History is the best gift each of us can leave behind for future generations – through various mediums.
The world is becoming more informed than ever before, to a point that it’s becoming a burden on what’s important and what is not. History is taking a beating in the process, as we devalue it as a distant and outdated past that we deem no longer plays a role in the development of mankind’s pursuits in life.
However, it is history itself that gives our today meaning and a promise of the future. It reminds us what we have been through— both thick and thin — what we have endured, and what we have triumphed over, which further guides us on what we need to seek inspiration from to further our progressive ambitions. History teaches lessons, both hard ones and sweet ones. We do not live long enough to make all the mistakes on our own to learn from. Neither do we have the time to waste on what has already been prepared for us by the past. We need only build on it.
A timeless wise saying from West Africa states: “Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.”
This is solid proof of how important our history really is. History defines our identity and purpose, without which we can end up living an aimless and thankless existence. It is only man who was created to live with purpose. The rest of creation has not been endowed with that level of intellect and understanding. Unfortunately, apathy is growing against history, where people even question why we have to remember the dead and preserve memories of them. What we do not realise is that we may not necessarily preserve history for the dead, but for the living.
Humanity has come a long way and endured time and trial to become what it is today: human. That is why we need to look back and see how far we have come, and out of what odds. That is what gives us a gauge to whether we are progressing or digressing. History is the best gift we leave behind for our coming generations, through books, museums, film, audio and even monuments that speak of the past. Without these references, we deny ourselves and our children the vital lessons we require to survive our journey of life, where we have come to learn vital lessons in existence.
Coming back to the aspect of identity, it is where our respect is. Without respect for ourselves and for others, we will descend into chaos and be used, abused, misused and reused over and over again, like slaves of a tyrant master. That is why hunters glorify themselves as brave when they kill a lion. If only the lion could communicate and state its account, the hunter would surely be put to shame. Likewise, if we do not discover, rediscover, write and rewrite our own history, our adversaries will always be regarded as the heroes and deny us the equal respect we all deserve.
As Africans, our history has been polluted, distorted, misreported, diluted and even obliterated by those seeking to stamp out our existence so they may retain their authority on the coming generations. This injustice stop with us. We need to take the onus upon ourselves to study, research, publish and preserve history that fills us with pride of achievement, setting a pedestal for the others to seek inspiration from and enjoy the same freedom from mental slavery that we freed ourselves from.
Until now, others wrote about us, and it is possible that much of what’s been written is not necessarily true or even useful. But when we write our own history, there are better chances that we will narrate our stories as we have earned them. Once we begin to do this, we must also be prepared to defend it from those who may not share our greatness, because our adversaries know every well that a man without history is a man that can be easily conquered, so they will do anything to systematically destroy it.
SEVEN WAYS TO RECORD HISTORY
There is great potential to turn a historical home or edifice into a museum, or contribute images and manuscripts to existing ones. Many places with rich history are being transformed into ventures both educational and profitable. One example is the Karen Blixen Museum in Nairobi, residence of the immortalised settler Karen Blixen. It is a top national tourist destination where people experience past and present at once, marveling at splendid colonial relics while enjoying a drink or meal with family, friends or associates. Another great, but relatively unknown spot is Mervyn Hugh Cowie Park in Nairobi. It is dedicated to the pioneer settler credited with creating Nairobi National Park. He was National Parks from 1956 to 1966. Stroll vast gardens, have a meal and reimagine the legend.
Words (if not always on paper these days) are a source of history outliving most other records. More people are chronicling their personal histories, enlightening those who would otherwise never know about them and their achievements. Many people pen their own books or hire professionals to produce compelling reads and visual treats that keep memories green and alive for generations. Recently, Sir Mohinder Dhillon launched his triple-volume autobiography titled My Camera, My Life — photojournalism in Kenya for more than seven decades of adventures and misadventures. The Sikhs of Kisumu recently published three coffee table books on the history, contributions and community in Nyanza. They demonstrate just how much history remains untold, a century down the road from Kenya’s earliest days. Even President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta left behind Facing Mt Kenya, recording the anthropology of the country he helped lead to independence.
Almost everyone has access to a computer or digital devices that can use free internet resources to self-publish anything under the stars. History can also be written and shared with the world with a click, across platforms such as WordPress, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest or personal websites. There is no limit to what can be shared visual, aural and written forms — inviting feedback from total strangers the digital realm. This prompted me to create a registered trademark brand called KenyanKalasingha that seeks to reconnect shared histories of Sikhs in Kenya. It is but one touchpoint, which has a following of thousands on Facebook, from across the world and across peoples of all backgrounds — African, Indian and Caucasian. The brand has generated a lot of interest as people share Kenyan pride their own viewpoints in weekly posts.
The most invaluable gift to generations is education and whoever has a history to narrate can begin simply by giving talks in museums, libraries, schools and other institutions. This can inspire and encourage others to appreciate and learn from progressive and positive history. One can volunteer to speak on topical issues or hire experts to give talks, as does the Kenya National Archives. Lectures can be arranged for visiting groups. The institution itself is Africa’s largest pan-African art gallery, containing ancient collections from diverse regions and communities. They include the Murumbi Gallery containing artefacts collected in the 19th century. Joseph Murumbi was Kenya’s second vice president.
One can contribute historical articles to magazines, newspapers, periodicals and other publications with a wide and established audience. This can generate additional income as we narrate unique episodes of the past that are exclusive to us and of interest to others. ‘Old Africa’ is one regular magazine available in both print and digital editions, with a global reach of thousands. Readers are invited to submit pieces related to their Africa memories. Magazines like this transcend time and much sought-after for decades ahead by collectors and enthusiasts. Short memory pieces become part history.
These are powerful media of education that can be customised and organised regularly in any formal or informal setting. All it takes is a good story, a narrative, and pictorial collections. To cover costs, one can find sponsors for venues, collateral and large format printing, light refreshments and invited guest speakers. History enthusiast Tayiana Chao, founder of Thee Agora that documents Kenya past and heritage, recently held an exhibition on her ‘Save The Railway’ project. It chronicled work capturing the last days of Kenya’s original railway network that built history as it snaked its way from Mombasa to Kisumu from 1898 to 1901. She preserved the last memories of the antique railway stations before the new standard gauge railway overwrote its history. Though not a full-time historian, she is one of the first young Kenyans taking a keen interest in almost forgotten history and turning her findings into educational tools for those who otherwise would never know this past.
Moving images and sound go beyond the printed word and can guide us visually and through narration. Meaningful videography need not be professional to be meaningful as we live in an age when almost everyone owns a smartphone with a powerful camera that can film interviews, places and events. Then post then on social media or store in digital formats. Older generations are passing on, taking with them vivid, sometimes nostalgic memories easily lost lest preserved through oral and video history. Film can also be made available for documentaries or broadcast in museums and schools. One brilliant example is the Kenya History and Biographies Company producing historical videos about Kenyan personalities.
History is the very foundation upon which mankind lives and builds, much as a tree must have roots to sink firmly on earth and flourish to bear fruit. The roots are our history, the structure our today and the fruit is our future. History made us, we owe ourselves to remember it, honour it and defend it, too.