Joseph Murumbi, Kenya’s first foreign minister and second Vice-President, became interested in Alan Donovan’s jewelry collection during an exhibition held in Nairobi in 1971. Murumbi wanted to buy a Nimba fertility mask from the Baga of Guinea for his collection, but it had already been sold to someone else. The Asian trader who had bought it however agreed to take his money back and Murumbi bought it. This mask would later become the logo for the African Heritage business that they, Murumbi and Donovan, set up together.
In 1977, a fire burnt down the whole of the African Heritage. Most of the collections were destroyed, but some were salvaged and those not too badly destroyed were restored. African Heritage then moved to a building on Kenyatta Avenue until the building that had been destroyed was restored.
The current African Heritage House was built by Donovan between 1989 and 1994. It is inspired by the traditional mud-brick architecture of Western Africa, in particular, the Great Mosque of Djenne in Mali and it’s situated in Mlolongo on the edge of the Nairobi National Park. After facing dangers of getting demolished to pave way for the new Standard Gauge Railway, it was gazetted as a monument by the Culture and Sports Cabinet Secretary, Hassan Wario, in January 2016. This was after petitions to save Africa’s richest collection of art, jewellery, fabric and books.
All image credits to Leah Kanda.