One Museum’s Quest to Preserve Niger’s Precious Cultural Heritage

Boubou Hama National Museum

Boubou Hama National Museum

Niger does not get a lot of press when it comes to the protection of its cultural heritage. Often it is overshadowed by news about antiquities from its neighbor to the south, Nigeria, and the restitution of the Benin Bronzes taken from that region. However, the people of Niger are proud of their heritage and want to protect and preserve it. One man in particular, Maki Garba from the Boubou Hama National Museum, contacted AntiquityNOW, eager to share the work that’s being done at the museum to ensure that Niger’s past is not lost.

Ténéré's dune seas as seen from space.

Ténéré’s dune seas as seen from space.

Sitting on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger is a hot, arid and drought-prone region in Africa. Independent since 1960, it has a long and complicated story dating back to prehistory. The Ténéré Desert, sometimes called a desert within a desert, sits in the northern part of Niger and holds abundant archaeological evidence of early peoples living in the area. The bones of humans as well as animals, including water-adapted animals such as crocodiles and even fish, have been found in the desert, suggesting the area was not always as inhospitable as it is now. In fact, at one point over 3,500 years ago, it was a “Green Sahara” for a time.[1] During these several thousand years, the land supported an agricultural civilization and livestock herding.

Eventually, the lush, favorable conditions shifted and the desert returned, forcing the people to move out of the area and closer to Lake Chad. Niger became a gateway and popular trade route between the North and sub-Saharan Africa. Kingdoms such as the Songhai Empire (600-1591 BCE) and the Hausa Kingdoms (1350-1808 BCE) rose and fell in the fertile area. In the late 1890’s Niger came under French rule and remained so until its eventual liberation in 1960. Since that time, its people have struggled with food shortages, lack of education and poor healthcare.[2] Today, Nigerians rely on subsistence agriculture for most of their food and the trade of uranium to bolster the economy.[3]

Despite the hardships they face, Nigerians like Maki Garba are determined to preserve Niger’s rich cultural heritage and to share it with the rest of the world. Not content to be known only for their present struggles, these Nigerians want their past to be known and treasured.

Below is a report on the Boubou Hama National Museum, written by Maki Garba. It highlights the important work being done by the museum and the incredible heritage Niger has to share.

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National Museum of Niger Republic: A Presentation

Craftsmen at the museum in 1992.

Craftsmen at the museum in 1992.

Boubou Hama National Museum includes several collections, including paleontological, prehistoric, mineralogical, historical, numismatic, zoological and ethnographic, as well as Arab and Ajamis manuscripts. The diversity of these collections is considerable in all thematic fields. The Museum uses appropriate professional techniques to develop cultural projects and offers the public an ongoing dialogue about the past, the present as well as future prospects. Aware of the scientific, technical and cultural role of the Boubou Hama National Museum, its staff is committed to new perspectives for the future.
This framework will:

  • Strengthen the capacity and services of the institution to meet the local as well as international needs.
  • Maintain the partnership portfolio with technical and financial partners in a concerted effort for a synergy of actions.
  • Make the museum a reference institution with expertise in the design, research and implementation of other museums.
  • Invigorate the museum resources, including scientific, cultural, craft and zoological, at both a national and an African level.

I) Presentation of the institution

gazelle boubou

Gazelle in the zoo portion of the museum.

Like the Institute for Research in Humanities (IRSH), the Boubou Hama National Museum was created as a satellite of the Niger IFAN Centre of Dakar (French Institute of Black Africa). It began in a shed that served as parking for the Centre Manager and was called The National Museum of Niger. In 1958, this shed was converted into an exhibition hall to receive the ethnographic, taxidermal, archaeological, mineralogical and geological collections through the missions of the Niger IFAN Centre. The work was undertaken by Boubou Hama, a man of culture and a politician, assisted by Pablo Toucet, an archaeologist with experience in the creation of a museum. Other Nigerian colleagues contributed to this project including Albert Ferral, the first Nigerian curator who donated original work that is the pride of all Nigerians. The museum itself was opened December 18, 1959 by His Excellency Diori Hamani, President of the First Republic, then President of the Government Council. In 2008 it took the name Boubou Hama National Museum. The museum currently has:

  • Seven (7) houses
  • One (1 ) main reserve where are kept non-permanent collections
  • A exhibition area for dinosaur remains
  • A flag of the Tree of Ténéré
  • Ten (10) traditional habitats
  • A temporary exhibition room
  • A zoological park with 135 animals
  • An educational center founded in 1970 that has 610 students
  • A craft center with more than 150 artisans
  • A craft center for those with disabilities

II) Objectives of the institution

Main objectives:

  • The assertion of cultural identity
  • The consolidation of national unity
  • The development and promotion of traditional crafts
  • The educational and social action supported by the creation of an educational center whose goal is the training and rehabilitation of young people excluded from school, and a training workshop for people with disabilities in order to escape the yoke of begging.

Main tasks of the institution:

  • Research
  • Foundation collections development
  • Acquisition
  • Conservation
  • Evaluation

III) Legislative and regulatory texts

While its inauguration was in 1959, the National Museum remained unincorporated until 1990. It was during the year that this institution was erected in Public Establishment Administrative Character (EPA), with legal personality and financial autonomy under Law No. 90 – 25 of 28 December 1990 and its implementing Decree No. 90-256/PRN/MJS/C of 28 December 1990.

The Council of Ministers on 10 February 2006 decided to change the name of the National Museum of Niger to the Boubou Hama National Museum and did so by the ACT -2008- 11 on 30 April 2008 . This action was taken to immortalize the memory of the one who initiated the creation of the institution. Despite this transformation in Public Establishment Administrative character, shortcomings were identified in the structural and functional aspects of the organization.

A bill establishing a public scientific character, specifically culture and technology at the Boubou Hama National Museum, was adopted at the Council of Ministers on 11 October 2013. This not only corrected deficiencies at the organizational and functional level, but also reaffirmed the general interest and mission of the institution. Also, this change in the legal regime was guided by the desire to reconcile the traditional mission of the museum, focusing on collections, and its modern mission as a cultural and social institution.

To enable the Boubou Hama National Museum to carry out both of these missions, the bill cited above broadened the resource base of the institution, in accordance with Ordinance No. 99-34 of 27 August 1999 on the regime public scientific , cultural and technical ( EPSCT ) .

IV:  Prospects

From a scientific and technical point of view, the museum’s current course is the most optimal path to confirm its position as a reference museum in Africa, south of the Sahara. Its current position allows for the quality and authenticity of its collections to be seen and exposes its conservatorship of paleontological and archaeological remains. In view of these advantages, the Boubou Hama National Museum is one of the best museums in Africa with paleontological remains represented. The museum’s approach reflects eloquently its roots in the recovery of the historical past of the Nigerian space coupled with the ambition of presenting the results of scholarly research in the paleontological field. This institution has antiquities of very high scientific value that deserve conservation and that are recognized in Africa and around the world.
The Boubou Hama National Museum, imbued with its legal personality and financial autonomy, is looking to the future. Those in charge of its management have the following ambitions:

  • Articulate a museum discourse to promote research around these areas
  • Maintain collaborative relationships with other scientific and cultural institutions
  • Reconcile the traditional mission of the museum, focusing on collections, and the modern mission of a cultural and social institution
  • Ensure expertise in museum collections, zoos, crafts and vocational training
  • Support any body or person or entity in the design and construction of museums
  • Diversify the scientific and cultural techniques through the implementation of several infrastructure projects (houses and other related infrastructure)
  • Enrich museum collections and live collections by restocking the zoo

In order to carry out its tasks, the museum has set up seven departments, each with a specification:

  • An Administrative and Human Resources department in charge of managing agents of all categories and grades (the institution currently employs 59 staff members)
  • A Collections department, responsible for managing the collections exhibited in pavilions and other structures
  • A department in charge of hardware support and financial management of the institution
  • A department in charge of zoo park and animal health
  • A Communications and Marketing department in charge of the promotion and visibility of the institution
  • An Educational Center in charge of vocational training for school children in various trades (metalwork , carpentry, auto mechanics, plumbing , sewing, electricity)
  • An Education Department in charge of entertainment, hospitality and visitor orientation

V: Conclusion

In order to raise awareness and funding for the museum, a number of official visits have been planned during which a plea will be made to enhance the working conditions of the institution. Visitors include Presidents of the Republic of the sub-region, first ladies, international and diplomatic figures, as well as the Head of State of Niger and the Head of State of Liberia. These kinds of visits promote the mobilization of resources for the museum and illustrate the status of the museum as a national treasure.

The Boubou Hama National Museum is a place of preservation for all periods of Niger history and it deserves substantial state support and technical and financial partners to make investments in its ambitions.

Important achievements have emerged in recent years thanks to the substantial support of the State of Niger and development partners. Countless visitors have enjoyed the museum. Thus, the museum stands as an example of how an emerging museum can tackle its challenges through the combined efforts of various partners and a synergy of actions.

 

[1] Green Sahara – National Geographic Magazine. (n.d.). Green Sahara – National Geographic Magazine. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/green-sahara/gwin-text/2

[2] Niger country profile. (n.d.). BBC News. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13943662

[3] Encyclop̩die Larousse en ligne РNiger R̩publique du Niger. (n.d.). Encyclop̩die Larousse en ligne РNiger R̩publique du Niger. Retrieved June 25, 2014, from http://www.larousse.fr/encyclopedie/pays/Niger/135284

One response to “One Museum’s Quest to Preserve Niger’s Precious Cultural Heritage

  1. Pingback: Bon Appetit Wednesday! West African Jollof Rice | AntiquityNOW

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