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Decolonizing African heritage inside and outside the African continent [initiated by the University of Mainz, with Leiden University/Anthropology, University of Rwanda] 
Convenorss:
Marieke van Winden (conference organiser) (African Studies Centre Leiden)
Anna-Maria Brandstetter (Universität Mainz)
Peter Pels (Leiden University)
Ciraj Rassool (University of the Western Cape)
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Stream:
B: Decolonising knowledge
Start time:
19 January, 2021 at 10:00 (UTC+1)
Session slots:
2

Long Abstract

In a report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron, Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy argue that the return of African heritage also implies “that the model of a centralized museum for all objects of cultural heritage is only one possible example among many others” for projects of restitution (2018: 32). Going beyond the mere return of objects, one should ask which models of museums and heritage are being used by Africans (on the continent as well as in the diaspora), which European models are viable, and which have become obsolete. Who needs museums of Africa, and why? While international organizations continue to insist on forms of heritage that too rarely benefit the inhabitants of the African continent, curators in Africa have been and are experimenting with different models of national and community museums since the start of the long (and still unfinished) process of decolonization. But decolonization also implies that one asks to what extent certain basic assumptions of ‘musealization’ and heritage – such as the need for preservation, and the assumption that objects and images are dead – are necessary and true in the present. A more radical notion of restitution, one that departs from the model of European museums, may restitute not (only) the object itself, but restitute to the object “forms of knowledge at the heart of participative ecosystems” (Achille Mbembe, cited in Sarr & Savoy 2018: 34) – forms of knowledge that may question both the museum model and its roots in nationalism. This panel asks what knowledge can be and is culled from the longue durée of the history of heritage care in Africa, and how its precolonial and colonial relationships affect and should affect postcolonial relationships in both Africa, Europe and beyond. This panel invites papers that deal with this renegotiation process.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Leonor Faber-Jonker (affiliate member ASC Leiden)

Paper long abstract:

In the early morning of 26 February 2019, a German delegation arrived at the international airport of Windhoek, Namibia, with some very precious cargo: a Bible and a whip that had belonged to Hendrik Witbooi, the charismatic captain who fought the German colonizer during the Herero and Nama genocide (1904-1908). The items were looted during the Hoornkrans massacre of 1893 and later ended up in the collection of the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart.

This repatriation is not a unique event, but part of an ongoing process of German institutions coming to terms with their colonial past. The same month that the 'Witbooi Bible' was returned to Namibia, the Ovambanderu called for the return of the 'sacred belt' of chief Kahimemua, brought to Germany as a souvenir after his execution in 1896. It has since been located and negotiations about its return are underway.

With negotiations, however, controversy starts. In the last decade, talks about restitution, reparations and apologies were invariably conducted between Namibian and German officials, excluding Nama and Herero representatives. The 'Witbooi Bible' was not handed over to members of the Witbooi clan, but to Namibian president Hage Geingob. At that moment, it officially became government property.

This paper is centered around two case studies: the repatriation of the 'Witbooi bible' and whip (2019), and the third repatriation of human remains of Herero and Nama victims of the genocide (2018). The paper argues that the repatriated items and remains acquire new layers of meaning in these processes of repatriation, (re)activating colonial and postcolonial knowledges. Objects brought to Germany as 'trophies' and returned as museal objects become symbols of Namibia's 'founding myth'.

I disentangle these knowledges by analyzing the practices surrounding the repatriations from a material perspective, e.g. who handled the items, how, why, where and in what context. There are plans to exhibit the bible and whip in a new Hendrik Witbooi museum, while the human remains are stored in the depot of the Independence Memorial Museum. In both cases, controversies that started during negotiations with German institutions continue to shimmer in Namibia. What can we learn from these cases about colonial objects as postcolonial knowledge-makers?

Author:

Charles Mulinda Kabwete (University of Rwanda)

Paper long abstract:

The post-Macron trend towards restitution of African heritage collections has initiated a double process in Rwandan museums and humanities. On the one hand, the new claim for restitution of Rwandans’ ancestors human remains taken by German ethnographers in 1907-1909 has brought to our attention the fact that ethnographic museums need new decolonized exhibitions. The existing permanent exhibition at the Huye Ethnographic Museum followed exactly the same schemata that colonial German and Belgian ethnographers have chosen. It has lasted 30 years. I argue that Rwandan collections that will be restituted by German and Belgian museums must join an already decolonized museum in Rwanda. On the other hand, the restitution of human remains from German museums will have to be done in manners that depart from the logic of their travel to Europe in colonial times. This means that restitution must be followed by an honoured return, and rehumanization processes. This rehumanization process requires among other things that our museums be decolonized.

Author:

Joanneke Elliott (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Paper short abstract:

This study aims to contribute to a better understanding of the ongoing efforts to decolonize university libraries across the United States and to establish a platform for sharing best practices among library professionals.

Paper long abstract:

There is a growing professional conversation about decolonizing the libraries, especially the archives. Library and archival collections on campus are core drivers of university knowledge production, a field notoriously complicit in colonial thinking and ontological marginalization of African voices, universities, authors, and academics. Fortunately, recent anti-colonial discourses and practice has pushed the responsibility of librarians to create inclusive and de-colonial collections to the forefront of the profession. What types of practices, processes, and training can help drive this movement forward, increase representation and student engagement, while also acknowledging the profession's past mistakes?

This study aims to contribute to that effort by aiming to better understand the ongoing efforts to decolonize university libraries across the United States and to establish a platform for sharing best practices among library professionals. The study is grounded in 8-10 interviews with African Studies librarians in university libraries in the United States and supplemented with a survey mechanism of more than 25 professionals.

Research questions in interviews and landscape survey include those aimed at understanding collection development methodologies and processes, vendor selection, and approval plans and the impact those may have on (de-)colonizing collections. Individual librarians are then given the opportunity to discuss the stakeholders involved in collection development, how ontological goals are set, and the extent to which decolonization is an intentional process in the library space. The research aims to identify key stakeholders in the process of librarianship, including faculty, students, community, administration and researchers.

Regarding collection development specifically, the study will maintain an explicit focus on Contemporary African Literature, newspapers, and contextual development. How should American librarians collect materials developed for African readers, how do they navigate the divide between on-campus demand and a more representative collection, and how best to place materials from the African continent within their own context. Understanding these questions, the way librarians work to answer them, and the concerns and problems they face will contribute to development of best practices as well as ongoing research questions.

Author:

Peter Pels (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflects on South Africa's Freedom Park to see both how postcolonial musealization and heritagization departed from the secularism of colonial exemplars, and to criticize what surreptitiously remains of it.

Paper long abstract:

The European models of museums and heritage that seem to have dominated the global scene since the nineteenth century have usually relegated religion to the past: to a sphere of tradition that was no longer relevant for a modern secular future. However, the North Atlantic dichotomy between the religious and the secular never applied to African countries in exactly the same way that it did in Europe or North America. I use a detailed critical reflection on aspects of South Africa's Freedom Park and its curation to discuss both the novelty and the potential pitfalls of recognizing such friction between the globalization of a nation-state model based on secularism, and the actual results of the "Rainbow Nation" attempt to reinvent nits own past after the abolition of Apartheid. The transition from the anthropological category of "ancestor worship" to the spirituality now labeled as "indigenous knowledge" plays a central role in these reflections: on the one hand, it generates a different, less secularized engagement with the past as compared to previous nation-states' cultural politics - something that, indeed, invites serious consideration in what has been called an "Age of Restitution". On the other, it thereby potentially contaminates the "indigenous" - and therefore also things "given back"- with global influences that raise the question whose futures are being installed here as models to emulate.

Author:

Olufemi Adetunji (University of Newcastle, Australia)

Paper long abstract:

Abstract

The rich history of colonization in Badagry is arguable worth preservation, but stakeholders are facing the challenge of determining how to conserve and promote buildings and sites with connection to colonial history. The values and influence of the colonial heritage sites are vital to the social, economic, cultural and environmental wellbeing of individuals and groups within the community. The government, over the years, adopted the strategy of identifying and listing on heritage list as well as converting many of the identified colonial buildings to museums. The paper, therefore, examines the different approaches adopted in the preservation of the heritage to understand the challenges facing the conservation and promotion of the heritage sites. Twenty-seven key informants from various historic neighbourhoods in Lagos, Nigeria participated in semi-structured interviews to understand their perception of the status of colonial heritage sites in Badagry. The findings revealed that conversion of the architectural heritage impacted community ownership and common memory of the heritage sites. The participants also agreed that the top-down approach to heritage policies and management contribute to the communal detachment and genealogical antipathy affecting social inclusion in the management of the heritage sites. The paper, therefore, advocates for the involvement of community members and groups in policy development and management of the heritage sites based on common goals and shared responsibilities to promote diversity and inclusion of interest groups across the community.

Keywords: community involvement, heritage management, Nigeria, shared responsibilities

Author:

Adebo Nelson Abiti (University of Western Cape)

Paper long abstract:

This paper seeks to discuss the contested temporary exhibition on 'Unseen Archives of Idi Amin'. The photographic exhibition was staged in Kampala 2019, after the 40 years fall of Idi Amin's military power in Uganda from 1971 to 1979. While Amin's rule was known for the cause of brutal mass murders and expulsion of Asian communities from Uganda (Mazrui Ali, 1980). However, since the British colonial government established the Uganda Museum, its ethnographic gallery displays had not changed over the years. Yet the epistemologies of collecting the native artefacts generated ethnographic knowledge of separate categories of societies. This haunted colonial knowledge and experience of the ethnographic museum has been a set of contestation on why museums in Africa and more so the Uganda National Museum has continued to display the old colonial knowledge of ethnic and tribal artefacts to represent the contemporary Ugandan society. Although the debates on postcolonial Uganda have continued to evolve and shape the future of Uganda, however, the 'unseen archive of Idi Amin' photographic exhibition was also another contested project for rethinking about the Uganda Museum. The aim of this paper, therefore, is to explore the question on why the photographic exhibition on Idi Amin was constituted as public history for remaking society at the Uganda Museum. The second part asks on how the exhibition was viewed by various groups in Kampala and other towns and what were the critical responses.

Key words: Exhibition, Photography, Ethnography, Knowledge.

Author:

Annette Schmidt (National Museum of World Cultures)

Paper long abstract:

The National Museum of Mali and the National Ethnographic Museum in the Netherlands have been working together for almost three decades on several projects related to the preservation of cultural heritage in Mali. Both institutions have legacies rooted in colonialism. During the 1990s, institutional criticism began to shift the priorities in the collaboration between the museums towards more dialogue, cross-disciplinary research and equivalent cooperation. How did this affect the way these two museums worked together, fostered new understandings of collections and collecting, developed new models of partnerships, and reached out to different audiences in Mali and in the Netherlands? I will critically discuss the attempt of all parties to 'decolonize' this Malian-Dutch collaboration, its curatorial practices and the way in which the projects communicated with stakeholders. It will show that this was not a straightforward development, but an ongoing process in which justice and methods grow through the long-term practice. By sharing collections, by embracing greater accountability, and acknowledging their colonial legacies, the museums made concrete steps towards better museum policies that went beyond a mere inclusive cooperation and more to a partnership. By not only looking at boundaries and limitations, but also emphasizing possibilities and opportunities, it changed our museums practice and had far-reaching implications on how these museums manage, interpret and present their joint efforts, then and in the future.

Author:

Ciraj Rassool (University of the Western Cape)

Paper long abstract:

In the mounting debates about decolonisation and decoloniality in academic institutions and museums, an understanding is sometimes presented of decolonisation as a sudden rupture, and as a radical epistemic politics that has recently emerged, after all the failures of the past. The most common model of colonialism that is usually presented is of a single colonialism, of one coloniser and one colonised, and of a colonial relationship forged on a formal colonial relation and its aftermath. One view has also emerged that those European societies, which had no African colonies or whose formal African colonial history was of short duration, were fortunate to be 'relatively untouched' by colonial attitudes. Finally, a view of decolonisation that has been articulated recently is that it will be accomplished through the restitution of artworks and artefacts to societies in Africa from which they had been appropriated. This paper will question these views by presenting South Africa as a society marked by multiple colonialisms and colonialities. This includes formal colonial histories with more than one European society, and colonial histories with European societies that did not conquer and colonise its people. It also includes colonial histories of South Africa as formal colonial ruler over the people and territory of Namibia, and as regional sub-imperial power that exercised violent, repressive power outside its borders. It also requires an understanding of a South African society founded on an 'internal colonialism' of segregation and apartheid, and the knowledge and disciplinary systems that were inaugurated to enable the government of people and objects. This paper suggests that the most important way of understanding colonialism and its enduring nature is through an epistemic study of knowledge systems, disciplines and categories which came to characterise the modern museum and its government of its collections how these took shape in different societies. In embarking upon a path of democratisation, some museums in South Africa have begun the landmark work of demolishing such colonial categories, and altering these knowledge systems while recognising that multidirectional restitution work will be an important component of remaking the museum of the future.

Author:

Olorunfemi Dada (University of Ilorin)

Paper long abstract:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared Ifá (Yoruba divinatory oracle of wisdom and foreknowledge) as 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' on 25th November 2005. The proclamation led to the establishment of the Ifá Heritage Institute, Oyo, Nigeria in 2008. This type of institution is timely as knowledge about Ifá has been decreasing as many Ifá priests died with few or anyone to pass the knowledge to. The institute exists mainly to preserve, promote and teach Ifá as an African knowledge system in this age of modernity. In recent times, Wande Abimbola, the coordinator of the institution has been working on the documentation, propagation and digitalisation of Ifá corpus via personal research efforts and the institution. There are five departments (Department of Ifá Studies, Department of Languages, Department of Medicine, Department of Performing Arts and Department of Indigenous Technology) in the institute which students can apply for, and the institution is tuition free. This post-secondary institution admits students from Nigeria and abroad. Its established was sponsored in part by UNESCO, and was only endorsed by the Federal Government of Nigeria. The remaining part of the establishment cost was borne by the coordinator of the institution. The institution is sustained through voluntary donations from individuals, private organisations and foreign bodies such as the Pagan Japanese Government. It is challenging that UNESCO and some foreigners could see great value in Ifá as an African Heritage which should not be allowed to go into extinction, but Nigerian government has been neglecting it. But this act is against the wish of UNESCO which expects Nigerian government to give financial support to the institution frequently. Consequently, the institution has not enjoyed considerable development like other institutes in Nigeria that concentrate on and propagate western knowledge. It is on this premise that this study aims at examining the consequences of colonialism on African Heritage and how Africans can be decolonised from its effects. This study will therefore use historical, empirical, and phenomenological research approaches to gather data historically, make observations, and describe the data without value judgement. Data will also be gathered by interviewing Wande Abimbola and Nigerian government representatives amongst others. The research findings and recommendations will be presented holistically and objectively.

Author:

Maria Libera (Progress Market Research)

Paper short abstract:

The cultural heritage of Africa is promoted visually worldwide through postage stamps since the mid 1900s. An important national revenue source, stamps also gave rise to numerous abusive and illegal industry practices that have tarnished the African identity and require urgent remedial actions..

Paper long abstract:

Multiple aspects of the cultural heritage and identity of African countries have been promoted visually to the world through the postage stamps produced by the various European countries that had colonized Africa during the 19th century. Many such stamps and their original artwork and printing elements are extremely valuable and important elements of cultural, historical and philatelic displays in communications and postal museums worldwide.

For more than 150 years, since the creation of the postage stamp until electronic and Internet communications in the 1990s, the main facilitators of written communications were postage stamps affixed to correspondence reaching the farthest corners of the globe. As "official symbols" and "roving Ambassadors in miniature" of their Nation, postage stamps promoted the economy, fauna, flora, geography, history, landscapes, national personalities, status in the world, tourist sites, etc. The stamps became collectors' items for tens of millions of the world's avid philatelists and stamp collectors, of all walks of life and professions, who sought to acquire any existing stamps on their favourite topics of interest, including those in the name of African countries.

Postage stamps, as an important source of revenue for national governments and their postal services, continue to play an important role in expanding trade of both developed and developing countries, in spite of the increased use of electronic communications. A multi-billion dollar stamp industry creates, produces, promotes and sells, physically and virtually, stamps and related philatelic products of all countries. Available internationally, postage stamps are also a valuable source of foreign currency.

Notwithstanding the cultural value of postage stamps, their expected financial value has unfortunately given rise to numerous abusive and illegal stamp industry practices by mostly non-African contracted philatelic agencies and private companies. Their high revenues and turnover are also probable contributors to money laundering transactions and other illegal activities.

Additionally, the majority of "stamps" produced today by abusive and illegal producers have little or no relationship with the culture and identity of the African countries concerned. Many are often photographs or crude and tasteless drawings, illustrating, in a pejorative way, mostly Asian and Western culture, fauna, personalities, transport means, etc. One can easily perceive them as "colonizing" the African identity.

In conclusion, optimal management of African postage stamps should be an essential part of the overall effort to "decolonize African heritage inside and outside the African continent". Remedial actions should defend the national interest and strategies of the African Union.

Author:

Ferdinand de Jong (University of East Anglia)

Paper long abstract:

In December 2018, the Museum of Black Civilisations finally opened its doors to the public. Realising a project initially launched by the Senegalese President Léopold Sédar Senghor in 1966, the museum is a belated materialisation of his Negritude philosophy. But the museum's realisation is also a timely response to the current restitution debate initiated by the French President Macron. One year after the publication of the Restitution Report, France formally returned the sabre of El Hadj Umar Tall to the Museum of Black Civilisations. Exploring the potential of restitution to address the effects of colonialism, this paper examines restitution as an act of repair in a context of neo-colonial diplomacy.

The notion of repair has recently been adopted by a range of postcolonial authors, drawing largely upon the work of French-Algerian artist Kader Attia. The notion of repair departs from usual models of reparation in that it acknowledges the trauma and does not prescribe a return to the original. Applying this notion to the restitution of the sabre of El Hadj Umar Tall reveals that, whilst alerting us to the possibilities and parameters of restitution, it privileges an ethical dimension to the process or repair that ignores or disavows the politics that inevitably determine the process of restitution. In this case, the process of restitution of a sabre facilitated a conference on peace-keeping. Ostensibly serving repair, the restitution was deployed to facilitate the military suppression of a contemporary holy war.

If the notion of restitution is to be expanded to include the wider process of knowledge production, then restitution should certainly also include the wider political process in which objects are returned. In the case of the restitution of the sable of El Hadj Umar, this wider process involved the construction of the new Museum of Black Civilisations by the Popular Republic of China. This means that the restitution should be understood as facilitating a geo-politics of resource extraction that funds a Pan-African politics of heritage production, in which the colonial past of one empire is repaired in the process of building another. The process of restitution may be conceived as part of the decolonisation of knowledge yet involves the creation of South-South relations that are equally a-symmetrical.

Author:

Tomomi Fushiya (Leiden University)

Paper long abstract:

Objects have the ability to evoke memories, generate a sense of connection with ancestors, and contain the knowledge associate with them. While restitution of objects to the community of origin is certainly important, it would not complete 'decolonisation'. As some recent heritage studies from Africa advocate, objects occupy only a segment of heritage. In other words, the value of the object is not a matter of the material preservation alone, but, rather, their associations to belief, knowledge, customs, ethics, wellbeing, and socioeconomic activities within the landscape(s) the community lives in. The decolonising of heritage requires a recognition of and research practices that foreground epistemic diversity, and allows the creation of narratives - around objects, places or landscapes - using different knowledge sets.

Archaeology was brought to Africa within the context of western colonisation. Material remains and objects from the past came to be under control of the colonial administrations and western archaeologists, which effectively separated them from the people who have historical, cultural, and ancestral relations to the landscapes, places and objects. The separation is not only the physical separation, taken away to western or national museums and denial of use and access; but also the separation from their knowledge and worldview when they were interpreted and narrated.

In Sudan, archaeology has long been focused on Nubia in northern Sudan. Many objects and monuments have been transported out of Nubia - to the capital Khartoum and western museums. Yet, Nubia has become centrally placed within a national historical discourse created in the lead-up to the independence in 1956. Perspectives from Nubian communities were largely absent in the discourse, and the management of the archaeological heritage placed under the remit of a Western-style antiquities organisation, within a national government framework.

This paper reflects upon the importance of collaboration between archaeologists and local people, as a way to decolonising archaeological practices, particularly the narrative of the past, based on the research and community programmes undertaken around an archaeological site (Amara West) in Sudanese Nubia, as a part of a British Museum research project. Storytelling and other programming around the past brought archaeologists and local people together, to learn from each other's knowledge and perspectives. Does this offer one model towards decolonisation, foregrounding the local people rather than nation states or academic specialists?

Author:

Adeolu Oyekan (Nelson Mandela University)

Paper long abstract:

How are stolen artefacts from Africa to be preserved and managed in the face of the rising clamour for restitution? Kwame Appiah, in his work, "Whose Culture is it Anyway", invites us to see stolen cultural artifacts not as properties of societies from which they were stolen, but as individual works of art that exude attributes of our shared humanity. Many of those works he argues, are no less meaningful to their present locations than they are to people of their places of origin. He advanced the retention and custody of such artefacts in their present locations where in his view, they best embody the normative idea of cosmopolitanism. I argue in this paper that the cosmopolitan argument is an inadequate justification of the retention of stolen African artefacts in Western museums. I argue further that the view of European and American museums as sites of the sublime expression of cosmopolitan ideals speaks to the very need for its deconstruction as a Western idea that seeks the universalization of a hegemonic culture. Decolonizing the normative underpinning of the place of Western museums in the management stolen African artefacts require an appreciation of the African attitude to the history, meaning, significance and essences of looted artefacts under a reflexive framework that is multiple and inclusive. I shall further explicate the epistemic, historical and ethical basis for the reimagination of the idea of restitution and the inclusion of Africans in the management of stolen artefacts. The achievement of this requires a proper acknowledgement of theft, unethical profiteering and meaningful restitution. This approach, I conclude, represents a more ethical, inclusive and universal management of looted cultural artefacts.