African Heritage Book

My Journey Through African Heritage

My Journey Through African Heritage by Alan Donovan documents over 3 decades of Alan’s life and experiences in Africa. Throughout this time he was influential in the culture, art, and politics in Sub-Saharan Africa. The book includes colorful documentaries of events, both humorous and hair-raising.

Africa. For nearly 40 years, I searched for the continent’s beauty and creativity, passing through the glorious sunrises and the magnificent sunsets that encompass the splendour and the calamity of each new day. To those outside its magnetic spell, Africa may seem incomprehensible, fathomless, in the primordial past. Yet, wherever we are in the world, everyone of us had an African ancestor, that much is almost certain. Africa is the cradle of humanity… As a co-founder of African Heritage, the continent’s first Pan African Gallery, in Nairobi, Kenya, I discovered Africa’s rich legacy to the world’s art….. I served as a conduit and catalyst to reveal the awesome beauty of Africa to its visitors and to others around the world.

Alan Donovan

About the Author

“Alan Donovan is a co-founder of African Heritage, the continent’s first pan-African gallery in Nairobi which became a pioneering craft retail and wholesale operation. He later constructed The African Heritage House, inspired by the mud architecture he discovered whilst travelling across the continent and was the driving force behind numerous music, dance, costume and food festivals and exhibitions that travelled the world for over three decades. Through his work he discovered and revealed to the world Africa’s rich cultural legacy and beauty. In all, he has made an unprecedented contribution to the promotion of arts and culture in Africa and throughout the world.”

– Michigan State University Press


One of my guides was a 15-year-old boy named Peter from Lodwar. He had finished four years of free education in the local primary school, enough to learn a bit of English. One had to pay school fees for higher learning which left those with four years of education stranded, between two worlds.

Peter did not wear his hair in a hanging bun or decorate it with painted clay and metal ornaments in which cock and crane feathers stood. He did not wear a plug under his lip. He wore shoes and stockings. I asked Peter why he did not dress like the other boys.

“Because I’ve gone to school,” was his simple reply. Peter no longer wanted to return to his father to herd cattle and goats. His father had been opposed to his schooling from the very beginning. Now his father was proven right. He had lost his son and he had no one to tend his goats.

Peter had a passion for modern things. He lounged about the dusty streets of Lodwar, eyeing passing Land Rovers and the occasional foreigners who had watches, radios, and wore spectacles. He yearned for these things. His three most favorite possessions were a wristwatch with only a strap and glass face, a discarded radio which had no insides, and spectacle frames with no glass in them. He carried these things wherever he went.

Some months later I lost track of Peter. On a subsequent trip to the Lake, I was appalled to find a Turkana boy chained to the front of a lorry, having been beaten so thoroughly I could scarcely recognize it was Peter.

“Peter?” I asked, incredulously.

“Help me” he said feebly, “the want to put me in their jail!”

Once when traveling up to Lake Turkana I met the local MP (Member of Parliament) who invited me to stay at his “boma” (compound) outside Lodwar.

While the MP was having a baraza in the town, I went into one of the small bars along the main street. I found Alfred and I sat chatting with his friends. The MP strode into the bar with his followers. He saw me, and I rose to say hello. He glared at me with a spiteful look, turned, and strutted out of the bar.

I went outside to look for him. I found him, arms folded, eyes narrowed into slits. He asked me why I was sitting with Alfred. I was completely unaware that Alfred was running for MP, out to upset the man who stood before me.

He motioned me to get into his car where I had left my bag. I got in with him and his driver. They drove me a mile or two outside Lodwar. The driver stopped the car. The MP told me to get out. I could not believe my ears. “What?” I asked.

“Get out!” he repeated. “You’re no friend of mine. You’re with the snakes, so I shall leave you with the snakes.”

With that he threw my bag and left me standing, alone, in the desert, at night, in Turkana land.

When the grass was parched and the animals started to show their ribs from hunger, the lions would sometimes make an expedition to the dairy farm just across the road for me to pick out a fat young heifer. Occasionally they would drag part of the carcass back down the lane to my house and there they would feast under my pepper tree in the cloudless moonlit nights. I’d often hear them slumber and snore after they had finished crunching the bones of their prey. I felt quite safe with the lions out there lounging in the moonlight, but during the nights when I happened to come home late, I drove my car as near to my back door as I could before slipping out to enter the house.

My dogs were not so fortunate. Dogs, of course, cannot be quiet when faced with a visit by lions. One night I heard one of my dogs, a fearless little mongrel that had claimed me as its owner, barking and yapping at a frightful pitch.

I saw a pride of lithe female lions led by a huge black-maned male ambling down the lane in the moon-light. They did not seem to notice any noise I made. I hoped that my neighbor might wake up and fire off a blast of his shotgun, as he usually did when there was a disturbance. Sometimes he even appeared in a Land Rover in the dead of night.

At first, the old male lion ignored the dog, having had his fill of fresh meat. Yet the dog kept up his shrill staccato. This irritated the lion, and the lion made a lunge at the dog whose barks now turned to whimpers, then to pitiful wails. The lion buffeted the dog around a while just like a cat would play with a mouse, until the dog lay still. The lion then settled back under the pepper tree with his brood of females.

I had another dog who met a similar fate. From then on, I kept my dogs inside kennels at night. However, there was no need of that after famed paleontologist Richard Leakey became the head of the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS).

Leakey’s formidable fundraising forays abroad brought money into the country, and before long game rangers appeared with teams of workmen who set sturdy wooden poles in concrete on which they strung a high wire fence, and built yet another fence which was electrified.

I was excited and grateful that an American President would visit Kenya for the first time since 1914, when Teddy Roosevelt wiped out some of the abundant wildlife during one of the most extravagant game safaris in the country’s history. President Bush’s visit would have sent all the right signals for Americans to follow him to Kenya. But, before I left Los Angeles, I learned through a CNN newscast that the President’s visit to African had been canceled. Indefinitely. Disappointed, I returned to Kenya.

What I had expected would be a renewal, a springtime for Kenya, became the worst year in memory – the United States launched a war in Iraq, spreading an encapsulating fear of terrorism which stalked Kenya, totally destroying Kenya’s tourism market, the life-blood of African Heritage. After 31 years in Kenya, the company was forced into liquidation. Then I had a vision of Karen’s state of mind when she was forced to put her most treasured possessions out for sale to pay her debts before her journey back to Denmark.

It has been well over a year, now, sine the new government has taken over but the people of Kenya have received few if any of the bountiful blessings and just rewards they were promised and so abundantly deserve.

It is strange that the world press has completely forgotten the first nights of terror in Kenya, a country that suffered more from terrorism than any where except the epicenter of terror in the Middle East. I have never seen one foreign newspaper report that recalls the terror that heralded the New Year in 1981 or the aborted missile launch from Nairobi City Park in 1976.

Yet the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) operatives caught that night in Nairobi City Park were the ancestors of those who later hatched the audacious acts of terror in Nairobi in 1998 and again on September 11th, 2001, in New York City.

If the world had paid attention to the plight of the Palestinians then, we would have avoided 9/11 and much of the violence which followed it. Now the frustration had mushroomed from Palestine throughout the Muslim world. American and European campus radicals and anti-global activists have taken up the cause of the Palestinians which could lead to home grown varieties of terrorism, and the war in Iraq is a magnet for a new generation of terrorists in the Middle East.

In a more familiar act of terrorism in 1998, a car bomb demolished the US embassy in downtown Nairobi, and badly damaged Nairobi’s own “Twin Towers”, the Cooperative Bank House which happened to be next door.

Hundreds of innocent Kenyans were blinded by shattering glass and many others lost their lives in that explosion. This tragedy is always covered by journalists reporting about the explosions in what was the Paradise of Kenya. In an act of outrageous bravado, the terrorists also blew up the US embassy in neighboring Tanzania, just to make sure the world got the message.

The US reaction to the twin explosions in East African was unorganized and timid. It took the nightmare of the twin towers explosion on US soil to galvanize the Americans, to instill the fear of terrorists in their minds and hearts.

World reaction in early 2003 was completely different than in 1980! In 1981, there was hardly a ripple in the flow of tourists to Kenya due to the tragedy at the Norfolk Hotel. There was only a bit of inconvenience in finding alternative rooms for those booked in the wing of the hotel that had disappeared.

However, in the post 9/11 world of 2003, the reaction was one of near hysteria. When a Kenyan Minister announced the possibility that terrorists were still on Kenya soil, and were suspected of filming airports and other Kenyan installations, reaction was swift. Kenya and its recovering tourism industry were completely written off.

British Airways announced it would immediately suspend all flights to Kenya on the fateful day of May 20th, 2003. This would have never happened in 1981 or 1998. This is the new reality.

Following 9/11, there were “Mercy Flights” to New York to bring money and support to those in need, but there was no mercy shown to Kenya in its hour of need.

Book Reviews

“While the visuals are sufficient to keep you enthralled with Donovan’s book, it’s the anecdotal style of his writing that will keep one turning pages till you get through the nearly 400-page mammoth manuscript.”

“Book of the Year” “An unforgettable thirty year documentary about a people,
a country, and a man who would not give up during his astonishing career
as a promoter and catalyst of art and culture in Africa and beyond”

“My Journey Through African Heritage is a rare and unusual book
that charts an important period in Kenyan history and contemporary
culture through the lens of one man’s life.”

“A Story that had to be told.”

“A unique documentary”

More Reviews

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  • Hand-bound edition

  • Soft-cover edition

Book Information:
The book comes in two editions, one with a soft cover and the other a hand-bound edition covered in handmade royal Buganda barkcloth, with brass and bone decorations from the African Heritage Jewelry Workshops on the cover and spine (pictured).

Soft Cover Edition:
US$ 60.00

Hand-bound Edition:
US$ 100.00

(please inquire for postage and handling charges)

My Journey Through African Heritage
by Alan Donovan

409 Pages Full Color
Published by Kenway Publications
© Alan Donovan 2004
First Published in Kenya 2005
Second Edition in Kenya 2017
Published by Kolbe Press Limuru