The Liberian National Museum, the only one of its kind in the country, on November 29 reopened its doors to the public in an elaborate public ceremony graced by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other top government officials and prominent citizens.
Constructed in the 1800s, the building first served as seat of the National Legislature, a court and later for other public purposes.
The building, situated at the corner of Broad and Buchanan Streets, has a strikingly distinct style of architecture (colonial southern U.S.A.) that compares only to what is now the DHL building, also on Broad Street, only a block away. That building was the home of Madam Ellen Mills Scarborough and her husband, Dr. Scarborough. Madam Scarborough, an eminent Liberian educator, was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. This was during the Tubman administration.
The first thing that greets you is the burst of cool air from the air-conditioning units, the first ever to be installed there. Also unique are the refurbished wooden floors and, of course, the elaborate display of anthropological relics of Liberian folk art and culture, including photos and films of activities of Liberia’s past. According to museum’s chief custodian, Albert Saye Markeh, the museum once boasted of more than a thousand pieces of artifacts collected over the years from various ethnic groups. But all that has now dwindled to about only five hundred pieces, no thanks to the prolonged civil war.
Mr. Markeh disclosed that time outlay for the renovation, restoration and reopening of the museum was initially projected to last 14 months; however, the project was rushed to have President Sirleaf dedicate it before she leaves office in January. This raises a key question about the sustainability of this museum. We hope this will not be another case of getting things done hastily as has been the case with several national capacity building initiatives over the years.
All things considered, those involved in the restoration project have done an exceptionally marvelous job. The exercise, having been executed by humans, was bound to be subject to mistakes. For example, there are misspelled words in the highly impressive narratives accompanying the displays, and also a few inaccurate historical references, etc. Yet the restoration work stands out as a shinning example of what can be achieved when and where there is a will.
We, therefore, commend President Sirleaf for her commitment to see the project through this stage of completion. It is also necessary to commend highly the curator, Madam Carol J. Alexander, who did an excellent job putting together the elaborate displays, accompanied by very impressive narratives that help visitors understand what they are looking at.
Also worthy of praise are the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT), Eugene Nagbe, Assistant Minister for Culture Joyce Kenkpen and the museum staff, led by Albert Markeh, all of whom worked assiduously together in the restoration effort.
We must also give special mention to Mama and Baba Shabu, the eminent Liberian artistic couple, who organized the contemporary Liberian art exhibition on the museum’s third floor, with the assistance of several noted Liberian painters including Lawson Sworh, along with a Liberian sculptor, a poet and and a textile artist.
We are now wondering whether MICAT officials have ever once mainstreamed the museum’s relevance into the national planning and development processes. Although we are inclined to believe that this is not and has probably never been the case, we nevertheless call on the MICAT team to ensure that this becomes the case going forward.
With our eyes on the future we remain hopefully confident that as President Sirleaf exits the national stage, her successors will continue to uphold and build on this legacy. Truth be told, the museum is but a mirror through which we can view our past because, how else can we, our children and our children’s children tell the story of our land and our struggle, their struggle to build a future of love free of hate, discrimination, prejudice and all the other ills that have kept us back as a nation, if we do not remember the past?
Although this development comes in the twilight of President Sirleaf’s tenure, we nevertheless welcome it because it is always better late than never. Hats off to you, Madame President, and congratulations for a job well done.
It may be too late for her to rebuild the National Cultural Center which was lost when its Kendeja site was sold to American entrepreneur Robert L. Johnson to build his resort.
We pray that whoever succeeds President Sirleaf will make that a national priority that will join the museum in restoring Liberian culture for the benefit of our children, our nation and world citizens who come to visit Liberia.
We pray, finally, that MICAT will also soon rehabilitate the Tubman Museum in Harper, Cape Palmas, Maryland County, built for President W.V.S. Tubman’s 75th birthday.