Honoring Kenyan Archaeologists Erased from History

Honoring Kenyan Archaeologists Erased from History

Kenyan Archaeologists Shed Light On Erased History Through Photo Exhibit of Local Workers

In an unprecedented exhibition of more than thirty photographs, two artist-researchers want to give local excavators in Kenya the recognition they never got. British music of Kenyan origin Sherry Davis and Kenyan researcher Ashikoye Okoko have salvaged the photographs from dusty archives, based out of London and the city of Mombasa, in an effort to address the historical erasure of the archaeologists of their home country.

Davis, regarding their mission, states in an interview with EFE, “I realized that history was erased and I wanted to vindicate it.”

Archaeological excavations in Kenya began in the first decades of the 20th century, still under British colonial rule. While white and foreign professionals, such as archaeologist Louis Leakey and his colleague James Kirkman, signed in some of the most important finds, the excavation and conservation could not be completed without the dozens of faceless and nameless workers. George Abungu, archaeologist and former director of the National Museums of Kenya, reflects upon their contribution and knowledge, yet lack of recognition, saying “Those who were excavating were fifty, sixty, up to a hundred local inhabitants, who came to understand these monuments very well.”

The effort to recognize these people eventually resulted in the collaboration between Abungu, Davis, and Okoko in the storming of different archives in the UK and Kenya to recover as much as possible of this lost record. The findings have resulted in an exhibition entitled “Ode to the Ancestors” in which a group of workers are photographed digging a trench under the harsh tropical sun, the image of the first completely African team of employees of Fort Jesus, and several anonymous images of young Africans.

It is now upon the archaeological institutions in Kenya to make sure that these efforts are sustained and that the invisible workers continue to be given their long-deserved recognition. The exhibition, ‘Ode to the Ancestors’, is currently open in Fort Jesus, Mombasa, and to the public in London’s Horniman Museum.

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