Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Do We Need Museums in the Western Grassfields?1

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

Do We Need Museums in the Western Grassfields?1

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article was provoked by the recent creation of two major state of the art modern museums in the western Grassfields of Cameroon. The two museums in question are the Mankon museum, located at the fon's palace, and the Babungo museum, also located at the Babungo fon's palace. The museums were part of an initiative by an Italian NGO - Centro Orientamento Educativo (COE) - to establish five museums in some regions of Cameroon. The objectives of the initiative were:

- The protection and enhancement of the cultural and artistic heritage in its original setting through the creation of five museums (with the publication of catalogues for the collections) in five different areas, stating with the Cameroon Grassfields, which is the western part of the country where artistic heritage is the richest and where the danger of the disappearance and loss of artistic objects is greatest.

- The training of young people (four in each place) in museum management and in the protection and conservation of cultural objects.

- The promotion of the dynamics of cultural and economic development in the circles involved in the project and in the country as a whole.

- The provision of new employment possibilities for the young people of Cameroon (Notue 2005: 14).

Accordingly, the opportunity to provide technical support and training for the creation of museums in the palaces of selected regions was advertised in 2001. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with almost every kingdom wanting to be given one of the opportunities.2 An estimated two hundred applications were received. Four kingdoms, including Bandjoun, Mankon, Babungo and Baham, were selected on the basis of the following criteria: the presence of a significant artistic heritage; the willingness of the traditional authorities to allow the study and cultural and social enjoyment of the objects of their community's heritage; and the extent to which the community was willing to have a modern museum in parallel with its commitment to make a suitable building available for the project (Notue 2005: 15). It was on this basis that an agreement was signed between the fons/kings of Mankon and Babungo, the Cameroon government and the Italian NGO.

Following the agreement:

- Both fons agreed to pay for and build a museum in a particular area of their palaces.

- Both fons and the NGO leaders agreed that the main aim was to ensure the transmission of the history and culture of the 'fondoms' to the young, who might otherwise continue to migrate to the cities or go abroad and not return.

- The fons also agreed to appoint local men and women as curators, to make new collections, to form databases for the museums, and to have a Swiss expert museologist come to advise them on the display of objects (Rowlands 2008: 150).

Additionally, the head of the Italian NGO agreed to pay for the internal design of the exhibitions, and to provide computers and technical training in curatorship. Four young men and women from each of the two fondoms were appointed to go on a six-month training course conducted by the Swiss museologist in Mbalmayo, on the outskirts of the capital, Yaoundé. Curatorship courses undertaken in the programme included: collection and policy management, documentation and registration of objects and also skills in the creation of a database (Rowlands 2008: 152).

While the response from most of the Grassfields fons to the call by the Italian funded NGO for the creation of the two museums was overwhelmingly positive, public reaction after the completion of the project has lefteveryone wondering if the new museums are actually what the fondoms wanted or better still, a solution to the problem of the protection and enhancement of the artistic and cultural heritage of the fondoms. While a majority of the population of the two fondoms, and by extension, that of the Grassfields, including even the curators and some male elites feel that the museum is not contributing anything towards the development of the fondoms, some seem to be confused, simply arguing that only the two fons know why they fought so hard to get the museums constructed in their palaces. …

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