Preserving Cultural Legacies 

Yinka Olatunbosun

In  an effort to protect invaluable cultural heritage sites, the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) is spearheading efforts to equip Africans MOWAA by hosting leading West African archaeologists and heritage experts for the inaugural seminar, “Futures of Archaeology: Archaeology and Heritage Management in West Africa Today – Challenges and Opportunities”, in Benin City.

The two-day event, which was held between September 12 and 13, featured experts such as Dr. Prof. Akin Ogundiran (Northwestern University) and Prof. Jonathan O. Aleru (University of Ibadan); Prof. Gerard Chouin,  from William and Mary University; and Dr. Babatunde Babalola, a research fellow at the British Museum and the Cyprus Institute.

This seminal gathering served as a forum for discussion with other Nigerian and West African institutions concerned with heritage research and management.  MOWAA’s Head of Archaeology, Charles Le Quesne remarked that urban development and population growth are accelerating threats to archaeology and to traditional ways of life. Many ancient historic places, buildings and landscapes have not been explored, documented, or understood and are being destroyed.

‘‘It is essential to train a new generation of heritage professionals with the skills and experience to document, interpret and share their discoveries before the region’s heritage disappears entirely. The seminar will examine the scale and nature of these challenges and discuss solutions and the resources needed to address the problem.”

The seminar also featured among others design workshops, with leading practitioners on MOWAA’s new Field School, which is proposed to provide hands-on training to students from West Africa and further afield and created in collaboration with local and international institutions. 

Besides, MOWAA is also in conversation with key universities in Nigeria and West Africa. Dr. Samuel N. Nkumbaan (Head of the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, University of Ghana)  said that there are many technical and resource challenges plaguing the archaeological and heritage research in Ghana, as well as possibilities.

President of ICOMOS (The International Council for Monuments and Sites), Nigeria, Dr. Oluwatoyin Sogbesan stressed the need for Heritage management practitioners to raise the standards of practice in the profession by identifying, documenting and preserving heritage with host communities.

The MOWAA Institute, currently under construction in Benin City, will host the Field School once it is officially launched alongside other programmes within its centre for research, archives, archaeological fieldwork and archaeological science. It will contain state of the art science laboratories using equipment purchased with a generous grant from the Gerda Henkel Foundation. This will enable documentation and scientific analysis of material recovered from excavations across the continent, such as earthenware pottery, glass and metal, starting with those unearthed in recent investigations in Benin City.

It will also be a focus for MOWAA’s heritage management services, recently strengthened as the result of a new agreement with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM).

Prof. Shadreck Chirikure at Oxford University, who is overseeing the development of the laboratories stated: “African scholarship is essential to narrate our past on our own terms. We aim to attract funding so more students can access MOWAA’s upcoming Field School and research opportunities.

“Conservation requires sustainable resourcing. Proactive investment in preservation has allowed countries like Morocco, Kenya and more recently Ghana to build thriving tourism sectors that create jobs, attract foreign direct investment, and generate revenue from visitors eager to experience their history and culture.’’

While Director of MOWAA’s Institute, Ore Disu, noted, ‘‘With proper investment and youth training, Nigeria can unlock benefits in research, community building and education, with wider implications for tourism.”

Most recently, the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the World Monuments Fund visited the city to facilitate exhibitions within the institution that would share Nigeria’s culture and history globally.

With breakthroughs in both infrastructure and professional development, MOWAA is strategically positioned to champion preservation and unlock heritage’s potential in Nigeria and beyond.

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