Yes, there might have been news reports of a state-sponsored plan to construct a 70-storey building in place of Uganda’s cultural jewel, the National Museum. But hey, not all the news about museums in Uganda reads from the same script of pending Armageddon.
Out there, in countryside towns and villages, small communities and individuals have moved out and built small museums to serve as cultural reference points, at a time when the premium we weigh on our culture, seems to lose its value by the day.
The 25 or so community museums are deeply rooted in the desire not to see cultures fade into obscurity, without any custodians filling in the gap and helping pass it on to coming generations.
This need drove the Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU) to document the stories of these museums in a booklet and a documentary, which were launched by the state Minister for Internal Affairs, Hon James Baba, last month.
Although there is a National Museum, it does not cater for the needs of every ethnic grouping in Uganda, in all their diversity, according to the CCFU Executive Director, Emily Drani. These community museums thus stand in that void, giving their cultural community a spot where their customs and ways of life can be exhibited and portrayed to not only the rest of the world, but to members as well.
Taking the Karamoja Women’s Cultural Group Museum as an example, the unavailability of key cultural symbols caused the founders to go out and search for these artefacts, and hence keep them for their children to see.
“What inspired me was my interest from the first books I read, those written by the British before I was born in the 1960s; they described things I was curious about and I inquired from the elders. If at 47 I could do this, then what about my children?” says Margaret Lomonyang, one of the founders.
For most of the museums, the curators have depended on contributions of artefacts from ordinary members of communities who had such items stacked away among their possessions at homes, or those who knew about their importance. It is a feat that in itself improves the community’s sense of ownership of the museum.
Some of the museums are not just cultural storage centres, but offer solutions on modern day life. The Human Rights Focus Peace Museum in Gulu District stands out for its unique way of storing history. The museum displays 101 items that the Acholi traditionally used when resolving conflict. This could not be more apt, coming in an area that is just settling into its first years of meaningful stability, after nearly two decades of civil war.
“The idea of starting a Peace Museum came from a realisation that the local communities were in despair; anxious for an immediate return of peace. So, we had to reactivate the Acholi cultural means of resolving conflicts and building the peace,” says James Otto, a founder at the museum.
The St Luke Community Museum in Kyotera, Rakai District, for one moves to break the bondages of witchcraft by displaying artefacts that witchdoctors use to fleece unsuspecting clients. Among its wealth of displays is how these quacks use animal-horns connected to electronic speakers microphones, and how when these are connected to electricity, produce sounds that convince clients that the witchcraft is real.
Although Ms Drani asked government to help fund the museums, Hon Baba however advised the museums to find their own means of generating income. These museums show that there still are people who, even without backing from the state, care for their heritage enough to create such cultural symbols, even at their own cost.
The importance of culture is one Hon Baba stressed, saying that retaining positive aspects of their culture, like hard work and integrity, had enabled formerly third world countries like Malaysia to rise into the firstworld.
If it is true that government indeed planned to destroy the national museum, then it is quite symbolic that it is the very grassroots that are showing the country’s leadership how it is done.
- African Research and Documentation Centre, Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi
- Ankore Cultural Drama Actors Museum, Insingiro
- Attitude Change Museum, Wakiso
- Batwa Cultural Experience Museum, Kanungu
- Buganda Museum,
- Bulemba Museum, Rwenzori, Kasese
- Bunyoro Community Museum, Hoima
- Butambala Heritage Centre of Civilisation Ssana Walukagga, Mpigi
- Centre of African Christian Studies, Kampala
- Cultural Assets Centre (Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme), Kagadi
- Cultural Research Centre Museum, Jinja
- C.N. Kikonyogo Money Museum (Bank of Uganda)
- Human Rights Focus-Peace Museum
- Ham Mukasa Museum, Mukono
- Igongo Cultural Centre, Biharwe, Mbarara
- Iteso Cultural Union Museum, Soroti
- Kawere African Museum, Nsangi
- Kizonzo Language and Culture, Kasese
- Karamoja Women’s Cultural Group Museum, Moroto
- Nyamyaro Museum, Bunyoro Kingdom, Hoima