old residency museum//calabar


i have a thing for museums. in new york, i spend a good deal of time in the brooklyn museum, bronx museum, moma, the guggenheim, the museum for african art, even the exhibits at the schomburg and the schwartzman libraries. in nigeria, however, museums are not big business like they are in the states. doesn't stop me from going in and seeing what there is to offer.

if you pick up a copy of teju cole's everyday is for the thief, he has a great chapter on visiting the museum in lagos. how poorly maintained and patronized it was, the nation's history preserved almost as an afterthought. i'm glad i don't have to say the same about the old residency museum in calabar. it was my second visit, and i was slightly more impressed this time around. the museum has a wealth of information available on slavery, colonialism, missionaries, and independence; a gift shop and restaurant; and some preserved artifacts--not least of which is the residence itself, the original building used by the colonial government that was made into a national monument in 1986.

what was missing, though, were the precolonial artifacts. what i found were mostly photocopied images and descriptions of these items. i think it's rather telling that western museums tend to have more of these than museums on the continent. to reference the recent controversy over the proposed sale of a stolen benin mask at sotheby's, it's not as if these artifacts don't exist. in fact, many are either buried in the ground or sitting on display in the western world.

we should take our history back. i'm not sure when that day will come, or even if the impetus exists in the culture. maybe it's a psychological issue, a willingness to excavate and reclaim the past that is largely absent in the nigerian national psyche. as a woman with naija roots who grew up in the west, i have always been obsessed with the past, trying to understand a history that is hazy at best. i am often alone in that endeavor. and i wonder, will we ever interrogate the past? will we ever demand more of ourselves in the present?

i can't remember the philosopher who spoke of the unexamined life as not worth living, but i certainly believe in the folly of the unexamined past. doomed to repeat itself again and again, in perpetuity. --AL.

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