Travelogue ~ My visit to the National Museum ~ Habeeb Adam

As I was making a mental note of the places to visit this Sallah holiday, it suddenly occurred to me, with a pang of guilt, that I had not visited the National Museum despite its proximity to my residence. So I planned to visit today, which I did.

Having bought my N300 ticket at the reception, on whose walls were warnings to visitors that said no photographs are allowed within the gallery, I was ushered in in time to meet a guide taking the first group of visitors through the various sections of the stuffy, poorly lit gallery. You guessed right: there was no power.

The guide, a middle aged, dark skinned man with bloodshot eyes that suggested a lack of adequate sleep for several days, hurriedly explained what each object meant and where it originated from. He explained with the speed of one who had done that for years to the point of cramming the details. But that was too fast for my liking. I felt it was a way of saying, “Bros, no be only N300 you pay? No waste my time, biko!” I needed more time to digest each and every piece of info out on display there.

I took my time to read the notes underneath each of the centuries-old artifacts in display: the staff of an important Oba, the paraphernalia for initiation into the famous Ogboni Cult, the Eyo Masquerade, different kinds of weapons including dane guns, bows and arrows, an ancient knife belonging to the Oba of Benin; wooden and brass face masks, different carvings of dieties; the 12 centuries-old Igbo-Ukwu arts discovered 8 decades ago at the compounds of the three Anozie brothers, namely, Igbo Isaiah, Igbo Jonah and Igbo Richard; a Terra Cotta art, etc. Also on display were ancient musical instruments such as the talking drum, the gong, a piano-like instrument used by the Igbos and so on.

One of the sections displayed items that served as money in those days: salt, an eagle’s feather, cowry, manila, twisted manila and so on. As we proceeded to the next section, I wondered how scarce those items must have been to be considered as money then, and how absolutely worthless they are now. Well, not completely worthless. For I had to part with my N500 to get a single cowry bracelet as a souvenir from the Museum Souvenir Shop.

As we got to a section that houses healing/Ifa consultation instruments, the guide pointed to an object which he said was used to circumcise boys as a process of their initiation into manhood. A little girl innocently asked what circumcision is. I couldn’t help but laugh when the guide replied “Circumcision is the process of circumcising a boy.” What a helpful explanation, I thought.

Another section of the gallery housed three miniature huts belonging to the Hausa, the Yoruba and the Igbo, each containing household items found in the typical Hausa, Yoruba and Fulani Huts in those days. A peak into the Hausa/Fulani hut revealed items such as the traditional Fulani attire, a raffia mat (tabarmar kaba), a brass container (tasa), taskira, a staff (sandar kiwo), a calabash (kwarya), a water storage container made of clay (randa), etc. A Show glass standing meters away had on display 2 copies of the Holy Qur’an, a wooden reading slate (Allo) on which was an inscription from Qur’an 3:52 (Falamma ahassa Isah minhumul kufra… “And when Jesus perceived their leaning towards unbelief…”). As we proceeded, I remembered seeing a much older, hand written copy of the Qur’an which used to be in the possession of my late Malam. I was told it was way over a hundred years old. Only if his heirs would donate it to the museum.

The second gallery, detached from the main Museum, houses the surprisingly well preserved, bullet-riddled, black Mercedes Benz 230.6 in which Late General Murtala Muhammad was assassinated, as well as pictures of pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial rulers in Nigeria. A section of the wall was devoted to some prominent rulers who resisted colonialism during the arrival of the white men. While pictures of rulers like Oba Ovonramwen of Benin, Nana Olomu of Itsekiri, Atta of Igala, Sarki Alu of Kano were on display, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of Sultan Attahiru of Sokoto, Etsu Nupe Abubakar, Sarki Muhammadu Mai Shahada of Hadejia, Magaji Dan Yamusa of Keffi to mention but a few agents of resistance at that period.

As the guide narrated how each of the rulers above strongly resisted the Royal West African Forces (RWAFF), I took particular interest in studying the 28 bullet holes on Murtala’s Mercedes as a Crime Scene Investigator would. The impact of the 2 bullets that pierced through the windshield did only a little damage to it. It is still intact, save for a few cracks. The original tyres were safely locked in the boot. I damned the consequences and took a few hidden shots of the car with my phone. Is it their Murtala? Lol

While I was delighted by the privilege of seeing up close most of the things I had read about our heritage years ago, I was equally disappointed by the skewness of the artifacts on display. I have come to realize that most of the things we consider “national” in a country made up of 250 ethnic groups actually have everything to do with the first 3 and nothing to do with the rest. Wazobia Museum would be a more accurate description. As I left, I imagined how richer the museum would have been if it had in display arts from other so-called minority groups.