Kenya is a bed of rich history and culture and it has a wealth of historical sites to show for it. From Lake Turkana, the ‘cradle land’, to the various evolving geographical features such as the ancient Mount Elgon, it carries evidence of life from millions of years ago. You can never miss a site with historical significance when touring the country. However, some locations do not get as much shine as they deserve, despite the critical roles they played (and still play). Here is a list of places that I think suffer criminal underrating, despite the wealth in history that they carry.
1. Paradise Lost Stone Age Caves
I find it very fascinating that these caves were ‘discovered’ in 1996, by the owner of the farm where they sit despite being estimated to be 2.5 million years old. The caves are now part of the larger Paradise Lost Resort that sits on 54 acres of green Kiambu highlands. The resort is 14 kilometres from Nairobi CBD and is open to the public every day. A tour through the caves is part of the packages that the resort offers its visitors at a modest fee of KES 200 per person.
Even though the caves are only 2.5 kilometres long/deep, they still have a lot of historical significance. For starters, it produced some human remains dating back 18,000 years together with some evidence of the Stone Age. More recently, the caves served as hideouts for the Mau Mau freedom fighters hiding from the British Colonialists. Most people agree that the nearby Gichi River formed the cave. Now, a small beautiful and persistent waterfall covers the entrance. It almost feels like a scene from the Alibaba and Forty Thieves folklore.
2. Hyrax Hill Prehistoric Site
I might have some bias towards this site, given that it is in my hometown. However, that does not take away the fact that the Hyrax Hill remains one of the important excavation sites in Kenya. Mary Leakey discovered significant remains of human and tool remains dating to the Iron Age here. The hill also has a sacred burial site where archaeologists found the remains of 19 adults. Ten male skeletons buried facing North, and nine female ones facing South. The style of this systemic burial is proof that the site was indeed sacred and significant to its inhabitants. Unfortunately, this site does not get as many visitors compared to other tourist attractions in the town. Apart from the archaeological museum, Hyrax Hill offers nature trails, picnic sites, and a tortoise pit which will fascinate reptilian lovers.
3. Shimoni Caves
When narrating Kenya’s painful history, the tales always revolve around the struggle against British Colonialists. While this is perhaps the most prolonged and fiercest battle fought by the country, there are still other stories almost forgotten. One of them is the tale of the Slave Caves at Shimoni. Located about 75 kilometres from Mombasa, the small and semi-rural town of Shimoni lies quietly aside from the ocean. Life here is quiet and close-knit with fishing being the primary source of food and revenue. One would never know that this peaceful place holds one of the country’s most important geographical and historical sites to behold.
The Shimoni Slave Caves came into existence, thanks to years of lime and water erosion. Initially, they acted as hiding spots among the warring tribes, and some parts were shrines and places of worship. Later on, however, the Arab slave traders used them as holding pens for their human merchandise. The metal cuffs, chains and wooden crates that still stand here tell the story of how men and women spent days shackled before their transportation to far off lands. The tour guides at the caves confirm that the slaves served as ship staff, domestic workers, luggage carriers and even sex workers. The depth of this place always gets me each time I think about it. It is one of the places to visit during your lifetime.
4. Sikh Temple Makindu
I have a feeling that most people, especially Kenyans, do not find this site as fascinating because of its foreign religious ties. However, the temple carries as much Kenyan history as historical sites like Fort Jesus or the Pillar of Vasco da Gama. The Sikh Temple started as a place of worship under a tree for the Muslims, Indians, and Sikhs that worked as railway constructors during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eventually, the Sikhs built a temporary and small building where all could worship. As they moved on with their railway works, they left an African servant to guard and maintain the area.
After construction ended, some Sikhs felt the need to go back to this site and build a better temple, and thus the Sikh Temple at Makindu was born. Now, it serves as a religious and tourist attraction site for people of all races and religions. Also a rest stop area, it offers food and board for truckers and travellers moving to and from the Kenyan Coast. Visitors describe it as a tranquil and warm place that helps one find peace and balance away from the noisy everyday world. I think it is one of those historical sites that deserves much more acclaim than it gets, but that is just me.
5. Bomas of Nakuru
I am back to Nakuru and all the little gems it holds. You know how you sometimes want to discover and learn all the things our ancestors did, but you do not have a particular person to ask? Bomas Nakuru cleverly and in timely fashion tried to fill that gap. A near-replica of the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, the Bomas of Nakuru is a cultural site that preserves and celebrates different Kenyan ethnic histories. It consists of various traditional home and commercial settings of the Kenyan tribes before colonialism.
Here, you can visit different homesteads to learn how our ancestors lived and operated. You will see a collection of tools, weapons, beadwork, weave works, and cuisines. You will discover different folklore, languages and even unrecorded history passed down verbally. If you have the time, you can take up accommodation at the centre and enjoy their different foods. Other activities include camel rides, animal watching and merely relaxing. It is a haven for cultural and history fans.
Many other historical sites in Kenya need more exposure and celebration than they currently get. However, these were my top five choices. I think they carry fantastic and sometimes heart-breaking stories, which should even make it to our history books. But before that happens, you can perhaps add them to your bucket list and enjoy their splendour first hand.