Evangelicals urge museum to hide man's ancestors
By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
Powerful evangelical churches are pressing Kenya's national museum to
sideline its world-famous collection of hominid bones pointing to
man's evolution from ape to human.
Leaders of the country's six-million-strong Pentecostal congregation
want Dr Richard Leakey's ground-breaking finds relegated to a back
room instead of being given their usual prime billing.
The collection includes the most complete skeleton yet found of Homo
erectus, the 1.7 million-year-old Turkana Boy unearthed by Dr Leakey's
team in 1984 at Nariokotome, near Lake Turkana in northern Kenya.
The museum also holds bones from several specimens of Australopithecus
anamensis, believed to be the first hominid to walk upright, four
million years ago. Together the artefacts amount to the clearest
record yet discovered of the origins of Homo sapiens.
They have cemented the global reputation of Kenya's Great Rift Valley
as the cradle of mankind, and draw in tourists and locals to the
museum's sprawling compound on a hill above Nairobi.
Permanent exhibitions cover Kenya's cultural and scientific history
from pre-history to independence. A snake park was added in the early
As part of an ongoing expansion funded by the EU, the National Museums
of Kenya, which manages the country's cultural sites, is conducting a
survey to determine what visitors to its Nairobi headquarters most
want to see.
Church leaders aim to hijack that process. "The Christian community
here is very uncomfortable that Leakey and his group want their
theories presented as fact," said Bishop Bonifes Adoyo, the head of
Christ is the Answer Ministries, the largest Pentecostal church in
"Our doctrine is not that we evolved from apes, and we have grave
concerns that the museum wants to enhance the prominence of something
presented as fact which is just one theory."
Bishop Adoyo said all the country's churches would unite to force the
museum to change its focus when it reopens after 18 months of
renovations in June next year.
"We will write to them, we will call them, we will make sure our
people know about this and we will see what we can do to make our
voice known," he said.
Dr Leakey said the churches' plans were "the most outrageous comments
I have ever heard".
He told The Daily Telegraph: "The National Museums of Kenya should be
extremely strong in presenting a very forceful case for the
evolutionary theory of the origins of mankind.
"The collection it holds is one of Kenya's very few global claims to
fame and it must be forthright in defending its right to be at the
forefront of this branch of science."
Calling the Pentecostal church fundamentalists, Dr Leakey added:
"Their theories are far, far from the mainstream on this. They cannot
be allowed to meddle with what is the world's leading collection of
these types of fossils."
The museum said it was in a "tricky situation" as it tried to redesign
its exhibition space to accommodate the expectations of all its
"We have a responsibility to present all our artefacts in the best way
that we can so that everyone who sees them can gain a full
understanding of their significance," said Ali Chege, public relations
manager for the National Museums of Kenya.
"But things can get tricky when you have religious beliefs on one
side, and intellectuals, scientists or researchers on the other,
saying the opposite."