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Helping Asabans build memory

October 9, 2012

From Liz Bird:

Monday was our last day in Asaba before leaving for Benin City, where we will spend the night, and then on for a series of meetings in Lagos.

We hand over the small set of exhibit panels to Chief Dr. John Iloba, JP, the Olikeze of Asaba

We started the day with a formal visit to the Palace of the Asagba (traditional ruler) of Asaba, Dr. Joseph Chike Edozien. The Asagba had approved our exhibit panels in May, and had requested that we make two sets – a small one for display in his palace library, and the large one for public viewing. Both sets of panels were to be delivered to him for installation. Unfortunately, His Royal Majesty was unavoidably out of the country, so was unable to attend the Oct. 7 event, or receive us personally. However, he had left instructions with his chief of protocol and other community leaders, many of whom we have met before, and we were given a warm welcome.

After the traditional kola nut ceremony, we formally handed over the exhibits and stands, and we left with a promise to send us news when they are installed.

Our next stop was the Mungo Park House Museum. This impressive 1880s building once housed the headquarters of the Royal Niger Company, which represented British colonial rule in the territory. It carries the name of an early Scottish explorer of the Niger, although Mungo Park was never actually in Asaba. It is now the official museum of Delta State, owned by the National Commission on Museums and Monuments.

During our last visit, we had learned that staff at the museum are trying to provide training for local youth in computer skills, but they have no resources to do so effectively. With help from USF IT Director Michael Pearce and his staff, we were able to secure some older USF laptops, and were happy to donate them to help the computer program get started. The museum staff were delighted!

The structure, unfortunately, is in an alarming state of dilapidation, and the curator is struggling to get by. Resources are desperately needed not only to repair the building, but also to provide some kind of infrastructure to allow it to offer programs, create educational programming, and become the community resource the town needs. The curator told us that although important artifacts and materials are stored, there simply is no money to create exhibits. While the building itself is of great historical significance, Nigeria has not been able to make cultural heritage preservation a high priority.

The Mungo Park House

We’re convinced that a true museum of Asaba history and culture is needed, and could be an economic asset to the people. And perhaps there would be no better place to showcase Nigerian culture than a building that stands as a monument to the colonialism that worked to stifle that culture. But at this point, the prospects for the future don’t look good.

We join the staff and friends at at Mungo Park, after donating the laptops

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