The Power of Objects: Colonial Museum Collections and Changing Contexts

By Jesmael Mataga and Farai Mudododzi Chabata.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The modes of collection, classification and representation of the ‘ethnographic’ object in the colonial museum in Africa separated it from its cultural, religious and political context. In the postcolonial period, this framing had most museums in Africa being perceived as tainted archives whose African cultural objects were relegated to closed museum storehouses. However some objects and relics have been identified and pushed into the public sphere and reconnected with a new, extrapolated cultural, political and religious context. This paper presents a survey of colonial collecting practices in Zimbabwe by outlining a brief history of the making of the human sciences collection in a Zimbabwean museum. It then discusses the contextual mobility of one object, the Ngoma Lungundu, an object associated with the VaRemba, an ethnic group in Zimbabwe, as a way to appraise how colonial collecting practices still influence museum function and inclusivity in postcolonial Africa. The case also shows that museums can use collections or objects acquired in a colonial context to accord space in the museum to the numerous, previously silenced voices.

Keywords: Colonial Museum, Objects, Relics, Public Sphere, Restitution

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp.81-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 991.904KB).

Jesmael Mataga

Student, Center for African Studies, University of Capetown South Africa/National University of Lesotho, Maseru, Lesotho

Postgraduate student with expertise as a museum curator and Lecturer.

Farai Mudododzi Chabata

Curator of Ethnography/Head of Department, Zimbabwe Museum of Human Sciences, Causeway Harare, Zimbabwe


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