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.
The man-eating big cats lent drama to the romanticised view of railways as a way for Europeans to penetrate “the deep dark interiors of Africa”, or as a symbol of Britain’s grand designs for development of the “wild” African continent. The photo of Patterson posing with one of the dead lions became synonymous with white conquest.