The former Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Rev. Emmanuel Bowier, has emphasized the need to liberate the country’s culture through the signing of conventions and setting-up a special committee to engage in negotiations to bring back Liberia’s cultural materials from abroad.
“There is a need to encourage members of the Legislature and President Sirleaf to help ensure that Liberia sign these conventions in order to protect Liberia’s cultural heritage.”
He spoke recently at a two- day awareness workshop under the theme “Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.”
Speaking at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism on Capitol Hill in Monrovia last week, Rev. Bowier stressed that what is today in Liberia is the imitation of Liberia’s cultural property while the originals are out of the country, in Europe and in the United States.
According to him, the late President William V. S. Tubman was the first African leader to take national cultural troop to the Organization of African Unity (now AU) Summit, held that year in Cairo, Egypt, Rev. Bowier recalled.
It is time, he said, for Liberia to fully protect its the cultural and artistic works and also to focus on teaching the Liberia’s culture to the young people. He believes that Liberia can regain its cultural heritage through the teaching of cultural education across the country.
One important way to begin to regain our cultural heritage, he declared, is for Liberia to sign several conventions on the protection of cultural property, such as that signed the country in the Hague, The Netherlands in 1954.
Had we signed this convention many years ago, long before the 1980 coup d’etat and the war, we would have benefited, because the National Museum in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited, would have been protected during the civil crisis. But everyone was relying on the theory that Liberians were not violent people.
At the time, the people of Liberia considered anything that related to violence as a foreign ideology and were convinced that Liberians were never going to fight one another.
According to him, Liberia did not sign these conventions because, “In 1908, government had a problem. Whenever the government told people in the rural areas to do some thing, they would agree but go back to the zoes and elders in their areas and ask them for the way forward.”
Due to the prevailing situation in the country at the time, the government had to later suspend operations of these, the Poro and Sande and other institutions, particularly in the rural areas from 1908 up to 1920 and deploying Liberia Frontier Force to enforce the ruling.
The two societies in Liberia (Poro and Sande) were very strong during those days, particularly in the rural areas and created serious problems for the signing these conventions that would help Liberia move forward.
Rev. Bowier continued, “A Methodist preacher took some of the cultural materials to the United States to keep them in a museum when the government suspended practices in the country and today, they are in the Peabody’s Museum and some are in the African-American Museum in Baltimore and elsewhere in Europe, due to the political struggled between urban and rural people.”
Also speaking at the workshop was the Officer-in-Charge of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Liberia Office, Stevenson Seidi.
He disclosed a plan to declare Providence Island ‘World Cultural Site,’ if the government would ratify the 1954 Hague convention on cultural property protection.
According to him, the signing of that and related conventions would help Liberia benefit from several importance opportunities, including ensuring the preservation of the cultural heritage and adding value and scientific knowledge as well as providing public access to it.
“The ratification encourages and provides resources for employment. UNESCO would ensure social and cultural continuality between past, present and future generations,” he declared.