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This page was last updated 26 January, 2003 

Kenya's west coast - Lake Victoria Safari Village

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Something about the Islands

Rusinga Island

Rusinga is an austerely pretty island with high crags dominating the desolate goat-grazed landscape. A single dirt road is running around its circumference. Life here is difficult, drought commonplace, and high winds a frequent torment. The occasional heavy rain either washes away the soil or sinks into the porous rock, emerging lower down where it creates swamps. Ecologically, the island is in very dire straits: almost all its trees have been cut down for cooking fuel or been converted into lucrative charcoal. These conditions make farming highly unpredictable and most people rely on some fishing to make ends meet. Yet the islanders, in common with their mainland cousins, remain an unfailingly friendly and cheerful bunch, who are more than happy to make contact with wayward visitors

Beside its friendliness, the island has two significant claims to fame. It is rich in fossils, and was the site of Mary Leakey’s discovery of a skull of Proconsul africanus (a primitive anthropoid ape), which can be seen in Kenya National Museum. And it was the birthplace of Tom Mboya, civil rights champion, trade unionist and charismatic young Luo politician who was gunned down in Nairobi in 1969, sparking off a crisis that led to over forty deaths in widespread rioting and demonstrations.

Proconsul africanus

The link between the animal kingdom and man has never been found. For a long time, an African ape named Proconsul africanus was touted as the connection between monkeys and the branch of apes that eventually would give way to mankind, a branch known as the hominids. 

This cast of the original skull belongs to Palaeontological Museum,  University of Oslo, Norway, 2001.       

Paleontologist Louis S. B. Leakey, one of the foremost fossil-hunters of the twentieth century and a champion of evolution, wrote of this ape:

An especially important creature was Proconsul africanus. This, many authorities once concluded, gave us an indication of the common stock for apes and men. We have good forelimb bones for it, and in 1948 on Rusinga Island Mary [Leakey] discovered a skull, the first nearly complete specimen ever found. Its canine teeth suggest an ape’s, while its forehead reminds us of our own. It seems to me, however, to be neither an ancestral ape, nor yet an ancestor of man, but a side branch with characteristics of both stocks.

After the Second World War, the Leakey's spent several years on Rusinga Island, just off the east coast of Lake Victoria. On the morning of October 6, 1948, Mary discovered some interesting bone fragments and a tooth buried in the side of a cliff. During the next two days, she found enough pieces to reconstruct the skull and jaws of an apelike creature from the Miocene era called Proconsul africanus. This 18-million-year-old skull turned out to be one of the oldest and most important finds discovered in Africa up to that point; although not the "missing link" the Leakey’s had been hoping to find, Proconsul africanus is a possible ancestor of humans, and both great and lesser apes. Bits and pieces of the species had been found before, but never anything as complete as Mary's specimen. Aside from the public interest it spurred, the skull also ensured the Leakey’s funding for their next expeditions. Louis and Mary, thrilled at the discovery, decided the best way to celebrate would be by having another child. Their third son, Philip, was born almost nine months later on June 21, 1949.

The oldest apes are known from the Oligocene. They are about 30 million years old, and are found in Africa. During the Miocene, several types of apes developed. Eventually they spread to Europe and Asia. Towards the end of the Miocene (24 million to 5 million years ago), the diversity was at its largest. It was probably at this time, in the African apes, that the evolution of the human family began.

Another candidate for the "missing link" between humankind and the animal kingdom was Aegyptopithecus, "Egyptian Ape." Although this ape is being promoted by evolutionist Dr. Elwyn Simons of Duke University as "the oldest creature we know that is in the direct ancestry of man" (Weaver 581), the gap between this creature and the ape-man into which it allegedly evolved (Australopithecus) is too gigantic to be gapped, and intermediate ancestors between Aegyptopithecus and our supposed ape-like ancestors have all disappointed, as National Geographic points out:

A gulf of mystery separates Aegyptopithecus at 33 million years [ago] and Australopithecus at four million. Candidates for intermediate ancestors that have been proposed at one time or another include two from Kenya known as Proconsul and Kenyapithecus; two from India, Pakistan, China, and Kenya called Ramapithecus and Sivapithecus; and two from Europe called Rudapithecus and Dryopithecus. These apelike creatures lived at various times between about 8 and 20 million years ago.

Despite much debate and speculation, none of these primates has been finally accepted as a human progenitor. 

Evolutionists have admitted that the remains of the ape which supposedly linked man with animal will never be found. You can read more about the Human Evolution on the homepage of © Palaeontological Museum,  University of Oslo, Norway, 2001

 Tom Mboya’s mausoleum

Tom Mboya’s mausoleum lies on family land at Kasawanga on the north side of the island, about 7km by the dirt road from Mbita, or roughly 5km directly across the island. The mausoleum (open most days to visitors) contains various mementoes and gifts Mboya received during his life. The inscription on the grave reads:

August 15th 1930 – July 5th 1969
Go and fight like this man
Who fought for mankind’s cause
Who died because he fought
Whose battles are still un won!

You don’t have to know anything about the man to be impressed. In any other surroundings his memorial might seem relatively modest, but on this barren, windswept shore, it stands out like a beacon. Mboya’s family live right next door and are happy to see foreign visitors, who rarely come here.     

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Mfangano Island is said to have been inhabited for centuries. The island is populated by a curious mixture of immigrants from all over Kenya, administered by a chief and three sub-chiefs with help from a trio of policemen. Monitor lizards swarm on the sandy shores and hippos are much in evidence out in the water.

Mfangano’s greatest economic resource is still the lake itself. Traditional fishing techniques are unusual: the islanders fish with floating kerosene lamps hauled towards the shore, or towards a boat, to draw in the fish to be netted. Of more immediate interest, however, are the island’s cave paintings, certainly worth the trip if you’re into such things, and a good excuse to get to know the island in any case. Because there are no vehicles, Mfangano’s people rely on a network of temporary footpaths which are constantly changing course. If you arrive at Sena by boat, which is the main center, you can walk all over the island.                                                          

The cave paintings

From Ukula, an hour or two’s walk into the interior (with a guide) brings you to a high, north-facing bluff on Itone Hill, with startling views out across the island’s north coast. Here, in a gently scooped cave, are the cave paintings: reddish spirals and whorls, some with rays, up to 50cm across, that could come from any Von Daniken paperback. The paintings have been identified as the work of Twa Pygmy Hunters from Congo. !8.000 years ago, a band of Twa Hunters sheltered here under the cover of the overhang, with a view across a forested valley . Their view took in the rising sun, and they repeatedly painted a single image of the sun across the rock. Local people associate the site with supernatural powers and miraculous events, and in some measure fear them, too, which has so far helped prevent the vandalism which has afflicted other rock art sites in Kenya.

The site is still used for traditional rain-making ceremonies, when elders pray to their ancestors to intercede on their behalf. As a result, locals believe that violating traditional practice may lead to something dangerous, so don’t be surprised if you find people insisting that you stay put in Ukula for a day or two before setting out: the gods apparently need time to prepare for your arrival. Which explains why, if you go purposefully looking for the paintings, or ask too many questions about them, they’ll elude you. But walk as if you didn’t care and you’ll suddenly come across them. Stories like these suggest the paintings were indeed put on the rock by an earlier and distinctive culture, of which people today have no recollection. If you’re really into rock art, the Odengere Hills, also on Mfangano, are unique among Lake Victoria’s prehistoric sites in that they have depictions of insects, some of them so fine that even the species can be identified. Experts are at a loss as to their significance. For site-by-site descriptions of Lake Victoria’s rock art, see the 1994 (vol.9) issue of Azania (copies at the British Institute in Nairobi).                                                                                

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Mbasa Islands

Mbasa Islands consist of two islands, situated  east of Mfangano and south of Rusinga islands. These twin islands have been gazetted as a bird sanctuary and are the home to thousands of birds and monitor lizards. The most common birds are the Great Cormorants and the Egrets.

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