First, let us start with the name, shall we? Who/what is Aberdare? To understand this we need to go back to the era/doctrine of ‘discovery’. This forest was named thus, by explorer Joseph Thompson after the then, president of the Royal Geographic society, Lord Aberdare.
The Agikuyu people in whose territory this forest and mountain range is located call it Nyandarua/ drying hide due to the distinctive fold of its silhouette.
There is a huge and interesting debate around naming in indigenous/ Afrocentric scholarship. When you name a landscape such as this after a European explorer, queen or other person who has no connection with the the people there, you effectively dismantle communities from their landscapes. When you name this forest Aberdare, you are simply saying that the people who have lived there for millennia have NO knowledge. That they have no understanding of their landscape, and that they do not relate their landscapes to their cultural heritage or who they are as a people. It is worthwhile to mention that this mountain range is considered to be sacred and to be one of the home of Ngai/God by the Agikuyu people.
Now, why the Kenyan government chose to retain this name after independence, is beyond me. There are other African landcapes/waterscapes that still bear colonial names e.g. Lake Victoria and Victoria falls (in Zimbabwe) but thankfully, the people down in Zimbwabwe have had the wisdom to rename it Mosi Oa Tunya/the smoke that thunders- but, I digress. The good news is that, a while back a community group was pushing for the renaming of the forest, after the Mau Mau geurilla movent leader Dedan Kimathi whose main area of operation was this forest during, the fight against British imperialism. Read more about it here. The name has not changed so I suppose it is Aluta Continua on this one …
The Nyandarua mountain range is a really breathtaking landscape and it does not take one long to understand why the British appropriated all the land here for themselves, kicked the local community out and renamed it (along with other prime land in Kenya) ‘the white highlands’. The weather is great with temperatures ranging between 25 -10 degrees Celcius all year round, stunning scenery of the Great Rift Valley below, waterfalls plunging from the hills, magnificent trees and fertile land.
We went for what was a very adventurous search of huge trees in the forest(see some of the heights we had to descend into in the two picture above). Mind you, there are elephants in this forest and I was thinking to myself “if an elephant(s) shows up here we are DEAD”. We survived hahaha! But, in the end it is poignant statement made by my co-researcher Mbugua said that still remains in my mind. He said “I cannot believe that the British wanted to take all of this away from us“. Indeed!
This will be my base of operation as I conduct my fieldwork for the next couple of months. Stay tuned for stories and other exciting stuff!
And very very finally , here is some interesting news from this area. I am interested in sacred sites and indigenous environmental thought so this is quite fascinating to me. Fall of sacred Mugumo tree/Tree of God