Shedding light on museums
Museums are usually one of the best ways to understand a country’s culture and history and especially the progress of one’s country. Ethiopia is a country rich with culture and history. However, some museums show very little regarding its vast culture and history.
One of the well-known museums in Addis Ababa is the National Museum of Ethiopia that showcases Lucy and other artifacts. Lonely Planet, a favored online guide-book for travelers, describes the collection at the National Museum of Ethiopia among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa but sadly it also notes that many exhibits are poorly labeled. Yet, despite this, the museum offers a comprehensive view of its historical, political and natural beauty. Ethiopia, the cradle of civilization containing historical landmarks encircled with over 80 tribes is rich in culture and history like no other.
The Ethiopian National Museum exhibits a variety of stuff. The museum is divided in to four sections paleontology, prehistory, history, ethnography, and modern art. The national museum consists of three different floors. The basement exhibits paleontological exhibition including the famous Lucy and as well as other extinct creatures. The first floor showcases different rulers of Ethiopia. The other floors include weapons, jewelry utensils, clothing, musical instruments and arts.
Ephrem Amare, director of Museum and Cultural Heritage Directorate, told The Reporter that one of the most important part is the first section that showcases paleontology, the human origin. This section shows human evolution including Lucy and other nine scientific origins. This is also one of the most properly labeled and kept parts of the museums as it was previously set up with also the help of scientists.
The second section is an archeology section that displays artifacts starting from the Axumite dynasty. The next section is the art section which exhibits both traditional and contemporary art. The last section focused on ethnography displays different tribes clothing, jewelry and others.
Ephrem mentioned that in the past couple of years visitors to the museum have been increasing. The museum is always open including holidays. The high season is usually November, December and January, during the time when tourists come to Ethiopia for Christmas or Epiphany (Timket). Ephrem told The Reporter that on average 400 visitors come daily and on high seasons it could reach up to 1,000 people. Ephrem said that he encourages locals to visit the museum. He hopes that since the entrance price is low it will encourage people to visit more. Usually, high schoolers and kindergartner age children come and visit but more people are encouraged to visit.
The museum is currently working to improve its conditions. Due to electricity problems the lightnings have been bad in the museum; however, this year, they have purchased a new generator so the lightning system is better now, Ephrem said. In addition, he commented that they are working on improving the labeling of the exhibits. Within 2020-21 it will be fully fixed.
Ephrem mentioned that there are many issues with the museum including the naming of the museum and the structure of the museum as well. It is also problematic that it does not have its own administration as it under the Culture and Heritage Administration. Currently, there is a proclamation under discussion about the naming and the structure of the museum. Ephrem told The Reporter, that they are also working to build another part of the museum near the current museum. The museum will facilitate the planetology section and will be called Human Origin Museum. Ephrem told The Reporter that the design and most parts are done, that only some procedures are left. Ephrem concluded that they are working to improve the museum’s condition since the visitors are increasing as well as there are high expectations.
In Ethiopia, there are very few museums, some that are national museums as the one mentioned above and others that are privately owned. One of the newest museums that recently opened is Zoma Museum. Zoma, when compared to the other museums that exist in Ethiopia, is different in its style. It is an unusual kind of museum that also has a school as part of it. The museum’s approach is different compared to other museums located in Addis Ababa.
Zoma is a sustainable museum that tries to bring the focus to traditional architecture in Ethiopia. Located in Mekanisa, it gives a different meaning to modernism and what we consider as modern.
Benedette Casirwio, project manager of Zoma Museum, told The Reporter that the philosophy behind Zoma is to showcase traditional Ethiopian architecture, which is why the main building are made out of mud and as well as a lot of dry stack which is a traditional technic. The idea was to show the viability of traditional building technic and that we don’t have to use concrete and cement and that’s possible to build beautiful modern buildings even with more traditional material such as mud.
The construction started in 2015 and it was built by two Ethiopian cofounder Elias Sime an Ethiopian artist and Meskerem Asgedom an entrepreneur, as well as Elias’s Curator. Zoma museum opened in March 2019. Casirwio told The Reporter, that now they have a project with Unity Park, called indigenous garden where they are planting indigenous plants and also a mud structure there.
Casirwio said that part of the philosophy of Zoma museum is to try to inspire society to envision a more sustainable future. She told The Reporter, that anyone who is interested in architecture and design is welcome to come and visit and also people who may not have specific professional or personal interest in art or construction to see this place. She continues to explain that urban areas can develop while still remaining green and environmentally friendly. There is also a school so there is a huge focus on the youth and children as well. “To build a sustainable future we need to have children who have those values from the very start. It is also very easy if someone grows up with the idea sustainability than later in life to convert to those” she told the Reporter. There is a kindergarten and this year they have received accreditation for elementary. Casirwio told The Reporter that the school’s curriculum is non-traditional and it even includes gardening classes and focuses very much on creativity.
Casiriwio, said that it was challenging because it was previously a dump site and it is on a slop so the rain will bring a lot of waste. So it was hard to cultivate the area, farmers had to use a lot of pesticides otherwise nothing will grow on this land.
So far there is 5000 visitors’ monthly visitors and it is also comfortable for families. The entrance fee is 100 birr for adults and 70 birr for seniors however for children under the age of 12 it is free. “Though the entrance fee is expensive but that’s how we finance the place and we tried to have one day free entrance in a month but we had several incidents with vandalism, so we had no choice,” she told The Reporter.
Contributed by Sesina Hailou