From January this year, African Politics and Policy decided to expand its focus. In addition to covering the news and providing an analysis of political events in Africa, the team of the African Politics and Policy aims to cover cultural events. Given the increasing attention paid by governments as well as by local people in Africa to the preservation and promotion of culture, values and traditions, APP started to provide an increasingly more detailed information about what happens on the continent in terms of festivals, exhibitions, performances, artistic events and museums.
In order to strengthen this new editorial line, we decided to inaugurate a new column—a column devoted to individuals for whom “culture is too important”.
For this issue we decided to interview Lamin M. Bojang, founder and director of the Gunjur Village museum— the museum “where the history of The Gambia comes to life…”.
Lamin M. Bojang is one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Gunjur village environmental protection, a man for whom cultural and natural heritage of his own community matter, a man who decided to preserve the culture of his place with his own efforts.
In this interview, Lamin speaks about the features of the Gunjur Village Museum, its mission, the challenges he faced, and shares with us his vision as to how the museum will grow and develop in the future.
APP: What are you doing now is just a concurrence of the events and circumstances, or you always wanted to do something like that in your life?
Bojang: I have always wanted to do something like this because of the affection I have for my community’s development. Since my childhood, I have been working with our community’s link with Marlborough Wiltshire U.K. on their development works in Gunjur village on a voluntary basis. I also belong to the five ‘founding fathers’ of our community’s environmental protection and the GEPADG development group where we got a sponsorship from Global environment fund through World Bank as an implementing agency on the ICAM project, where I work as a senior community warden. Before, I was concentrating only on our natural history preservation, but later I realized that our culture and traditional preservation and development is been neglected by the local people, that the community has no authentic traditional data, does not have a center or a museum where the younger generations can learn own history. That is why I decided to build a museum in Gunjur village – to help preserve our community’s natural and cultural history.
APP: How do you come to the idea of setting up your museum?
Bojang: Because I saw that our natural culture and history preservation is been neglected by the local people and is declining to an alarming rate that is why some body need to do something about it and no one is willing, that is why I decided I put that task on to build a museum
APP: Could you name the distinctive characteristics of your museum?
Bojang: This museum is unique in The Gambia because it is the only museum established in the natural environment. Some significant endangered species we have like African scopes owl, Northern white face scopes owl, different butterfly species, snakes of different kind, beetles, and traditional herbs, medicinal tree species can attract many visitors especially tourists, children and students. All of them can be taught about our indigenous heritage at the museum.
APP: What in your view is the mission of museum?
Bojang: The main mission of the museum is to establish a traditional and natural history center for the preservation and conservation of The Gambia tradition and culture especially that of Gunjur village for the benefit of the coming generation, visitors, students, researchers and tourists and any other interested persons.
APP: Do you get governmental support?
Bojang: I do not get financial support from our government, embassies, and philanthropists. The only support I get is from Footsteps eco lodge in The Gambia, JIKI foundation of Holland and Ethical travels of Norway. I do get technical support from our government, they invited me to several training workshops, symposiums (capacity building) and they always visit my museum giving me advice and they are willing to mount the collected of artifacts in the museum free which I don’t have the capacity to do.
APP: Do you think the museum can affect the life in Gunjur village, in Gambia? If yes, how?
Bojang: Yes, the museum shall provide job opportunity for the local inhabitants in Gunjur and its surrounding villages; it can provide market outlets for their local products including food, Handicraft works, and art works. It can also provide a visiting place for the national and international tour operators. It can also act like a learning center for our natural and cultural heritage like medicinal plants, birds, insects, reptiles and mammals. The children can learn their own indigenous history at the museum, which will help inculcate to them the love of their own heritage at the early stages of their life, and it will encourage them to love their biodiversity and natural history.
APP: You said that you see your museum not only as the center of preservation, but also as a research center and a platform for training programs. What research projects and training workshops you want seen born in your museum?
Bojang: This museum can act as a research center for schools and universities doing medicine and sociology. The museum is built in our own indigenous natural environment and, thus, it got many medicinal plants on which we have vast knowledge that can be shared. The students doing sociology can take the museum as their entry point to be sensitized about social structures before distributing them into the communities to do their research in culture and tradition for their own thesis and any other person who wants to do research on traditional, cultural and medicinal purposes. This museum will organize in the future annual sensitization workshops inviting specialists from different institutions on the related field of natural and cultural history to teach the significance of the heritage, to hold training programs on our own musical instruments and others activities such as nature walk, which will teach the medicinal plants and the natural history.
APP:How do you think what should take the visitor from your museum? What should happens with him/her during the day spent here?
Bojang: This place is not a place only for pleasure but also a learning center and a place to gain new knowledge on natural and cultural heritage. The methodology we implement is called nature walk: we take a walk with our visitors through the nature and explain them our natural history before entering into the museum building, where they will see our traditional artifacts in display, which will be explained to them. In the future, visitors will also be able to visit our village museum, which will be built in the near future whenever I have the financial capacity. The visit will show to the visitors the social structure of our forefathers. This mechanism will attract lots of visitors to the museum as the only natural and cultural history museum in The Gambia.
APP: How are you going to enrich your collection of artifacts?
Bojang: I use changing method by using our local radio station to sensitize the local people about the significance of museum and its purpose, to enlighten them about the importance of our artifacts and heritage we have lost. I also rely on some elders, village head and other important people in the community, and the chairman of the village development committee to assist me in this effort.
APP: Do you have any special stories related to your experience of getting your first cultural artefacts?
Bojang: The beginning of the collection was not difficult to me. However, when the locals saw visitors from Footsteps eco lodge visiting my collection of artifacts at my home, where I kept them for security purpose before transferring them to the museum project site, they started thinking that I am given lots and lots of money and so they started asking for compensation. Some of them even decline to handover the artifacts because they started asking higher money thinking that I am a money bag. Some of them do not want to handover artifacts because they see it as sacred because it belongs to their forefathers used for traditional ceremonial purposes and so they believe that if they give it out it could bring them bad luck. It was one of the main difficulties I encountered. But at the moment I am working hard to sensitize them that this museum is for the benefit of the whole community and The Gambia at large.
APP: In order to cultivate in young generation the appreciation of their parents/grandparents’ treasures you mentioned the concept of sensitization. Could you please tell more details of this approach?
Bojang: That is to organize annual sensitization conference when I have the financial capacity to invite youth clubs, schools and institutions. Inviting resource persons from different departments to enlighten the younger generation about the significance of our treasures. Seminars will be conducted at the museum and announced through the local radio station. These activities will involve the traditional communicators and village elders who have lots of wisdom in them. Youth will be called to this meeting and a local chat session will take place in the museum whereby the elders will teach how they used to live in the good old days and how to keep valuable treasures.
APP: You said, that one of the challenges you faced during 7 years of establishing museum, is to understand what traditional culture is. Could you define the traditional culture now, how the definition was changing?
Bojang: During the 7 years of challenges, (the real challenge was that) they (people) do not know museum as part of cultural preservation, they see it as a place of business and they see culture as part of their life but its significance internationally is downplayed especially to visiting tourists and students.
APP: During the last months, culture becomes a part of many national policies of development in Africa. Why, in your opinion, Africa starts paying increasing attention to its culture, roots and traditions?
Bojang: Because there are no people without culture, and if any country does away with its culture, then you have no identity. Culture plays a key role in the dignity of its people. It also helps to unite the people, nations and continents.