare. So fascinating I tell you. In Kano, you will hear of the legendary Luanda Magere. And there are many more. How difficult would it be to get a dani or kwaro to narrate these stories and have them recorded then played at a section dubbed “Sigana” or something better. I’m sure these could be translated and narrated in English too. Am I being too ambitious? Well. I am allowed to dream.

5. Kisumu Museum should be and is mostly one of the first stops for local and international tourists in the region. It should, in my opinion, be sort of a road map; where to find what, why is that interesting and why should I brave the sweltering heat to explore a certain area. As it is now, it lacks the charisma the people of this region are known to have. There is no talk about the stunning bay areas (Kendu, Homa, Muhuru); nothing about Rusinga Island, or the Simbi Nyayima site. What about Yala Falls or Kit Mikayi and the story behind it? Onge!

I am not quite sure how these things work, or who is in charge of what, but I do know there is a county minister of tourism and culture, Kisumu County. What is his scope of work? Can he work with his counterparts in the neighboring counties and the national Ministry of Tourism and Culture to influence a revamp of the Kisumu Museum? If ‘Nyanza’ foresees a future where she is not just known as a fish eating destination, more will need to be done. I think the museum is a great place to start.

Have you visited the museum? What do you think? Any suggestions?


2 thoughts on “The Kisumu Museum: A review

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