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A Visit to Nairobi’s Archives Led to a ‘Eureka Moment’ for Kenyan Chao Tayiana

She set out to retell colonial narratives – using digital technology to bring lost and suppressed stories to light. When Chao Tayiana was growing up in Ngong town, west of Nairobi, she heard many stories about the Tsavo man-eaters, a pair of lions that “terrorised” and killed African and Indian railway workers during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway in the late 1800s – and were later “heroically” shot by John Patterson, a British officer. But when she was in her early 20s she realised a “different kind of story needed to be told”. At university, while she was studying computer science, she started a history blog for fun – and received dozens of messages from Kenyans across the country and in the diaspora in response to a post she wrote about the birth of Nairobi. In 2018, she co-founded the Museum of British Colonialism, a volunteer collective calling for “a more truthful account of British colonialism”. The museum – which does not have any artefacts or physical presence – is meant to shatter the conventional ideas and symbolism of bricks and mortar spaces. An online archive, it features reconstructions of concentration camps where British soldiers held about 1.5 million Kenyans suspected of being part of the Mau Mau rebellion, an anti-colonial uprising, committing widespread atrocities against them, including torture and rape.