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bones of Turkana

It’s not every day that one has the opportunity to be regaled by a living legend. Although Richard Leakey does not have the star power of your typical celebrity, his life and his life’s work have deservedly made him famous not just in Kenya but the world over.

We were not quite sure what to expect as we watched Leakey laboriously make his way up the steps to the stage of the National Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium, which is named after his equally famous father. To those, like us, who were not fully familiar with his story, he cast the image of an old, doddering gentleman – an image that was quickly cast aside and forgotten once he opened his mouth to introduce Bones of Turkana, a recently released National Geographic feature that chronicles his 40-year pursuit of the answers to the mystery of human origin and evolution.

Flavored with typically dry British humor, his speech was not only full of boyish wonder and passion for his work, but also reflected a long life that for many years brimmed with adventure. It was completely captivating. Unfortunately, Leakey did not stay to answer questions after the film screening, promising instead to come back to do another talk at the museum.

Ignoring NatGeo’s expected touch of corniness, the movie was quite interesting, both for its telling of Leakey’s story and the snapshot portrait it painted of him throughout the years – the itinerant playboy, sunning himself on the shores of Lake Turkana while excavating unheard of fossils that would turn him into one of the world’s leading paleoanthropologists; the conservationist, who hit on the idea of burning confiscated ivory to draw the world’s attention to the poaching frenzy that was decimating Africa’s elephants; the politician, whose commitment to fighting corruption made him enough enemies that he withdrew from public life and nearly lost his own life in the process. In short, if you get the chance to watch Bones of Turkana, we highly recommend it.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Marilyn Martin #

    Hardly old and doddering! In fact, he and I are only a few months apart in age. While I was in Senegal in the Peace Corps (1967-69), my college roommate worked with Richard and Meave. We were all in our 20s then, and we’re all still here — hale and hardy!
    Marilyn Martin, Access Living, Chicago

    November 27, 2012
    • Marilyn, I think there were two factors contributing to the impression of old age. First, all those years baking under the hot African seem to have had an effect – Richard’s skin does not look healthy. Second, we were ignorant of his brush with death – it wasn’t until we saw the movie that we realized he had both legs amputated after his plane crashed. That’s pretty cool about your college roommate…thanks for sharing :)

      – D

      November 28, 2012

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