By Simeon OSAJIE
In other to foster a deeper understanding of the importance of archaeology in preserving cultural legacy and share some exciting new discoveries, the Museum of West African Art, Edo (MOWAA) has organized its first Open Day Event on the site of the Pavilion in Benin City, Edo State capital.
The three-day event which took place from 1st to 3rd of June, 2023 provided informative tours of the future Pavilion centre and educated visitors on the benefits it will offer the city in terms of investment, jobs and educational opportunities.
Addressing journalists at a press briefing in Benin City, the Director of MOWAA Pavilion, Ore Disu, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Studies, Ms. Anna Adamu-Abui, and Director of the Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Countries (KAAK), Dr. Jörg Linstädter stated that they are excited to get more cultural practitioners and residents in touch with the Pavilion’s work, which is already proving to be a dynamic space for research, education, and community outreach. “None of this would be possible without our local and international partners, who are as committed as we are to serve communities in Nigeria.
“The diverse turnout included other NGOs, students, artists, artisans, community groups and curious residents. Representatives from the National Commission of Museum and Monuments (NCMM), the Archaeological Association of Nigeria, the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the Universities of Benin and Ibadan were also in attendance.
“Visitors were encouraged to try their hands out at a live dig, pottery workshops, and other exciting activities that highlight the significance of archaeology in promoting community values and supporting local tourism. Those in attendance learned how scientific studies of buried remains can help us uncover knowledge of our past – from ancient diets and farming practices to how great wall fortresses were built.
“Development of the Pavilion is already underway, with completion scheduled for early 2024. When complete, the Pavilion will host state-of-the-art storage facilities and the best equipped labs for conservation, digital production, archaeology and applied material science in West Africa. The educational facility will also provide year-round professional training, internships and outreach activities to sustainably grow relevant skills for heritage and creative economies,” they stated.
According to Ore Disu, “Eager to contribute to the education and development in Edo State, MOWAA has already begun delivering programmes, three of which were showcased during the Open Day. These projects are in partnership with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments, the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), the British Museum, Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Wessex Archaeology and the Open Society Foundation. The event also displayed ongoing outreach activities with local schools and community stakeholders undertaken since September 2022.”
He added that the event showcased a series of archaeological studies carried out prior to the construction in partnership with the British Museum and in close collaboration with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments. “These institutions have been supporting the local homegrown archaeological team to preserve remains that could be lost or damaged during the building process as well as educating volunteers from University of Benin.”
A spokesperson of the British Museum said: “We are working with the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA), the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and Wessex Archaeology on the ground in Benin City to help train a new generation of Nigerian archaeologists and develop a blueprint for best practice in preconstruction archaeology in Nigeria.
“This partnership focuses on developing a specialist archaeological project team within MOWAA to support the construction of the Pavilion. To do this we’re supporting first of their kind excavations to learn more about the history of Benin City, and are sharing and exchanging professional skills and expertise as well as offering fieldwork opportunities in the UK.”
In her opening remarks at the event, the Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Heritage Studies Ms. Anna Adamu-Abui, stated that NCMM plays a dual role of supervising and collaborating with MOWAA in the research itself. “The Commission has ensured that the ongoing project adheres to ethical and legal standards, including the protection of cultural heritage, in compliance with relevant regulations. The benefit of collaborative research is demonstrated in the use of modern techniques and equipment, which I have personally experienced. These collaborations leverage on the expertise and resources of both institutions, leading to a more impactful and comprehensive research.”
In his remark, the Director of the Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Countries (KAAK) Dr. Jörg Linstädter, opined that it has been a real privilege to join MOWA on this journey of digitally mapping historic buildings and archaeological landscapes of historic Benin.
“With the work our joint team has been doing in deploying technology such as photogrammetry, it has enabled us to work towards detailed records of the great moats for the Nigerian people, and the world, to study and appreciate for years to come,” he said.
Also speaking at the press event, the Director of EMOWAA Trust, Phillip Ihenacho, spoke on the future ambitions of the young non-profit. He said they have decided to update the brand identity to emphasize the focus.
“We have decided to update our brand identity to emphasize our focus. So going forward we will use the Museum of West African Art, Edo (MOWAA). This signifies a new chapter for our organization. We have already been approached by organisations in West Africa about potential collaborations. In future, we hope to establish other centres of creativity and learning across Nigeria and beyond to grow our global presence.”