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Workshop: Communities and Cultural Heritage Centers

A Roundtable on Communities and Cultural Heritage Centers in East Africa

Lotte Hughes and Karega-Munene, together with Kenyan community peace museums curators Timothy Gachanga and Jack Obonyo, were invited to take part in this small one-day workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 6 November 2009.

It was a valuable opportunity for scholars and museologists working on heritage issues in Kenya and Ethiopia, in both the state and private/community sectors, to share knowledge, insights and research findings. (See the programme for details of the papers presented).

One of the additional speakers (not listed in the programme) was Mr Abdulahi Ali Sherif, curator of the Sherif Harar City Museum in Harar, an important Islamic city east of Addis Ababa. This very successful local initiative has been developed over many years by Mr Sherif, using his own funds (until a benefactor stepped in), and considerable energy, to collect and safeguard Harari cultural heritage. Harar, which became a World Heritage Site in 2006, is famed for its wealth of 'living traditions', including handicrafts, basketry, jewellery, bookbinding and textiles.

Mr Sharif described how he began in the early 1990s by collecting recordings of Harari songs. With the support of the local community, who generously donated artefacts, he built up a vast collection that was housed for years in his own home. It became the first private museum in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government eventually gave him a building in which to store most of the collection. He described all this in a very entertaining way - "my whole house is a museum", he said, "including under the bed and on top of the toilet!" Sherif Harar City Museum booklet

Cover of Sherif Harar City Museum Information Booklet (B. Tarsitani & A.A. Sherif, 2008)

Round table, Addis workshopParticipants shared their experiences, discussing challenges that include poor infrastructure, conservation issues, lack of funding, IT and training opportunities, and the political issues surrounding heritage. Jack Obonyo, curator of Abasuba Community Peace Museum in Lake Victoria , suggested that "the best way of conserving our material culture is by using it" - not just by placing it in museums. Storytelling, he said, is also a sustainable way of using heritage in everyday life.

The event was supported by the Africa Local Knowledge Research Group jointly with the Global- COE programme 'In Search of Sustainable Humanosphere in Asia and Africa', Kyoto University, Japan, and partially funded by a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research. The British Academy subsidised the travel costs of Timothy Gachanga and Jack Obonyo. We would like to warmly thank the organisers, Dr Belle Asante Tarsitani and Dr Masayoshi Shigeta, as well as both sets of funders, for making our attendance possible.

Link to the programme pdf (295 kb)

Paper: Timothy Gachanga, 'The Pacifist Presence in Kenya'