The Nakuru County and the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to restore and improve the 3,000-year-old Hyrax Hill prehistoric human settlement site in an effort to preserve its heritage.
The NMK Director General, Dr. Mzalendo Kibunjia said though the archaeological site, 4km East of Nakuru town has been a renowned archaeological research area and a reference point for investigations of the prehistory of East Africa, little has been done to exploit its economic potential.
He said dismal efforts have been invested in marketing the place.
“Towards realisation of this goal to restore the prehistoric settlement site, County Government of Nakuru must help National Museums of Kenya to recover huge chunks of land that have been grabbed from Hyrax Hill heritage site”
The County Secretary, Benjamin Njoroge said the pact now permits the devolved unit to set up a cultural centre at the site aimed at generating revenue from local and international tourists.
He assured that the County government will move speedily and restitute the grabbed land at the site to NMK.
“The MOU is a great start of the exploitation of the opportunities we have in our rich cultural heritage, which if tapped could generate wealth for employment creation for all in our county. We will formulate strategies and make sustained efforts to achieve this objective,” said the County Secretary.
Numerous sites around the hill belong to different time periods with the earliest finds dating back to the neolithic period.
Archaeologists who have worked at the site have stated that there is evidence in the form of beach sands that a fresh water lake once extended right to the base of the hill- turning the hill into a peninsular or even an island.
The gargantuan prehistoric lake is believed to have covered the valley from Nakuru to Lake Elementaita about 8,500 years ago. Traces of it have been found at Hyrax Hill, the Wakumi Burial Site, amongst other places.
As a region of archaeological interest, the East African Archaeological Expedition of 1926, led by Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey, first noted Hyrax Hill.
In 1937, Mary Leakey undertook further archaeological surveys on the hill. Since then, research has been intermittent with major undertakings in 1965 by Ron Clarke.
The Kenya Government gazetted Hyrax hill as a National Monument in 1943, four years after the first archeological excavation on the hill.
Some sites have been excavated and left open for public viewing. The hill was named after hyraxes which are found in abundance, living in cracks within rocks found in this area.
Dr. Kibunjia said following the pact, Nakuru had joined ‘a commonwealth of counties’ that National Museums of Kenya is working with to establish museums and cultural sites.
He challenged the devolved unit to consider increasing budgetary allocation towards restoration, improvement and preservation of cultural heritages.
“NMK is now 109 years old. It is now an establishment with a wealth of expertise which Nakuru County will be able to access through the MOU to help in surveying and mapping of heritage sites in the county. Normally, when solicited for, these surveys are expensive, but now they are readily available from NMK thanks to the MOU,’said the Director General.
Njoroge said the agreement between the two parties was an affirmation that the County’s cultural section was committed to mobilising and enhancing its diverse and impressive cultural heritage for community’s empowerment.
The Neolithic site also has an impressive collection of Iron Age artifacts made from the glass-like Obsidian rock.
The County Executive Committee Member for Youth, Gender, Culture, Sports and Social Services, Dr. Peter Ketyenya said the pact between the devolved unit and National Museums of Kenya has not only opened a leeway for the County Government to make Hyrax Hill a must stop-over for visitors in the county, but also establishes a platform for sensitising people of the rich cultural heritage bestowed on the current and future generations
The Chief Officer for Gender, Culture and Social Services, Tume Abduba, noted that UNESCO had appreciated the County’s diverse and rich cultural heritage.
“Through the Kenya National Commission for UNESCO (KNATCOM), UNESCO is using Nakuru as the county to benchmark with on cultural activities. In January this year (2019), Ipsos Synovate Kenya ranked Nakuru, the fifth county in terms of vibrancy in cultural activities. Thus, the signing of this MOU is another major milestone,” said Tume.
She added, “We will actively engage local communities in conservation, development and restoration of heritage sites in Nakuru County. We will build up and nurture research and documentation of the sites as well as facilitate knowledge transfer between parties and members of community through education, training and staff exchange”.
The agreement brings on board various sections of the creative economy structure in the county which include herbal medicine practitioners who are to benefit from a botanical garden that is to be established, conservationists, youth involved in various forms of art through the establishment of creative spaces such as art studios and exhibitions among others.
Dr. Kibunjia noted that though Nigeria is a major producer of oil in Africa and globally, its creative industry contributes more to the national GDP than oil and in the process generating jobs for the youth, saying it was possible to replicate the scenario nationally and in counties.
The event was witnessed by County Director for Culture and Gender, Alice Gekonde, Flamingo MCA and Chair for Committee on Youth Affairs, Sports, Gender and Culture, Eddy Kiragu and NMK Director Antiquities Sites and Monuments, Dr. Purity Kiura. Curator Hyrax Hill, Lillian Amwanda and Central Region NMK Coordinator, David Mbuthia were also present.
By Anne Mwale