The ownership of one’s history means shaping the narrative of your people. Ensuring their rich culture, traditions, customs, innovation, inventions, religion, and art is depicted as close to the truth and or intention as possible. It is also about being able to pass on important information and heritage to living and future generations.
The looting of cultural heritage is a calculated way of destabilising groups of people by erasing or reshaping their unique markers, shifting the trajectory of their future, and distorting their history. Imperialism sought to exploit Africa’s resources, land, and people by asserting superiority and weaponising fear, looting was a way of showing the results of their colonial conquests and stamping out places and things that did not support their superiority narrative. What they did not take, they destroyed.
A Pan-African Heritage Museum would bridge historical and cultural gaps
With some talks for the repatriation of significant artefacts taking shape, many African countries are making plans to rise to their return by building museums that can house them. Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria are currently leading the preparation charge.
But over and above state-of-the-art National Museums, the idea of targeting our collective African identity and history by harnessing, celebrating, and curating African culture in a unique Pan-African Museum has been a mass ambition since the 1990s.
The fruition of one is happening in Ghana. A 10-acre site located in Winneba (a region in Central Ghana about 60km west of the capital Accra) will house the Pan African Heritage Museum by August 2023.
The museum introduces itself by asking us to, “Imagine a place where the many—but little-known—stories about black civilizations are told and displayed. Imagine a place where the stories on how Africans in the diaspora survived and spread the cultures of the continent around the world. Imagine a place that celebrates the arts, sciences, religions, and technologies of ancient Africa, the ancestral home of all humans. Imagine a Pan African Heritage Museum.”
There will be two versions of the museum: a physical one and a virtual one. The digital virtual version will be an interactive site modelled on the physical version to give anyone from around the world access to African art, artefacts, and commentaries by leading scholars. For people that cannot travel but have internet, this version is an opportunity for limitless access.
The second physical version has Nigerian architect James Inedu-George at the helm. He is known for imbuing his designs with cultural aspects. The building’s unique form is in the shape of a Horn, which the website details are synonymous with the trumpet which is often used in religious ceremonies across many cultures.
“Choosing the Horn for the shape of our museum will be a beacon to the Pan African family worldwide, representing the urgent call to gather ourselves in unity for true reconciliation and liberation,” It explains.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo says the museum will “provide a natural residence and resting place for all the looted cultural artefacts of our continent, which are housed in foreign museums, and which will be returned to us.”
“It will not only benefit all the peoples of the world, but it will also imbibe in all of us a deep consciousness and understanding of the goals and ideal of Pan-Africanism”. President Akufo-Addo explained.
The museum will have a Herbal Plants Village with Chalets, a Palace of African Kingdoms showcasing 50 African kingdoms (ancient and modern), a Pan African Heroes and Heroines Park, a Pan African Library housing books from all over the continent, a Children’s Library and Innovation Centre, a Convention Centre and a Hall of Fame Centre to award and celebrate annual African achievers.
The Africa Union also plans to launch the “Great Museum of Africa” in 2023 as part of the First Ten-Year Implementation Plan of Agenda 2063. The museum that will be hosted by the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria in Algiers on behalf of the continent is meant to showcase, protect, and promote Africa’s rich cultural heritage.