If you want to talk about decolonizing museums and other knowledge institutions in this world then you need to speak with those who preserve, produce, and pass on culture. In the fascinating and complex case of the Maasai and their engagement with museums in the UK, it is women who play an essential role in knowing about what an artifact is, how it is made, and why it is important. Despite this fact, in this growing global conversation, the voices we more often hear are male.
Today on the program we hear from two women of the Maasai, to learn about their role within communities as well as in the process of decolonizing the museums.
Almost three years ago Samwel Nangiria paid a visit the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. While there he was presented with objects gathered from his culture around 100 years ago. To his shock the collection included items that should never be in the possession of a museum or out of the hands of specific members of the Maasai community. He would eventually express his feelings to the museum, and what follows has become a fascinating and at times emotional engagement to de-colonize museums and empower the Maasai to tell their own story of who they are as a living culture today.
The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania have a long tradition of living in harmony with nature. However, for the past century they have also seen their land and way of life targetted by encroaching intiatives related to nation-building, development, tourism, mining, etc. As a new decade begins the Maasai are once again being pushed off their lands and told their way of life must end in the name of “progress” or “development”. Today on the podcast, we hear from three members of that community who explain their way of life and the reality they face on the ground today. It’s the story of the Maasai and their struggle to survive.
There is a force referred to as development that has arrived in Northern Kenya. It brings highways, wind farms, pipelines, cables, standardized education, and new towns where the government wants people to live and work. What it also brings is pollution, inequality, disappearing cultures and languages, an end to nomadic lifestyles that have existed for hundreds of years. While all this is happening, extreme weather has also arrived, taking people who have long known how to live in balance with the environment and thrusting them into the uncertainty and destruction climate change leaves in its wake.
Amidst all this struggle there is also hope. Communities have become aware of what development can do to them. They have become concious of the need to preserve knowledge and restore culture. And this is all being done not in isolation, but through sharing of experiences and strategies with communities facing the same circumstances throughout the continent and the world.
My guest today, Jillo Katelo of the Kivulini Trust, speaks of a childhood where there was balance and joy in his community. Only to be replaced nowadays by an erosion of that way of life as it increasingly under attack in the name of development and so-called economic progress. But the story doesn’t end here, listen in as Jillo talks about his home, how it is changed, and what he is doing empower communities and challenge the modern-day religion that places profit margins above humanity.