History teacher who left the staff room to start museum

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Joshua Murithi, the founder of the Murithi Mpuri Culture Centre in North Imenti, Meru County. The museum celebrates the cultural heritage of communities in the larger Meru. [George Kaimenyi, Standard]

Three years ago, Joshua Murithi, 39, resigned from his teaching job to start a private museum.

He was driven by a passion to conserve the Meru culture and celebrate its rich heritage.

Murithi is the founder of Murithi Mpuri Cultural Centre, a private museum in North Imenti, just five kilometres from Meru town.

Located on the banks of Kathita river, the museum has become the centre of attraction for the local community and institutions from across Kenya pulled by the urge to learn and view the countless pieces of artifacts and instruments.

The museum charges visitors different rates with school children paying Sh100 per head.

Kenyan adults pay Sh200 each and foreigners fork out Sh1,000, the same amount very important visitors such as politicians pay.

He collected the instruments in the museum from different sub-tribes in the larger Meru (Imenti, Igembe, Tigania in Meru) and Tharaka, Chuka, Mwimbi in Tharaka Nithi.

His target was to collect tools the sub-tribes used for various purposes and also create a repository of knowledge on traditional practices.

“I taught history in school and I was concerned by the declining traditional practices and knowledge, and the erosion of our culture,” he said.

“After much thought, I resigned as a teacher and set out to start a museum on the family land. Our culture is dying and it will be history unless we take steps to preserve it.” 

The decision was met by resistance from his kin, including parents who could not understand why he wanted to store traditional items on a significant parcel where the family planted food crops and fodder.

“When I told my parents and other relatives, they thought I had been bewitched. They could not understand why I wanted to bring a museum to family land. But I had a determination for a museum because I love our culture and was worried that the current and future generations would be left with nothing,” he said.

Murithi proceeded to uproot food crops on the farm and started building the museum and planting indigenous trees around the farm.

Then he started visiting villages in the two counties, to engage the elders and collect traditional agricultural implements, circumcision tools and other items the sub-tribes may have used in the olden days.

Some would be donated by well-wishers while others he would pay a small fee for.

The museum now houses some of the oldest traditional tools and symbols belonging to the Ameru, and both the young and the old, including university students, have found it a rich source of crucial information.

There are two curators at the museum, Ben Nkandau (74) and Kaimenyi Ikiugu (42) who have fascinating knowledge of the local culture and heritage.

“The museum benefits people who want to learn about our culture. Children come to listen, see and touch. It is the best education,” Nkandau says. 

Murithi says foreigners are fascinated by the rich cultural heritage of the Ameru, and their numbers have increased over the years.

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