MCV team is excited to inform you that in just 6 weeks we opened the first and only community-led Maasai Heritage Museum on the outskirts of Amboseli National Park! It has been an amazing unparalleled initiative that is empowering the local Maasai people to benefit from a community center to safeguard and promote their ancient heritage.
July 2019, the Governor of Kajiado County Kenya Government called Jessica Censotti, MCV President and asked MCV to turn an abandoned building into a Maasai museum. MCV has been negotiating with Kajiado County for the past 1.5 years on how to establish a Maasai Heritage Museum for the Amboseli community and we had looked at this abandoned building years ago and saw its potential, the location is perfect; in the middle of Maasailand where the culture is rich and near the main entrance to Amboseli National Park where 60,000 tourist visit annually along the road of dozens of luxury hotels. For over 8 years we have been planning a Museum with the Maasai cultural leaders and documenting Maasai heritage, so we knew this was an opportunity we could not pass up. However, we received a deadline that was next to impossible – just 6 weeks – the museum’s opening was to coincide with a national conference to showcase Maasai culture to 2,000 government officials who would be attending. The time frame to create a museum in just 6 weeks seemed unrealistic but the offer was a dream come true to the Maasai who have been wanting a museum for over 13 years – so MCV agreed and thankfully today the Museum is up and running!
Here is a brief summary of our journey to build the museum in 6 weeks:
Meetings, meetings, and more meetings – MCV must have had over 500 meetings to launch the community-led Maasai Heritage Museum. As a communal society, the Maasai are accustomed to inclusive meetings to hear all divergent viewpoints to reach an agreement. Getting everybody on the same page while working in a new community required an inordinate amount of negotiations and planning with the community, government and cultural leaders. MCV negotiated and signed a 10-year agreement with the Kenya County Government for us to manage the museum and we hit the ground running.
We went on the ground to see the building that had been abandoned for 7 years and vandalized. This is when we began to truly confront the task at hand – It had no water, no electricity, the concrete fence surrounding the 20-acre plot of land had been torn down by elephants, and it needed major renovations inside and outside. We met all the contractors and began pushing them to work night and day to meet our improbable deadline.
We also employed students from Maasai Technical Training Institute and over 30 locals, mostly Maasai women to complete various jobs, including building guest houses for volunteers on the 20-acre property. It was rewarding to see the local community and students gainfully employed and improving their lives. The drought has been horrific and over 90% of the community is unemployed and poverty-stricken, therefore we provided food to everyone who came to volunteer and work and we fed approximately 50-75 people / day.
We united local chiefs and cultural leaders from the surrounding five Maasai communities to shape the vision for the museum and to enroll them in the collection and curation of artifacts and cultural material. MCV has been working with the cultural leaders for over 8 years, therefore they were excited and eager to proceed in curating and collecting ancient items to be displayed in the first exhibition for the Grand Opening titled: Our Land, Our Heritage.
MCV consulted with Maasai anthropologists and built bridges with experts, including the county cultural task force team who will continue to serve the museum and the community far into the future. During this week a clean water system and electricity was also installed, walls were repaired and painted while podiums for artifacts were constructed. Every day was filled with nonstop activity and our team needed rest before the week even started, but we could not rest when there were so many dreams becoming reality before our very eyes and we were on such a tight deadline so we pushed onward. Despite the public doubts that we may not finish on time, our team worked diligently in faith, refusing to let the community or the government down after they trusted us to open the museum.
Jessica Censotti, MCV President, went to Nairobi, the capital city in Kenya to work with the best printing company to print photographs that she took over the past 10 years of Maasai ceremonies to be printed for the museum. The Museum has large wall space, so the community selected a series of photographs to be depicted on the walls to showcase how the Maasai culture is connected to the land. Meanwhile, the contractors were busy at the museum finishing works and even constructed a parking lot.
Workers everywhere. All construction projects were nearing completion, while we were installing the art and more artifacts were still arriving. The elders and cultural leaders were finalizing the descriptions for all the artifacts writing all the details of each item just 1 night before the opening. It was an adventure not for the faint of heart.
The Grand Opening
Finally, the grand opening day arrived and miraculously due to tireless efforts and faith we were ready – on time. The governor came with government officials from 29 counties and he was overjoyed with the results and the opening. Everyone who visits the museum is very impressed – especially the Maasai people who are proud of this important project that is leaving a legacy for the Maasai people.