The world arrived in books: Part one

Collective Magic: session #1
Jackie Karuti


A gathering of dust announces that the process of making a new creation is underway. Gathering dust is the accumulation of filth to make magic. A sorcerer’s task. A gathering of dust is also the act of collecting this filth and discarding it elsewhere. Dust from different books mix creating a strange kind of science. Histories mesh. Facts are distorted. Futures re-imagined. Languages mix.




The library is loud with the dead weight of time. The city has been passing through everyday claiming space, leaving traces and settling in. Specks of dust illuminated by the slanted afternoon light rest over the shelves but I have to be very still and focus my eyes to see this. Dust is gathered, transferred as I my body cuts across the space. My fingers are sooty.


Black on your fingertips. [1]


At the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Koinange Street stands the Galton-Fenzi Memorial or the Nairobi Military Stone. It was erected in 1939. The monument’s significance is a set of co-ordinates called Kilometer Point Zero found inside the Nairobi Gallery. These co-ordinates guided the settlers as they mapped out the city and positioned themselves in the world at the time. Majority of countries in the world have a point zero and it’s usually marked with an obscure plaque or nondescript monument.[2] What is the origin and chemical composition of Kenya’s stone and who inscribed the words and carved out its astronomical symbols? The stone was used by the early settlers and administrators as the official starting point when it came to measuring distances to all other parts of Kenya, East Africa and the world. You can still see the distances between Nairobi and other local towns and international cities inscribed on the stone.


Nairobi to Mombasa: 480km

Nairobi to Moyale: 833km

Nairobi to Cape Town: 6,000km


Today a plinth stands at point zero’s original location[3] at the gallery and on it sits a pot by Magdalene Odundo OBE,[4] Kenya’s most celebrated ceramicist. Back then the gallery was the (PC’s) Provincial Commissioners office and it is inside the governor’s office that the stone was first laid. However owing to security concerns by the colonial authorities, it was moved outside where it now rests as a monument. The Stone was erected in memory of Lionel Douglas Galton-Fenzi, the man who pioneered automobile routes across Kenya and East Africa. He founded Automobiles Association (AA) in 1919 as the Royal East Africa Automobile Association. The first chairman was the then governor of Kenya, Sir Edward Northey. [5]


Who are the Kenyans that had already mapped out routes across the country by foot?


It should be noted that back then the railway line passed just outside the PC’s office. All births, marriages and deaths were registered and files kept here. This was the official entry point into Kenya and from where the city and greater country was birthed. Just across was Kipande House, which was used as a store or office for the railway company and further up was what is now Museum Hill. The Governors house sat atop that hill and from here he had a vantage point of all who came into the city. The railway line then continued to Westlands, Kisumu and lastly into Uganda.




[1] Artist book by Jackie Karuti addressing race relations and mythical narratives