Vintage Views: The International Nairobi Agricultural Show

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The agricultural show can most probably be counted as one of the more useful left-overs from the colonial occupation of African nations. Back in 1995 when these photos were taken I remember being struck by a rural farmer’s glowing comment in a newspaper interview. He said he had to travel a great distance to attend the Nairobi show every year, but it was worth it. The exhibition stands were his university, he said.

I could believe it. The amount of expert advice available at every turn was indeed impressive, and I speak as someone brought up on agricultural shows: my father was a grain merchant for a farmers’ cooperative and my memories of the various company stands were weighted rather more towards alcohol delivery than education.

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Of course the Nairobi show is also about selling and public relations, but I remember being particularly diverted by the National Archives stand which was showing 1950s newsreel footage of Land and Army so-called Mau Mau uprising; also by the Kenya Automobile Association’s  novel pitch to drum up membership; and by the glorious conformity of the cabbage display put on by a seed company. And of course there was all manner of entertainment to be had: shopping, snacks, a helter skelter, close encounters with camels, ripping performance from the military band: all the fun of the fair in fact. And you could get your shoes cleaned with the ‘world’s  no.1 shoe polish’, then have a swish new hair do in the next-door salon.

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Life in Colour: Yellow   This month Jude at Travel Words is asking us to think about yellow. Please pay her a visit.

39 thoughts on “Vintage Views: The International Nairobi Agricultural Show

    1. Actually it was ‘winter’ there at the time. August if I remember rightly, when the sky was often overcast. But yes, the colours did pop out whatever the season. Perhaps being at the equator has something to do with it.

  1. I always enjoy these nostalgic trips and wonder what your camera was back then? Under an African sun, those yellows glow. The camels looked a bit underfed for an Agricultural show and to see in amongst it all, the renowned Kiwi shoe polish!
    p.s. Grain merchants know what is the best end product!

    1. Hello Laura. Happy to find you here. I was using an Olympus Trip back then. The original photos are heaps better than the scans, which are pretty poor. I think the camels might have walked from Northern Frontier District! And you’re dead right about my pa knowing the best end product. He savoured it quite frequently 🙂

    1. I was thinking of you when I was writing this, and wondered if you’d ever been. One thing that interests me about agri shows is the permanent show grounds – there’s some weird and wonderful ‘architecture’ among the permanent stands. I noticed it too in Lusaka and the Copper Belt – sort of colonial and post colonial time capsules. Worth a visit this year maybe, Mak – if it’s happening that is?

      1. I think it will depend on what the big honchos think about Covid by August. Maybe I should attend one just to see the big cows they bring and what else there is on offer.

  2. Funny that I only associate agricultural shows with the UK when I have in fact attended one in Canberra where sheep shearing and Maori dancing was on display. I have yet to go to the Cornish show, but maybe I should – so much more to them than agriculture! Thanks for another nostalgic trip through the African archives Tish.

  3. I think I would thoroughly enjoy this. There’s a quaint old-world feel about it. I wonder what it’s like now. I hope it hasn’t gotten too slick. Simlaw certainly have the Stepford Wives of cabbages.

    1. Those cabbages are amazing aren’t they. But then they’re quite a Kenyan feature. Up on the Rift above Nairobi they grow absolute giants along with lots of other amazing fruit and veg. We used to see them being trucked into town. I bet the show hasn’t changed too much. Now I want to go and see for myself!

  4. This is wonderful Tish. I love agricultural shows, even though I’m essentially a “townie”. We’re mid show season here and you’ve inspired me to go to at least one.

    1. They are a window into another way of life and the associated preoccupations and concerns that most of us know very little about. Which is odd when you think of it – and every one of us needing to eat!

  5. I loved agricultural shows, especially those where pure-breed livestock are on show and auction. And those impressive and expensive implements! My maternal grandfather was a farmer, so we often attended with him. Happy memories and I have you to thank for reviving them with your lovely images, Tish!

    1. That’s good to know I’ve sparked some happy memories, Dries. There truly is nothing quite like a good agricultural show – all the ritual in the ring, the showing off and judging…

  6. I remember attending them twice with my parents 1995 and with my school when I was in high school in 1997 and the two times were both amazing and very different. schools used to be shut so that parents could take kids to the show grounds. My kids have never been to any.
    With my parents it was fun and everything was amazing, with my teenage friends it was the disco and the underage drinking, as a parent am scared of kids getting lost, or drunk or me getting robbed.
    I do love the great quality products at reduced prices though. 😂 Thanks for the pics they are beautiful. #happytimes

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