Communities of South Sudan build their National Museum
UNESCO has set out on a journey to document the rich cultural diversity of the world’s newest nation. The pilot phase of the Traveling Exhibition project is visiting, from May to July, three of the country’s states (Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal), thereby contributing to the creation of South Sudan’s National Museum.
The future National Museum will be a place where the people of South Sudan can tell their stories, discover their common heritage, and find a forum for a constructive dialogue between meaningful pasts and desirable futures. To achieve this goal, the museum must be inclusive –both in its creation and functioning.
To that end, the National Museum project was designed with the innovative approach of conducting a fully participatory process for the establishment of the institution and the aggregation of its collection through the involvement of local communities from inception. This has taken the form of a mobile museum visiting remote areas to foster dialogue with communities on how they see themselves being represented in the Museum. The visited communities form an integral part of the project, bringing together the collection, which consists of video footage, audio recordings, life stories, photographs, and objects. To date the communities have contributed with approximately 81 objects, 55 recordings and 44 short videos.
Currently in its pilot phase, the “Traveling Exhibition” is touring throughout Eastern Equatoria, Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Due to increased violence and wide displacement of populations not all states remain accessible. Focusing the project on stable states contributes to mitigating the spill-over effect as it engages people in an indirect peacebuilding process. It provides an opportunity for communities to get to know one another by discovering what others have contributed to the collection.
For many of the elders in the communities, this has been a long awaited opportunity to pass on to future generations their stories and knowledge. The visit of the traveling exhibition to the villages often take the form of impromptu community festivities with large crowds celebrating with music and dances while groups of children gather around storytellers. The communities of South Sudan have proven that they are proud of their heritage and want to share it with their fellow countrymen.
UNESCO’s culture programme in South Sudan focuses on the establishment of a public culture sector as social cohesion and sustainable peace require strengthening the common national identity. Creating institutions such as the National Museum, the National Archives and National Theatre further demonstrates how culture can play a concrete role in nation building and post-conflict recovery.
The National Museum project, developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MoCYS), is generously funded by Open Society East Africa (OSIEA) and has received additional support from the French Government.
Culture Specialist, UNESCO Juba – South Sudan
e.lekka(at)unesco.org/ +211 928 061 247