|Native Congolese 'medicine' man|
It was an intensely bright and sunny afternoon in New York City. Perfect weather for a tourist. And perfect timing for me to strike the Natural History Museum off my bucket list.
Imposing building. Larger-than-life dinosaurs. Gargantuan elephant. First impressions looked good.
I paid for a ticket. Glided towards the Hall of African Peoples, which was one of the opening exhibits.
Time to relish the sights and sounds, and fill my memory bank with fabulous images. Or so I thought.
The next moment, I was scanning the room, looking for witches. Witches? Well, yes...
The little girl beside me had just asked her parents "Are these the witches?"
Her parents chuckled at her guileless question. It did sound funny to be honest. Just that, I wasn't laughing.
I was more curious about the genesis of the question. What connections had she made in her five or six-year-old mind that linked the displays to witches? What factors were molding her thought patterns and colouring the lens through which she viewed the world?
I really didn't want to engage in mental gymnastics, deconstructions and dialectics, so I tried to let it slide. Mark my words: I tried. It was very difficult to achieve cognitive dissonance. Nothing seemed to be value-free: the stuffed animals, artifacts (were they bought, taken, or gifts?), costumes, gods (often vindictive), priests, medicine men, half-truth inscriptions (who wrote these things?) and so on.
|African gods (Natural History Museum, NYC)|
As an African, I couldn't help but wonder: why is it so easy to find so much of Africa in museums abroad, but so little of Africa in Africa? My statement might border on ignorance, but I haven't noticed illustrious African museums showcasing relics from Pre-Colonial Africa, past kingdoms, heroic historical figures and national feats. But, I stand to be corrected.
|Hunting tools (NYC)|
My one hour peregrination through the museum was both fascinating and thought-provoking. I came away feeling good because it occurred to me, regardless of the labels attached to a group of people, their culture, practices and so on, history is like a multifacted prism. It has many faces and interpretations. There is no almighty explanation of history that supercedes every other translation.
Everyone has the right and the freedom to construe their own meaning.
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