Tag Archives: kenya

Ornaments.

The earliest monument in east Africa was built without anyone being ‘the boss’

A massive cemetery complex in the plains of Kenya shoots down the theory that social hierarchy is required to build monuments.

Location.

The site’s location.
Image credits Elisabeth A. Hildebrand et al., 2018, PNAS.

An international team of researchers has uncovered the earliest and largest monumental cemetery in all of Eastern Africa. Christened the Lothagam North Pillar Site, the monument complex was built over 5,000 years ago. The most surprising bit? Its builders were simple herders living around Lake Turkana, Kenya. They’re believed to have had an egalitarian mindset, rejecting any social stratification.

The discovery contradicts the long-standing view that a stratified society, split between rulers and ruled, is required to construct large public buildings or monuments.

Communal building

The site represents a communal cemetery built and used over a period of several centuries (between 5,000 and 4,300 years ago, roughly), the team reports.

It is comprised of a round platform about 30 meters in diameter, in the center of which the early herders dug a large cavity to inter their dead in. After this cavity was filled, they capped it with stones and placed megalithic pillars on top. These pillars were sourced from as far as a kilometer away.

The team estimates that a minimum of 580 individuals were “densely buried” in this central cavity. There doesn’t seem to be any particular individual that received special treatment — people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, were buried here. All individuals were buried with personal ornaments but nobody stands out as being poorer or wealthier than their peers. In fact, the distribution of ornaments is surprisingly even throughout the cemetery, which the team takes as an indicator of a relatively egalitarian society without strong social stratification.

Stone circles and cairns were subsequently erected at the site over time.

Ornaments.

Ornaments and palette recovered from Lothagam North.
Image credits Elisabeth A. Hildebrand et al., 2018, PNAS.

Given the expenditure of both effort and resources required to build large structures, as well as the logistical hurdles associated with organizing the whole thing, archaeologists simply took it as a given that a group needs a political structure to be able to undertake such projects. There’s also the fact that the roles these buildings played — they’re reminders of shared history, culture, religion, or ideas — are indicative of a settled, socially stratified society with abundant resources and strong leadership.

Taken together, it made archaeologists view ancient monuments as definite indicators of complex societies that allow specialization of work — and, through it, differentiated social classes.

The people who built the Lothagam North cemetery, however, were simple herders. We have no evidence that they had a rigidly-tiered society; if anything, their burial site suggests they were all equal in their society’s eyes.

“This discovery challenges earlier ideas about monumentality,” explains Elizabeth Sawchuk of Stony Brook University and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. “Absent other evidence, Lothagam North provides an example of monumentality that is not demonstrably linked to the emergence of hierarchy, forcing us to consider other narratives of social change.”

The discovery could lead historians to reshape how we understand the emergence of complex societies.

The authors write that Lothagam North was likely built during a period of profound change. The Turkana Basin had so far been populated by diverse groups of fisher-hunter-gatherers, but now groups of herders had started settling in and around the basin. So on one hand, these new arrivals brought about massive innovation — from hunter-gathering to animal husbandry. At the same time, the area experienced a drop in rainfall levels, causing Lake Turkana to shrink by as much as fifty percent, the team explains.

It’s possible, then, that the herders constructed the cemetery as a place for people to come together to form and maintain social networks to cope with major economic and environmental change.

“The monuments may have served as a place for people to congregate, renew social ties, and reinforce community identity,” says co-author Anneke Janzen. “Information exchange and interaction through shared ritual may have helped mobile herders navigate a rapidly changing physical landscape.”

It took several centuries for pastoralism to overtake hunter-gathering as the main source of sustenance in the basin, and for the lake to stabilize. After this happened, however, the cemetery ceased to be used — further supporting the team’s hypothesis.

“The Lothagam North Pillar Site is the earliest known monumental site in eastern Africa, built by the region’s first herders,” Hildebrand adds. “This finding makes us reconsider how we define social complexity, and the kinds of motives that lead groups of people to create public architecture.”

The paper “A monumental cemetery built by eastern Africa’s first herders near Lake Turkana, Kenya” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

First Kenyan satellite to be launched into orbit in April or May

In an important milestone for the African country, Kenya has finished building its first satellite, which will be launched from the International Space Station (ISS) in a few months. The satellite, which was developed in collaboration with Japan, puts Kenya in a select club of African countries.

Artist’s depiction of a CubeSat orbiting the planet. Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The satellite was developed by the University of Nairobi (Kenya’s capital), with the help of the Sapienza University of Rome. The satellite, named 1KUNS-PF, was built with the purpose of monitoring farming trends and offering information on coastal evolution. In modern times, satellite imagery has proven instrumental in the improvement of farming practices and soil management.

1KUNS-PF is basically a 10 by 10 by 10 cm cube (a CubeSat), but Kenyan officials say it will only pave the way for a bigger monitoring satellite at some point in the future. In recent years, miniaturized satellites have been increasingly used in commercial missions, performing more and more complex tasks which previously required larger satellites.

The project was developed in cooperation with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), which also offered most of the funding. The entire thing cost 120 million Kenyan shillings, which is just under $1.2 million. University of Nairobi engineer Dr. Jackson Mwangi, who was involved in the satellite development, said the satellite had already been handed to JAXA.

“At Jaxa, we are committed to making every effort to prepare for the successful deployment of the Republic of Kenya’s first satellite utilising unique capability of the Japanese Experiment Module Kibo on the ISS,” said Koichi Wakata, JAXA’s ISS programme manager.

The nanosatellite developed by a team from the University of Nairobi and the Japanese deployer. Image credits: University of Nairobi / JAXA.

The satellite will be flown to the ISS in March, and from there, it will be launched into orbit through the Japanese robotic arm on the ISS. The Japanese Experiment Module nicknamed Kibo (きぼう), which means ‘hope’, is a  is the largest single ISS module.

If successful, the launch will put Kenya in a select club of African countries which have managed to ever launch satellites into space. Up until now, only South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Algeria, and Egypt have satellites in space. Kenya’s space program, while still in its incipient phases, has great potential. As one of only a handful of equatorial states, and bordered to the east by the Indian Ocean, Kenya is ideally situated for a launch spaceport.

Every day, this man in Kenya drives hours and hours to bring water to wild animals

Usually, when animals hear humans in the Tsavo West National Park, they hide away. But when he comes, the elephants, buffalo, antelope, and zebras come running. They’ve come to know the sound of the engine.

All image credits: Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua.

After a long day’s work in the blistering Kenyan sun, Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua still finds the energy to drive the rough miles to the National Park, where he knows the animals are suffering due to lack of water.

“There is completely no water, so the animals are depending on humans,” Mwalua tells The Dodo. “If we don’t help them, they will die.”

Mwalua, who is a pea farmer in his local village, came with this idea when he saw the devastating toll climate change was taking on his village. In the last year particularly, the cracked barren land hasn’t been able to provide animals with the precious water they need.

“We aren’t really receiving rain the way we used to,” he says. “From last year, from June, there was no rain completely. So I started giving animals water because I thought, ‘If I don’t do that, they will die.'”

He doesn’t even own the truck — he pays to rent it and has been for over a year. He drives dozens and dozens of miles offroad, to get to concrete-covered holes where he unloads water for the animals to enjoy. It’s a slow process, he says.

“The truck is heavy and doesn’t go very fast,” he says. “We have to be very patient and go deliver water.”

The holes themselves are often dirty and require cleaning, likely because of the buffalo droppings, Mwalua believes. But that doesn’t stop him — or the animals. They’ve gotten so used to him that whenever they hear his engine rolling by, they rush to get the water — they don’t even wait for him to leave.

“Last night, I found 500 buffalo waiting at the water hole,” he says. “When I arrived they could smell the water. The buffalo were so keen and coming close to us. They started drinking water while I was standing there. They get so excited.”

In between his daytime job and the delivering of water, Mwalua also runs a conservation project called Tsavo Volunteers. The 41-year-old talks to local children, explaining to them how crucial wildlife is to the area, and how the country’s legacy is connected to this wildlife.

“I was born around here and grew up with wildlife and got a lot of passion about wildlife,” he says. “I decided to bring awareness to this so when they grow up they can protect their wildlife.”

He receives little to no support from local authorities, but he has gotten an unexpected lifeline from three women, who ironically have never met each other.

Angie Brown, who lives in Connecticut, visited Kenya in 2015 for the first time, though she didn’t know Mwalua. When she heard about his work, she wanted to help, and somehow connected on Facebook with Cher Callaway and Tami Calliope — three different women, from three different parts of the US, who wanted to aid Mwalua. They set up a GoFundMe page that has so far collected almost $250,000, which is more than he would have expected, and it’s perhaps enough to make a huge difference.

“We have all spent a lot of time getting the word out about the animals Patrick is helping and the GoFundMe has been a real success,” Brown says. “He needs so much more money though.”

Even with this newfound support, Mwalua has got a lot of work ahead of him. With rampant poverty through the area, corrupt and inefficient policymakers, and an ever growing number of poachers, it’s hard to see a bright future for these animals, but at least Mwalua is giving them a fighting chance.

As it so often happens, environmental measures aren’t spectacular. If you want to support him and the animals which rely on him, please consider donating to the GoFundMe page.

George Adamson — the man who lived with lions

1If you like lions, or watching nature documentaries, the odds are you’ve heard of George Adamson. Nicknamed “Baba ya Simba” (Father of Lions), Adamson lived an amazing life. Best known for his award winning documentary Born Free, he managed to live among lions and make them treat him as equals, resulting in a relationship of mutual trust. He suffered a tragical death, shot by Somalian bandits when coming to the aid of some tourists, and he is now buried in the reserve, next to his lion friend named Boy.

Lions loved him so much they often repaired his car

Lions loved him so much they often repaired his car

He was born in India (British India at the moment) and from his early days you would have never guessed the life he’d live. After a number of jobs that included gold prospector, goat trader and safari hunter, he retired as a game warden in a remote part of Northern Kenya and dedicated pretty much all of his life to lions.

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In 1956 he raised Elsa the lioness, who became the subject of Born Free. Elsa was the youngest of three orphaned lions. Adamson and his wife took care of them, sending the largest two to the Rotterdam zoo. However, when Elsa started to cause trouble, the Adamsons were given a choice: either integrate her in the wild in 3 months, or send her to a zoo. His wife opposed sending Elsa to a zoo, and thus a superhuman effort began. At the time, the task was considered borderline impossible, but that didn’t stop them from trying – and succeeding. With mixed feelings, a breaking heart, but most of all, free, Elsa went into the wild.

An affectionate hug from Elsa

An affectionate hug from Elsa

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After that, they went for a year to their house in England. Returning in Kenya, they hope to find Elsa; they do, and find her as the mother of three cubs, and she loves them as much as ever. His love for lions is touching and inspiring, and when you gain the trust and respect of Kenyan lions, there’s little else you can achieve in the world. This letter pretty much summarizes his love for the amazing predators:

“‘Naja’ is an excellent and selfless mother. Without her help, none of ‘Koretta’’s’ cubs would have survived… At one time I entertained the suspicion that ‘Blakatan’ was responsible for the loss of ‘Koretta’s’ first litter of four beautiful cubs and that he might have killed and eaten them and I thought seriously about getting rid of him but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. It was as well that I did so, as he has turned out to be a model and indulgent father, allowing the cubs to rough-house him, pull his tail and bite his ears.”

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Lions weren’t the only animals whose trust he’d earned…

Picture sources

Simple, cheap purifying device provides clean water for 150,000 Kenyan students

Lack of clean water is a big problem in many poor areas of the world, and it’s also one of the most easily solvable major problems (not saying it’s easy, just that it’s relatively easy, compared to say curing malaria, which is another big problem in many poor areas). A new, innovative yet simple purifier has been installed in 301 schools in Kenya providing clean drinking water for over 150,000 Kenyan students, with little costs.

Image via LifeStraw.

The LifeStraw product uses advanced hollow fiber technology to filter water without any chemicals, eliminating 99.9 percent of potentially deadly waterborne bacteria and protozoa.

LifeStraw followed an interesting trajectory; initially, the product was aimed at delivering clean water to individuals, for example people trekking and wanting to drink water for stream. But now, they’ve committed to bringing clean water to the masses. In October this year, 80 staff members and volunteers installed 1,646 LifeStraw community water purifiers in 301 schools in rural western Kenya, providing safe drinking water to 157,975 children for years to come. The information will soon be added to a GIS database easily viewed by everyone.

Image via LifeStraw.

Water and sanitation are major problems in Kenya. The Kenya water crisis is the current struggle that Kenya faces to supply clean water to its population. The human population depends heavily on water resources, not only as a drinking water but also for crops, agriculture and livestock and fishing. About 80% of Kenya’s water resources are completely unprotected but not undamaged by the growing population and agricultural practices. In schools the problem is especially visible. The head teacher of the Simakina Primary School in Kenya said:

”Water sanitation and hygiene are our biggest problems. Kenya is not on track to meet Millennium Development Goals with only 37 percent of schools having access to clean water. Absenteeism due to sickness is a major factor. We are going to increase our performance now.”

 

The PeePoo bag: don’t poop where you eat

Nairobi, Kenya is home to one of the world’s biggest slums, more than one million people living in subhuman conditions in the African state capital. I’ve seen and read a lot of reports from there, and other African states alike, and the situation is indeed dire. Imagine having nothing to eat – now imagine having to poop the scraps of food you manage to go about during the day in the same one room apartment you have to live in.

Although public latrines are common in slums, they’re overused, insalubrious and even dangerous (women and young girls often get raped near latrines at night), so people resort to what’s commonly know as “flying toilets”, which basically means filling a plastic bags with one needs and then throwing it down right the window.

Basic sanitation, like for instance running water, is a far fetched concept for any slum dweller, due to over population and lack of infrastructure. Crap, forget about running water, think about clean water which ever so dim, gets even more contaminated with unfiltered, unsanitized waste. Every 15 seconds a child dies in the world from contaminated water and dysentery or cholera pass for common flues.

Some of you may ask how can something like this be possible in a world that calls itself civilized, where reason and technology are supposed to thrive, however traditional sanitation infrastructure is expensive and hard to implement. Of course, if government officials would start thinking about their people and stop spending western funding on buying a Rolls Royce so they can drive it across the whole 5 miles worth of paved road or on pale, white prostitutes things might have looked different, alas this is a discussion that is both interminable and unpleasant for me to enter here.

Back to Kenya and their sanitation issue, it seems a group of individuals, extrapolated on the crap filled plastic bags hovering over Nairobi and developed, let’s say, a more elegant solution.

Introducing the Peepoo…

The Peepoo bag is a long thin bag (14 x 38 cm) with a guaze liner, and coated on the inside by a thin film of Urea, which is the most common fertiliser in the world and is a non-hazardous chemical. When this chemical comes into contact with human waste, be it  faeces or urine, an enzymatic breakdown takes place into ammonia and carbonate, driven by enzymes which are naturally occurring in faeces. As the process develops, the pH levels found in waste increase, and as a result hygienization  occurs.  Waste born pathogens (viruses, bacteria and parasites) are killed over a period of a couple hours to a few weeks. Also, the bags are fully biodegradable and are actually helpful for the environment, acting like a fertilizer.

The benefits of this product are evident – waste is no longer moved around, but safely assimilated by the environment and, of course, there’s no water use. I’m a bit confused, however, how this project is actually implemented. Like I said, there are over a million people living in sub-human condition in Nairobi alone. This means, millions of such Peepoo bags are required every month. Who will pay for these, are they free for the every day African? Because it’s pretty clear to anyone from the start that someone who lives on less than a dollar a day won’t pay in his right mind anything for a bag to take a crap in.

The PeePoole behind the project deserve have our recognition, because however difficult to implement the idea sounds, it’s still a step ahead, although I believe Kenya’s, and the whole third world actually, problem lies in the social upbringing and levers. It’s  enough to read some reports written by various peace corps volunteers detailing the African mindset, will or work power, respect for ones country, those around him and even self, education and so on. It’s pretty clear Governments are interested in solving anything, and it’s up to the people over there to help themselves, to an extent.

I’d love to see this project well funded and spread towards other third world countries as well. I’d also love to hear some of your thoughts and remarks on the subject as well, so please don’t be afraid to voice out and leave a comment below the post .

Find out more at www.peepoople.com