Joseph Murumbi a pioneer collector: Murumbi's mission in life was to collect and preserve African culture in all its forms. His collection of artefacts was so numerous that it would have had an entire museum of its own, had it not been for the shameful neglect of the Kenyan government.

Author:Ndungu, Wanjiru
Position:Arts & Culture Collections

JOSEPH MURUMBI WAS BORN Joseph Anthony Zuzurate in 1911, to a Goan (people from the Goa state in India) father and Maasai mother. When just seven years old, he was taken by his father to India to study and he stayed there until 1931, when his father asked him to return to Kenya and stay with him as he had fallen on hard times.

On coming back to Kenya his father asked him, instead of looking for a formal job, to get land and live among his mother's people as they needed him more than his father's people.

He went to the then provincial commissioner to purchase a piece of land but was denied approval because under the law his nationality was Asian, and the colonial government would not allow him to get the land among the Maasai as this might "disturb" them.

This led Murumbi to a crossroads but he went on to make the conscious decision to renounce his Asian nationality, which gave him superior rights and privileges to Africans, but meant he was not allowed to own land among his mother's people. Thus, he was probably the first African who actually chose to be an African, and from that day forward he took the name of his Maasai Laibon (spiritual leader) grandfather: Murumbi.

Another factor that influenced Murumbi's decision to adopt African nationality was that when he was at school, the Anglo-Indians, who were half Indian and half European, used to call the Indians "niggers", and the fact that they thought themselves better used to annoy him very much.

This memory, with his father's prompting, made him determined not to think of himself as anything different, but to feel, think and act as an African.

It was a decision he never changed or regretted.

Becoming a collector

"He who could penetrate the interior of Africa, might not improbably discover negro arts and polity, which could bear little analogy to the ignorance and grossness of slaves in the sugar islands, expatriated in their infancy and brutalised under the whip and the task master": Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho--published in 1738

Ignatius Sancho, whose work the above quote is from, was one of the first ex-slaves to learn to read and write. Enslaved and brought to the Spanish West Indies, Ignatius also became the first African known to vote in Britain and the first one to get his obituary printed in the British press in 1780.

His very rare volume, Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, is one of the first books known to have been written by a former slave, and is on display at the Nairobi Gallery: Murumbi African Heritage Collections, situated at the old Provincial Commissioner's office, now preparing for its...

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