“I cannot believe the British wanted to take all of this away from us!” Sights and sounds from the Aberdare Forest Reserve in central Kenya

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.

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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.

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Folded landscape in the background. That is the Nyandarua range

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.

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There is lots of cash crop farming on the eastern side. These are tea plantations on the edge of the forest and some pineapple.

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 …

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Statue of Dedan Kimathi in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. He was captured and hanged by the British and buried in a mass grave. To this day, his family is still searching for his remains in order to give him a decent burial  – over 50 years later.

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.

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View of the Great Rift Valley from the western side of the forest
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This landscape/protected area comprises of both a National Park and Forest Reserve. This is a shot from the National park which is enclosed by the forest reserve.
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One of the smaller waterfalls in this landscape. We are yet to see the bigger ones! and I simply cannot wait!
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Rising to the skies – trees of of Nyandarua
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Remnants of colonial settlement in on the western side of the forest
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Going deep into the forest 🙂

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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

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2 thoughts on ““I cannot believe the British wanted to take all of this away from us!” Sights and sounds from the Aberdare Forest Reserve in central Kenya

  1. Kendi, I am impresed at the work you are undertaking. I am not certain what your studies are but I have read a few of your posts and I reckon you and I have the same view on a lot of issues. I recently completed reading “Imperial Reckoning” by Caroline Elkins – it also goes under the title “Britain’s Gulag”. On reading this book i realized that my identity was violated, stolen and changed by the colonialists and it left me with so many unanswered questions. The solemnity of the colonial era (error :-))…and the events that unfolded were horrendous, dehumanizing and left me in a very indignant state. In a quest to learn more of our Kenyan history- (which is never taught in Kenyan schools) – I am looking at more reading…but deep down in my heart – I believe we need to educate people about the real history of our nation. If we continue to ignore the bitter truth, our nation and its people will remain “homeless” and “identity-less”. I would like to chat with you some day, perhaps start a forum on some of this core ignored issues. All the same – feel free to contact me at kagiri@gmail.com. And if you havent read Elkins book – I urge you to please get a copy. Thank you for what you have been sharing.

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