JOSEPH ZUZARTE MURUMBI was born in Kenya in 1911, from a Goan father and Maasai mother, the daughter of Murumbi, the Maasai Laibon (political leader) for the Uasin Gishu Maasai. His father had arrived in Kenya in 1897 at the time the first railway was just entering the area where Murumbi was later born.
Joseph and Sheila Murumbi were among Africa’s most famous private collectors. Their unique collections of art, artifacts, books, documents and postage stamps span the African continent. Joseph Murumbi was the first Foreign Minister of Kenya and the nation’s second Vice President. He was instrumental in forming the country’s new constitution and was largely responsible for setting up the country’s embassies, high commissions and consulates at the time of independence.
Joseph Murumbi was an ardent supporter of the pioneer artists of East Africa, those artists who started their careers, against all odds, shortly after independence. In fact, when he joined with Alan Donovan to open Africa’s first Pan African Gallery, African Heritage, he made his entire opening speech to be an appeal to Margaret Kenyatta, the then mayor of Nairobi, to support these artists, especially Francis Nnaggenda, who was teaching at the University of Nairobi at that time. He said he had bought five of the monumental works by this artist although no other African had ever bought one. He asked the mayor to buy Nnaggenda’s huge works to display in public places in Nairobi. This fell on deaf ears and Francis migrated to the USA where he stayed for 25 years before returning to become Chairman of Fine Arts at Makerere University in Kampala. One of his colossal works, the “Mother and Child” which stands in front of the National Museums of Kenya was commissioned by Joseph Murumbi.